By Doug Beacham
Leading God’s sheep in a local congregation is one of the highest callings for any minister of the gospel. The practice of a pastoral shepherd is rooted in the culture of biblical days and in the paradigm of care, protection, nourishment, and purpose that craft provided.
Through Scripture, men and women shepherded flocks: Abraham, Rachel, Moses, David. Psalm 78:72 fittingly describes David as the prototype shepherd, “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.” It was shepherds who first heard the announcement of the birth of Jesus, and then became the first messengers of those good tidings (Luke 2:8-17).
Six times in John 10, Jesus described Himself and His ministry as “shepherd” and “good shepherd.” The apostles wrote of Jesus as the “Great Shepherd” and “Chief Shepherd” (Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 5:4). Paul admonished the Ephesian elders to “shepherd the church” (Acts 20:28).
Pastors – shepherds – are gifts of Christ to His church (Ephesians 4:11). As such, they are accountable to God for what they do with God’s sheep. But the sheep have the duty to recognize God’s purposes at work through their pastors.
I remember hearing Mark Rutland tell of a woman complaining to him about her pastor. He was speaking at a church and after service she came to him and said, “Our pastor thinks he’s God’s gift to us.” Rutland calmly replied, “Well, madam, he is!”
There is a bit of humor in that story, and we’ve all seen pastors who abuse the calling they have received. The horror stories of pastoral emotional, spiritual, physical, and sexual abuse, bring no glory to God and such pastors are rightly exposed, rebuked, and either restored or removed.
But I’m thinking of the countless men and women who faithfully serve God’s sheep. Many of them are bi-vocational serving the flock assigned to them. For many, their spouse works to provide necessary income and make it possible for the pastor to fulfill the call.
Such pastors faithfully visit hospitals, homes, nursing homes, funeral homes. They interrupt family vacations to return for the funeral of a saint. They give up their Saturday to perform a wedding. They often struggle to find time to study and pray, knowing they will stand up in front of people with the terrifying prospect that eternal destinies may be determined in what, and how, they speak on Sunday.
They meet with church boards, agonizing over budgets and countless items. In smaller congregations, they are the ones responsible to mobilize volunteers for the ongoing work of the church. Regardless the size of the flocks, there are constant demands, challenges, and opportunities.
Despite all that, I personally found it very fulfilling to be a pastor. Though my role has shifted through the years, I find that the gifts of a pastor inform and influence how I lead as the Presiding Bishop of this movement. I take great solace in that fact. But I miss the weekly interaction with the same sheep. I have a godly envy for the good pastors I encounter globally across the IPHC.
In recent weeks, I have watched two IPHC pastors at their best in caring for their flocks. In both instances, their pastoral care was manifested in baby dedications.
I’ll admit that dedicating babies was one of my most personally fulfilling aspects of pastoral ministry. I was taught well by the late Carl L. Campbell in the five years I served as his associate pastor in Richmond, Virginia. When I became a senior pastor in 1982, I followed his exact pattern in dedicating children.
On the first Sunday of October, I was speaking at the 25th anniversary of Oasis of Hope IPHC in Webster, Texas. The first service was with several hundred people where I had a Spanish interpreter. The second service was the English service with maybe 80 to 100 in attendance. In the second service, Pastor Jaime Trevino stood and told his flock that he was going to dedicate a little red-headed boy. With great compassion, he mentioned how the church had stood with the grandfather of the little boy after the child’s father committed suicide and the mother lost custody of the child.
Pastor Trevino then said that the grandfather was present in the service, as well as the young couple who were going to rear the child in another state. They all came forward to the front of the church. I had tears in my eyes as the pastor hugged the grieving grandfather, and then took the little boy in his arms and prayed over him and the young couple who had the opportunity to love and nurture him.
I saw a shepherd gracefully standing with the pain, and the hope, of a family trying to make sense of its grief and future.
On the second Sunday of October, I was in Belpre, Ohio, at The Celebration Center, with Pastor Rob Clegg. Rob had texted me earlier asking if I would participate in a baby dedication. The night before at supper, he told me about the children being dedicated. One of them was his most recent grandchild. His daughter made a life-decision regarding this baby, and the love for his own family and this child, was so evident. Rob and his wife Cara stood with joyful tears as they celebrated the gift of life given to them. The congregation had rallied around this pastoral family with love, support, and encouragement. The love their pastor had shown them for over a decade, was returned with multiplied grace.
These two baby dedications, and the way these pastors handled these situations, made me very thankful for the gift of pastor that Jesus has given His church, His sheep. It’s because of these kinds of pastoral expression, and countless others, that I am deeply appreciative of the pastors of the IPHC.