Link to Lectionary Texts for Proper 11B: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp11_RCL.html
If you are using the Jeremiah tract with Mark, which I am, then the unifier is “shepherdness.” I know that’s not a word, but then we don’t have a shepherd either. As Fr. Martin in the old “Chalk Talk” series used to say, “If we move over and give God the driver’s seat we will crash.” That goes for Jesus too.
Instead of the one big shepherd in the sky we have leaders and managers, and oh, my goodness, what a difference. Managers do things right and leaders do the right thing (Peter Drucker); or more precisely, the manager asks “how” and “when” and the leader asks “what” and “why.”
Okay, those distinctions are little pat but you get my point. In churches, as in many families and other institutions, we cry out for managers when things are not going smoothly but what we actually need are leaders. Then, when the manager arrives and actually begins to manage us, we stomp and complain and resist.
Very often, I suspect, when people throw up their hands and decide to give their life over to the will of God what they are really acknowledging is that they have made a mess of things and they want someone to come in and manage them back to order. The problem, of course, is that God doesn’t do that – obviously.
The church, like our Education system, is a slave to gimmicks.
We love to jump for the next silver bullet that will solve all our problems, or more precisely, the next model of ministry that will make everything right. We talk about being “missional” and “servant leadership,” “the (proper) marks of ministry,” and “Baptismal ministry.” We glom onto “circular management” and “consensus decision-making” and “bottom-up leadership,” and on and on and on. Each one has a new system, a new methodology, a new style, and each one will solve our problems and bring forth the kingdom of God within the church.
None of them will. At least none of them will universally. All church is local.
Just as there are dozens and dozens of Church database software products promising to do everything that a congregation needs done but none which actually work out that way, there are all kinds of models of ministry, leadership, and management and each one possesses strengths, weaknesses, appropriateness to the setting and inappropriateness to the setting – the setting being key.
A hierarchical model of leadership can be every bit as generous, healing and effective as consensus leadership, and both can be disastrous and destructive. The question for models of leadership, management, and ministry is the character, history, strengths, and limitations of the congregation and its leaders. And it is also true that more than one model will work in any given situation.
Since we do not have one particular shepherd we should not be focused on one particular methodology, as if method and style is equivalent to theological truth. (While it is true that the teachings of Jesus are our guide, the interpretation and application of those teachings are so widely varied as to offer a mile-wide tract of appropriateness).
What is the process that will shepherd us towards God’s invitation? What do we need to know about ourselves in order to allow that process to move us down stream? How do we decide which of the gazillion ways of doing things offer the best fit for the people, resources, and history of our local church?
You see, it is a wide-open, arduous, and sloppy way to move forward – unlike the little cookie-cutter channels we think will bring forth the kingdom. But I trust that process more than those proposing themselves as our shepherds.
This way of thinking about shepherdness (vs. a specific shepherd), and preaching on it, is much more complicated than our typical ways of talking about “shepherds.” But then, we are embedded in a 21st century urban culture with institutional religion on a hard decline, so perhaps we should be thinking and talking differently about a lot of things.