|Liturgy by TLW|
Who Chooses a Shepherd?
by The Rev. Thomas L. Weitzel
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
When churches lose pastors and synods lose bishops, there is both a sense of loss and a sense of excitement that occurs – loss for the ministry of the shepherd who is leaving and excitement about the possibilities that exist in the coming of a new shepherd. Call committees are formed, transition teams commence work, constitutions are consulted, surveys are prepared and discussions occur throughout the church on what gifts and skills are desired in the shepherd to come.
The details of the process, the interviews that occur and the voting at various points in that process can easily lure us into thinking that we ourselves hold the responsibility of choosing the next shepherd. In fact, scripture states again and again that the choice of a shepherd lies in the hands of God.
In Exodus 3, the Lord said to Moses from the burning bush, “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (v. 9-10). The Lord did the choosing.
In 1 Sam. 9:15, the Lord says to Samuel, "Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be ruler over my people Israel.” The Lord did the choosing.
In Jer.23:4, God promises his people Israel, “I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the LORD.” The Lord raises up shepherds.
Even in the New Testament, the Lord does the choosing. After Jesus’ ascension, the apostles sought to replace the position left by Judas the betrayer. And they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry….” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles (Acts 1:24-26). The Lord did the choosing.
A POSTURE OF DISCERNING
The prayer of the apostles in Acts 1 points the way for us who seek a shepherd. In that prayer, they not only acknowledged that God does the choosing, but in fact that God has already chosen. “Show us,” they pray, “which one you have chosen.”
“Show us.” It was a prayer for discernment – discernment of God’s choice of a shepherd. The posture then of those who are charged with various tasks in the call process is not one of choosing, but one of discerning God’s choice.
That posture shift from one of choosing to one of discerning is most important as we go through the call process. First it places the power in the equation where it belongs – with God. Second a posture of discerning is one of receiving, of being open to God’s leading, of looking for what God is showing, of looking upon candidates as God looks upon candidates, and seeking God’s hand and guidance in the individual and in the process.
God’s instructions to Samuel before the anointing of King David are helpful here (1 Sam. 16:1,6-7): The Lord said to Samuel … “Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons." When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, "Surely the Lord's anointed is now before the LORD." But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."
Congregational profiles and surveys that ask about gifts and skills desired in a shepherd may have their place within the call process, but this passage from 1 Samuel tells us that gifts and skills alone will not show all that we need to see. If we would know God’s choice for a shepherd, then we must see as the Lord sees, using eyes that look beyond what the world would see to discern God in the heart of a candidate, to discern God’s hand upon a candidate.
At the same time, an emphasis placed only on the candidate without a full consideration of our own context would also not be fully discerning, for the scripture passages above make it clear that God provides shepherds that match particular needs among God’s people. God is surely leading in our church. God is surely active in our midst. So true discerning leads us to ask also:
What is God doing among us?
Where is God leading our ministry?
What new ministries might God be suggesting for us?
Where is God needed in the world around us?
“Show us” is the prayer of this time of transition in our lives as God’s people.
“Show us” is our constant prayer and the nature of our posture during this time
of seeking and discerning God’s choice of a shepherd for us.