Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Shepherd's Mission

Did you scratch your head, laugh out loud, cringe a little bit, or have some other reaction of unbelief when you heard that NASA’s new mission had been changed to  Muslim Outreach?  Back on July 14, 2010 NASA Chief Charlie Bolden said that one of NASA’s foremost tasks is to engage with Muslim nations.  And here I thought it was about satellites, man on the moon, an International Space Station, and future missions to Mars!  How and why did the mission of America’s space program turn to appeasing our enemies?  If Muslim engagement is the goal, I don’t have much interest in what NASA may be doing in the future!

            The Mission of any organization is more than verbage on official documents.  It defines who they are and what they intend to do!  Goals, objectives, strategies are developed and employed to help the organization achieve its mission.  Constituencies are developed that “buy into” or commit to the success of that organization.  The investors have a stake in the success of the enterprise and demand that the leaders and employees act in such a way as to bring success and growth.  The market will influence and occasionally dictate the success or failure of an organization.  It is naturally expected that the mission will be of primary importance to any business or organization.

            Some have defined the church as an “organization.”  The Scriptures emphasize again and again the mission of the church.  I heard Wayne Smith preach one time that the church has three reasons to exist:  “(1) Seek and save the lost; (2) Edify the saints; and (3) Be the conscience of the community.”  That is a pretty good summary of the mission of the church.  That is what we are about, and that is what we are supposed to be doing.

            Yet we’ve seen striking examples of churches that have changed that mission.  Some care more about status in the community, large buildings, ‘movers and shakers’ in the community, etc. than evangelism.  Some have replaced the “organizational documents,” i.e. the Scriptures with the traditions of men and the tickling of ears.  Some have set aside sound doctrine to pay attention to the doctrine of demons.  Others struggle with keeping their doors open, their biggest goal is having church next Sunday, without ever really knowing or caring WHY they are having church next Sunday!

            As good leaders are essential to the success of a business and achieving desired outcomes, the same is true in the church!  Leadership is essential.  Elmer Towns once said, “The church has only one problem.  It has a LEADERSHIP problem!”  I believe he is correct.  Good leaders keep the church focused on achieving the mission.  How important it is that leaders in the church – Evangelists, pastors [Elders] and teachers (see Eph. 4:11-13) be committed to protecting and fulfilling the mission of the church.

            The shepherd had a mission:  The sheep!  Know the sheep, lead them, feed them, and defend them pretty much summed it up!  Jesus uses that as an illustration in John 10.  The 23rd Psalm presents the shepherd’s job in similar terms as well.   The shepherd invested his time, his toil, and if called upon his very life for the well-being of the sheep.  That was his mission!   Jesus wants His sheep to have life and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10).   But He went on to talk about thieves and robbers who came in, interested only in their own profit to the detriment of the sheep.  You could say they had ‘control’ of the sheep, but failed in their mission!  They didn’t care about the outcome of the sheep, losing them to the wolves because they were “hirelings, and … not concerned about the sheep” (Jn. 10:13).

            A good shepherd or a hireling, who do we want to be overseers of the mission?  Do we want someone committed to the sheep, or someone who doesn’t really care about them, only his own skin?  To ask the question is indeed to answer it.  But further questions need to be asked, and more careful scrutiny of our leaders must take place.

            We are seeing churches sprout up with great fervor and excitement, who have no concept about the original mission of the church, or even a biblical model of good care provided for the sheep.  The style of Sunday worship is exciting enough, but little or no opportunity for growth or discipleship is taking place.  We see parachurch organizations that have changed their mission to something mostly unrecognizable from their original founding.  Bible Colleges which once came into existence for the expressed purpose of training preachers [original mission] now desire to train nurses, public school teachers, and a host of other positions [new and improved mission].

            When the ‘institution’ becomes an overriding concern to the leaders rather than the ‘mission,’ it’s time to rethink who we install and support as leaders.  The principles of John 10 come to mind.  Perhaps Christians have adopted so many worldly markers of success in a business sense that they have unknowingly short-changed God’s standards of leadership qualifications. 

            I remember back in the early 80’s watching a number of Bible Colleges going through the “we need a businessman as president” mentality.  Not surprisingly, most didn’t last long in the job.  Some things just didn’t translate over too well from the business model of success to the Scriptural model of success as far as the mission was concerned!  Over the last decade the mentality has been “we need to become like the state universities in order to remain viable”!  When the mission changes, the results are going to change with them!

            The shepherd may well present the best possible illustration of faithfulness to the mission.  If the shepherd isn’t committed to the mission, the sheep get eaten by wolves!  Sheep don’t fare too well without leaders committed to their care.  Elders in the church, or trustees in a parachurch organization absolutely must know the mission and be committed to the mission.  Temptation to change the mission (and realize I’m not talking about METHODS here) is an invitation to thieves, robbers, and wolves, and a pretty bad outcome all the way around.  Jesus clearly identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10.  Peter uses this illustration in 1 Peter 5 as well.  He calls Jesus the Chief Shepherd and admonishes the elders reading his epistle to “shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God… proving to be examples to the flock” (cf. 1 Peter 5:1-4).

            I am a firm believer in the truth of “Methods are many, principles are few.  Methods always change, principles never do.”  We do the Lord’s work a great disservice when we think our mission trumps His!  We do harm to God’s people when we think we can improve upon the mission, update it, modernize it, etc.!  We subject the Lord’s sheep to grave danger when we allow shepherds to come in to the flock who either don’t know or “don’t get” the mission!  Christian leaders must be committed first to Christ and His mission.  They must properly teach that mission in the church.  They need to stand ready to refute those who would bring in false teaching, thus changing the mission.  Call them Shepherds or Elders, they must be sound in their faith, able to teach, and ready to call out those who would change the direction of the Lord’s Church.

Let’s reemphasize the mission of the church and hold leaders accountable for maintaining the integrity of the mission.

C’mon, Murphy, let’s go outside!

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