Carol, I do see hope in the church!

Yes, yes, yes, Carol. I DO see hope in the church! I too dream of the church becoming a place where people understand pain like yours and express care to people in your situation. Certainly a new focus—a new understanding of ministry is needed.

What could that look like?

In two previous blogs, (please see Do You See Any Hope in the Church? and I Rarely Go to Church Anymore) Carol’s penetrating question led me to re-think the effectiveness of our church ministries:

Bev, do you ever see the church becoming a place where people understand pain like this and express care to people in my situation? Frankly, I rarely go to church any more.  The pain is too great.

First, I found myself looking at a powerful passage in the Old Testament and found that the Bible validates the painful outcome of poor shepherding. In Ezekiel 34 the Sovereign LORD called the shepherds of Israel harsh and brutal because they only cared about the “choice animals.” Their motivation for focusing on the choice animals was selfish. They enjoyed the curds and wool clothing they received from these animals. These shepherds cared for themselves rather than for the flock. Their agenda was destructive. The LORD’s accusations against Israel’s Shepherds were clear,

Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? . . . . You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost (2, 4)

How did this poor shepherding impact the flock? The sheep scattered because there was no shepherd to look for them or to care for them. As a result the sheep became food for all the wild animals.

Often women in pain (and men in pain—since my focus is primarily women, that will be the terminology in this blog) have “scattered” and become “food for wild animals” because there was no one to shepherd them. Pain is an open door for the enemy. It is a time of great vulnerability. It is a time when shepherding is most critical. Women who are willing to go beyond caring for “choice animals” are so needed!

Yes, even the choice animals need shepherding. But most of us in the body of Christ naturally gravitate to the healthy because like the shepherds in Israel, we receive something from our efforts. Women completing a weekly Bible study program often affirm their leaders and the Bible study experience. They have the good feelings of completion. There was a beginning and an end, and the end marked productivity. In the process they learned something more about the Bible and themselves. Success is measurable. We believe our efforts were well spent and we feel rewarded. Bible study is certainly gratifying and essential! Healthy sheep DO need good food and a safe environment in which to grow. But often our ministries to women are only ministries to the “healthy.”

How many ministries, groups or programs have you in your ministry to women that focus specifically on the “injured” or the “lost?” This kind of shepherding often gets messy and months later there are few visible signs of fruit. Often we find it difficult to measure our productivity and celebrate success. Delayed gratification is more difficult to embrace. Often lost sheep repel our efforts to search and rescue, with the result they are open season for hunters of all species.

Often the “young—whether young in physical or spiritual years—are not a primary focus in our planning. While their youthful energy is admired, other facets of their lives seem foreign to older women. The impulse is to influence them to live life in the comfort zone of the previous generation, rather than gleaning valuable perspective from a present generation. We invite them to join us, rarely taking initiative to visit their turf. Without a solid bridge to the younger generations, are we inadvertently putting these sheep in danger of becoming “food for wild animals?” The myriad of sounds vying for the attention of younger women is astounding. How will they distinguish between the voice of the Good Shepherd and the thief, the “wild animals?”

My heart aches as I meet women, like Carol, who have not found their Christian community to be a place of safety, but instead found shepherds who were apathetic, oblivious or harsh. Although I understand the urge to minister in arenas of comfort or familiarity, we cannot ignore the strong message of Ezekiel 34. The impact of poor shepherding is that sheep are

  1. scattered (vs. 5)
  2. plundered, become food for wild animals (5, 28)
  3. victims of famine (29)
  4. afraid (28)
  5. object of scorn (29)
  6. without hope of rescue (6)

Women in pain are wandering over all the mountains and on every high hill (Ezek. 34:6). They are scattered on a day of clouds and darkness (Ezek. 34:12) and no one is looking for them. They are victims of famine, afraid, often ashamed. They have been used, abused, and refused. They are thirsty for spiritual life, searching in unsafe places for a drink of water. Contaminated water is increasing their pain and extending the life of their illness. They essentially are abandoned by ones who have the Living Water!

What would our ministry to women look like if we were to set as our objectives those the LORD uses in Ezekiel 34?

  1. Feed the healthy
  2. Strengthen the young and weak
  3. Heal and bind up the injured
  4. Search and care for the lost.

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