We have a problem with short termism. We simply don’t commit to something for long enough. And it is endemic in evangelical culture, in large part, I think, because we ape the hurry hurry, short term fix, culture around us. I can see it in myself and my way of reacting to things that go well or don’t go as well as I hoped. I tend to focus on the short term, the immediate, is it successful right now? Rather than awaiting the long term impact.
As an evangelical church that causes us problems from leadership down to the everyday. One of the most pressing problems it causes is pastors who don’t say long enough to actually pastor.
In 1 Peter 5 Peter describes being an elder as being a shepherd. It’s a term with a rich biblical background. It comes pulling freight loads of history, significance and meaning. David is described as a shepherd as God’s king. God rebukes Israel’s religious leaders for being bad shepherds because they are only out for what they can get. And God himself is the shepherd of his people. And Jesus identifies himself as The Good Shepherd in fulfilment of God’s promises to the sheep without, but in dire need of and longing for, a shepherd.
Being a shepherd involves a commitment to get to know your flock – yes all of them not just the most influential – and to lead them, feed them, protect them over the long term. Relationships and trust aren’t easily won, they take investment, commitment and time. Yet our short termism means that pastorates are usually short and so we forgo that long term loving, winning, protecting, influencing and shaping. I’m not even sure if it’s possible to really pastor if you haven’t been somewhere for at least 5 years, after all it often takes us that long to really get to know someone, to spot patterns and build a relationship capable of two way gospel intentionality and discipleship.
Real pastoring calls us to go long. Going long isn’t easy, it means staying constantly fresh in our love for Christ, his people, and his word even as we walk through some of the same issues again with the same people. It means being there long enough to make mistakes, learn, repent of them, and show progress in Christ, It means a commitment to teach all of scripture not just the bits we’ve done before. But I can’t help thinking the rewards could be much greater; the joy of seeing people we’ve pastored for years grow, change, and finish their race. Seeing children grow up, trust Christ, and go on to serve. Having the privilege, with tear filled eyes but a joy filled heart, of commending a servant who has run their race well as we preach at one of our flocks funerals after years of discipling one another.
This applies not just to the pastor but to elders. To be an elder is to be a shepherd, it is a long term commitment. It is an intention to invest and develop a relationship, a determination to plough and reap and sow again and again in a congregations life one individual at a time.