If following a leader is hard, and it often can be, leading in any capacity is infinitely harder. Its one thing to take responsibility for following someone, but the responsibility that a leader must bear for all those whom he leads is the heavier burden. Its understandable then, how serious leaders must take their charge. Its also understandable how constant the work of shepherding must be, tending this sheep, pursuing that sheep. Its a never ending task. Its often a thankless task. It is a very necessary and pressing task. In the midst of this type of leadership, a subtle intruder can create a mess in a local pasture: the spiritual shepherds of God’s people can become confused as to whose kingdom they are building. We can get so focused on building our particular local body, that we lose sight of a much bigger calling.
This is especially true of small town churches. Church members can often be hard to come by, therefore, pastors and elders tend to guard their sheep very closely. Its easy to hold on tightly to our little sheepfold because we are trying so hard to maintain our little kingdom that we so diligently labor to build. Now, should we be jealous for our members? In a certain sense, yes, we should. We should seek to protect them from false teachers. We should seek to build a wall of gospel community around them and nourish them. What we should not do, however, is always assume that God has given us particular sheep as our own, for our own ends. While we often give lip service to the idea of the ‘Kingdom of God’, this actually challenges us to live as if it is true.
I lament the exit of good families and solid disciples. I always hate to see them go. I have often found myself saying to God, “why did you bring them to my church only to let us pour into them and enjoy their gifts for a short time, and then send them off to someone else?” The short answer: because the kingdom of God is bigger than my church or purpose. God has seen fit to extend a mutual blessing for a time, and then to prepare each of us for the next phase of His plan. I would love to hang on to the sheep I get to shepherd for a while, but that is not what God’s Kingdom is all about. The kingdom of God must be advanced, and sometimes it means letting go of the ones we love the most, so that they can continue the work of the gospel.
The early church that we find in the book of Acts, saw many gifted men and women come and go, and they were happy for the simple reason that the cross was advanced. It saddens me to see faithful disciples answer a call to move on, but it fills me with joy to know that they will move into a new community and blossom just as they did within the one I shepherd. They move on to fill a void in another fold, and a spot opens within the fold I oversee for another sheep to come and find nurture. Its not my kingdom I am building, its God’s. I am not trying to build a following for me, I am seeking to point others to Christ. May we always send off our sheep in the joy that we are a part of something much bigger than budgets, programs, and success. We are a part of the kingdom of God, and it is much greater than self.