In the last entry I defined spiritual formation as:
Spiritual formation is the ongoing process of the Holy Spirit drawing us deeper into the love and life of the Father and Son; which shapes us into Jesus’ image of love for the Father and for the world.
Implications for Shepherd Care
As we shepherd, we are always on the lookout for ill-health in the other’s relationship with God.
This is not the morality police, actually it is the opposite.
Evangelical spirituality is rife with moralism. No, this is not about sin management. Rather it is about communion with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We seek to shepherd people to Jesus. Jesus is our pasture of rest. He is our stream of living water. He is our peace, our joy, our guide, our calm in all life’s storms. He is more than adequate for the constant upsurge of our brokenness.
Shepherds bring people to Jesus and Jesus to people. This is the core work of shepherd care.
“Do Not Throw People Back on Themselves”
There is a poignant story James B. Torrence shares to start the second chapter of his book Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace. It is too lengthy to transcribe here (the book is worth the read), but I will share the concluding observation Torrence made from this very sweet story:
“It seems to be that in a pastoral situation our first task is not to throw people back on themselves with exhortations and instructions as to what to do and how to do it, but to direct people to the gospel of grace – to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and in prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into eternal life of communion with the Father.” p. 45
Do not “throw people back onto themselves.” Brilliantly stated, this.
When faced with others in need, it is so tempting to give them “exhortations and instructions as to what to do and how to do it.” That is not shepherding well though. It throws people back on themselves as if their best hope is somewhere within themselves; if they could just dig a little harder, resolve a little more determinedly then all their life challenges would come out well.
No, this will not do. This is moralism – trying to make our life work by our own efforts.
First relationship, then life change.
Participation in the Life of Jesus
The life of holiness is simply and mysteriously participating in the life of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20).” So we are seeking to shepherd people to Jesus that they may grow in their abiding in him. As they do so, Jesus lives his life in them.
The Shepherd’s Task
This is the shepherd’s task – take people to Jesus. Remind them of his immeasurable love. Tell once again that his disposition toward us is forgiveness in love (see Psalm 139). That we are not on our own. We are given the Spirit of love and grace who leads us into all truth.
In the end, shepherds are willfully complicit with the Holy Spirit’s concern of drawing all into communion with the Father and Son. When we fail or are struggling in the dark, that is what we need most – someone to walk with us back into that embracing communion.
How About You?
We are all sheep first, shepherds second. How is the Spirit growing your communion with the Father and Son?
Who is your shepherd? How is God growing you as a sheep, that you might be a more grace-filled shepherd?
How might you change your approach to shepherding others? Do not throw yourself back on yourself here! Seek the Chief Shepherd, he will show you the way forward.
As always, your thoughts are most welcome.