He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms;
he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
We spent much of last Monday (28 May) sitting at the feet of Revd Dr Gordon Wong's teaching on Isaiah 40 at the 9am Service Camp. The eleventh verse of this passage caught my attention.
The shepherd gathers, guides, and carries. When the journey gets too difficult, he will carry the young ones (lambs) and hold them close to his chest. He has them in a close embrace. He cares, not from a distance, but at close proximity.
As I reflect on this verse, the fact is none of us can be truly independent. There are many moments in our lives when we need to be gathered, guided, and even ’carried’. In some seasons this need for help from another becomes more obvious. In 1 Timothy 5, St Paul laid out practical instructions on how we should care for those who are more vulnerable in the church, such as widows. But the need for shepherding extends to all. Isaiah 53:6a says, “All we are like sheep who have gone astray.” Like someone who is lost, we need help to find our way back. This may surprise some of you, but there are also many moments in my life where I feel lost and in need of being guided by someone else.
So much can be said about shepherding and how central this is to the life of the church. Spiritual and even political leaders need to grasp this concept of leadership. Even in using the term "leadership", I run the risk of undermining this deeply ancient and biblical idea.
Primarily, I am not called to “lead” the church. One can say that in modern times, leadership can be overrated. It is when a leader learns to be a shepherd that true leadership is exercised. For we serve our Lamb of God who is a Shepherd Himself who had laid down His life for His sheep. Whether you are a pastor, Connect Group leader or a cabinet minister, if one learns to shepherd the people, his leadership influence will be a lasting one. And like this image in Isaiah 40:11, this includes being able to embrace those who need it.
I am tempted to do the usual and use the word “weak” to describe those who are in need. In my previous church, there was a cleaner who loves the Lord and is always joyful. She had to work hard to take care of her handicapped son. From time to time, she will stuff a ten dollar note in my hand. My first reaction is to refuse it until I realise that she did not want to come across as someone to be pitied. I realise I am serving her by accepting her little gift. It was her joy and pride to give.
It is a lifelong lesson for me. Just look around you when you are in the Cathedral. Pause and give some time to those who are seeking a listening ear. Just consider this, everyone, to some degree or another, needs a shepherd. To care for someone, will involve giving some of your time and energy. I know another clergy who defines love as energy and time. This is it. Love is not an emotion. It is action that involves giving of energy and time.
If the Cathedral community can be a caring and “proximating" community, she will be moving in the right direction as far as being a church is concerned. Outreach to our wider surrounding community and overseas missions will naturally follow when we bear the marks of our Great Shepherd.
I am aware that the Vicar and the team of clergy and pastors set the pace. Pray that we will never miss the mark of what church leadership is all about.