““Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.”
Ezekiel 34:2-4 ESV
Through the Bible: Ezekiel 34-36
Yesterday I had coffee with a precious young couple in our church. I had counseled them through their engagement, performed their wedding, and dedicated both their children (In our denomination, we don’t christen children or baptize infants, but we do have a ceremony where we commission parents to be the spiritual leaders for their kids and commit to walking alongside them through that process). They are truly a godly couple seeking to raise their children to love the Lord.
The purpose of the meeting was to tell me they were leaving our church.
They were incredibly kind about it. They assured me they loved me and had grown from my sermons. They were incredibly appreciative of the time I had invested in them. And they had built great friendships with our members. But they were leaving, they said, because they had visited a church where they felt like they would be better equipped to lead their children, and where the husband would be more supported in his desire to be the spiritual head of the household.
Every exit of a family from the church I serve is like a little death. But this one felt like an indictment. I never begrudge anyone leaving. I have told many people through the years that my greatest desire is for people to find a place where the Bible is being authentically preached and where they can grow, serve, and find community. And if our church isn’t being that for them, then I absolutely bless their departure. All gospel-centered, Bible teaching churches are on the same team.
But when a family leaves because they are not finding what I as a pastor most want to provide, it hurts. I said to my friends, “I am not trying to talk you into staying if you feel God leading you to another place. But is there anything we as a church need to do better?”
The young man thought for a minute as he tried to put it into words. Finally, he said, “You could just tell that for these people, church was more than just what they did on Sundays. I love the conversations we have with our friends at the church. But the truth is, they aren’t much different from the conversations I have with my friends who don’t go to church. But with this other church, you can tell that their relationship with Jesus is at the center of everything they do. They were talking about family worship time. Total strangers were telling me about the difference worshiping as a family had made, and directed us to lots of resources the church had for helping families with this.”
“And I didn’t realize I wasn’t getting that until I saw it somewhere else.”
Ezekiel 34 is God’s judgment against shepherds who do not care for their flock. I don’t take all of it personally. I do think I feed them from God’s Word every week to the best of my ability (v. 2) I don’t think I have gotten fat off our flock (verse 3). And I am very confident that I haven’t “ruled over them with force and harshness.”
But have I strengthened the weak? Have I brought back the strays? Have I sought the lost? And have I led my church to shepherd each other?
God will feed His sheep. According to verse 10, He will rescue His sheep from the mouths of shepherds who aren’t feeding them. He himself will search for the sheep the shepherds aren’t seeking. He will gather the sheep the shepherds have left to fend for themselves.
Shepherds, hear me. God is committed to caring for HIS flock. He will either do it through you, or in spite of you. And God, help us to learn from all of those who seek greener pastures. Don’t write them off. Listen to them as they are leaving. They have a lot to teach us.
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