“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5: 1–3, ESV)
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them” (Jeremiah 23:1–2).
The good office of the pastor, and the credibility of pastors, have fallen on hard times in the church of Jesus in Namibia. The once-respected office of the pastor has reached a low point.
What gives me the right to say this?
I bumped into an acquaintance at a local supermarket the other day and, in a brief conversation, he half-jokingly blurted out the thought that pastors cannot be trusted. I confess that I was somewhat surprised by his rather blunt assertion, until I came to understand later that the leading pastor of his congregation, a married man, has had an ongoing adulterous relationship with another woman. Apparently, he only confessed his misdemeanour to the leadership of the church after he had been caught out. A week later I have heard of yet another pastor in our city who has been involved in an adulterous relationship. Pastors of virtually every denomination in our city have fallen into adulterous relationships over a span of years.
Imagine what that does to the thought life and the emotions of the ordinary member of the congregation. Imagine what this all does to the image of the pastoral ministry in our city. Pastors are after all expected to be role models. The criteria for becoming a pastor are clearly stated in 1 Timothy 3:1–8 and Titus 1:5–9. These criteria are all rooted in noble and virtuous character. The one person in the church who ought to display true Christian character and discipline is the pastor.
And so horrible stories of pastoral misdemeanour have emerged, leaving people confused, hurting and wounded, and some of those that have come to our church, were, I confess only being helped with great difficulty and with exceeding patience. After all, how do you trust or speak to any pastor when you have been hurt by another pastor?
The truth is that pastors are no longer the most trusted people in our community. When the heart is hurting and perspective is lacking, people do not run to the church. They run to the psychologist and the psychiatrist. They run to medication, and all this does not solve the ultimate issues of the soul. According to one respected doctor in our city, the people of Windhoek are over medicated!
On yet another level, a senior and a godly woman from another church visited our congregation on a given Sunday and, over a cup of tea after the service, told us that the pastors of her fairly sizeable congregation did not practise biblical shepherding of their flock. There was no visible pastoral care being given. There was no pastoral visitation and no pastoral counselling happening in her congregation. She said that her pastors loved the stage and the limelight but, when it came to the hard work of caring for the flock, were nowhere to be seen.
Recently, I conducted a funeral of a man who had begun to visit our congregation, while his family remained behind in their congregation. Before the onset of his last, serious illness, we had met for coffee and a chat from time to time. When his illness became terminal, nobody came to visit him from his previous congregation. There was no visit from the pastor of the family, no word of comfort, and no perspective at this crucial time.
He had left his church for reasons that he could not adequately explain. All he said was that he felt very happy and comfortable in our congregation. He also said that he loved hearing the Word of God preached. He said that it comforted his soul. We believe that the pastoral preaching of the Bible is essential to the restoration of the soul. It is essential for the healing of the mumps and the measles of the soul, to quote from a sermon by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Romans 6:13. It is an important part of pastoral ministry. It is that which Jesus means when He says, “Feed My sheep!” The lack of biblical, expository, pastoral preaching in Namibian pulpits is yet another aspect that has been lost, by and large, in the church.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not saying that I am the perfect pastor, and that our church is the perfect church. We know that we are not. Much to my regret I, and we, have not been able to minister effectively to every needy person that has come our way. People have slipped through the net. But what I am saying is that we need to do the right thing, and that is to work harder to bring pastoral care back from the brink of extinction. I am writing this reflection as a reminder to myself! The Great, Good Shepherd—the Lord Jesus—demands this from us. It’s His plan for us. The quote above from 1 Peter 5:1–3 says it all.