Being a Shepherd in 2021
Our gospel text from the book of John begins today with Jesus saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Most of us I am sure have heard sermons on being a shepherd and what it means that Jesus refers to himself as our shepherd. It is a text used to remind us of God’s unfailing and unending love for us.
Jesus is referenced as the good shepherd, and priests are referred to as shepherds. What does it mean to be a shepherd, and what does it mean to be a “good” shepherd today?
I will share some unsettling statistics with you.
The average stay for a pastor in a church is about 4 years. A youth pastor - the average is 3. The average giving by adults who attend US Protestant churches is about $17 a week.
37% of regular church attendees and Evangelicals don't give money to church.
17% of American families have reduced the amount that they give to their local church. 7% of church goers have dropped regular giving by 20% or more.
2020 was the year of Covid and riots and political and social unrest, as has not been experienced in my generation. Churches found themselves doing things as they had never been done before.
Things are slowly beginning to return to some semblance of normalcy as more and more people become vaccinated, but we are regathering in a different world. Things have changed.
I was reading an article this week, Tony Morgan’s Q3 UnStuck Church Report, in which he shared that among churches his team had surveyed for his article, that the new average for in-person attendance was 36% of what it was pre-Covid. 36%.
No leader entered 2020 saying “I hope we’re at 36% of where we are right now by the end of the year.” But that’s exactly what’s happening.
41%: The Percentage Of Gen Z Who Primarily Prefer Physical Gatherings Post-COVID - which means that primarily the majority don’t prefer physical gatherings.
(Gen Z is the newest generation, born between 1997 and 2012/15. They are currently between 6 and 24 years old (nearly 68 million in the U.S.)Jan 13, 2021)
Primarily, the majority don’t prefer physical gatherings.
The digital genie is out of the bottle. The church is still around - it is just leaving the building.
The Q3 Unstuck Church Report also revealed that only 21% church leaders agreed that they have a “well-defined digital ministry strategy to engage with people who are outside the church and outside the faith.” In other words, almost 80% don’t.
71% of Boomers want to return to in person worship - but between the 71% and the 41% there is a 30 point gap. Average age of pastors is 54 - so churches are being led by Boomers and our leadership is composed of Boomers.
The changes happening in church attendance right now are not just cultural, they are generational. The changes happening in church attendance right now are not just cultural, they are generational.
I knew God was calling me into parish ministry as I left 13 years of chaplaincy ministry in the hospital. I knew I was entering parish ministry in the middle of a pandemic because I feel called by God to the church, to help lead and pastor and offer sacramental ministry to the family of God. I am glad to be here. St. James has a strong history and is full of special people and I look forward to many years together. We do have work to do.
I want to be a good shepherd. I desire to bring love and laughter and joy to this congregation and to continue to do good work in our surrounding community and beyond our immediate borders with the resources God has given us.
The second part of our gospel passage today Jesus proclaims, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Jesus was speaking to his disciples, fellows Jews and he lets them know that there are sheep that are not of their fold - there are sheep that look different than you - talk different than you - value things that you don’t value.
This passage speaks to the body of Christ, of which we are all a part through our acceptance of Christ.
We are aware that the Body of Christ is inclusive of all nations, races and people. Jesus speaks of unity in the body of Christ, in fact in John 17:26 he speaks of why he came “so that they may all be one”.
We are called to oneness through Jesus Christ and this means accepting and welcoming diversity in whatever form it is represented in the wider community.
Differences divide and this has been a divisive year.
We must keep to the forefront of our thinking the directive to unity.
It is difficult to move beyond the familiar. It is difficult to fully embrace into the fold those who are different than we are. Even our neighbors whom we may help with ministry, including them as recipients of our congregation can be difficult.
The Good shepherd brings wisdom and clarity and comfort- “I know my own and my own know me.” John is clear that in the voice of the good shepherd, the ultimate goal is “one flock (under) one shepherd.”
That shepherd is not the preacher or the denominational hierarchy. That flock belongs only to “the good shepherd (who) lays down his life for the sheep” (verse 11b).
In this post-Easter season, that good shepherd is the one who has already not only laid down his life for the sheep in his crucifixion, but who has taken it up again in his resurrection.
That good shepherd is the one who has made the definitive call to all who will become part of the fold.
The divisiveness that plagues both society and the church is contrary to the divine call.
Being part of one fold that belongs to the good shepherd means loving neighbors in all their diversity.
While I am not THE Good shepherd, I am your shepherd. I am called to lead and love and share with you in this resurrection life.
As we move forward as a congregation and we consider what it looks like to have those who are not of our fold join with us, we will need to consider what things we need to do and how we can be in this year of 2021 when the world and church has changed so much as we have known it.
First, we may need to get some young leaders around our table. Not just for them to share opinions, but in making decisions. And we may need to rethink and reconsider our allocation of resources — online ministry is here to stay. A strong online presence and how to develop that ministry is something we need to thinking and praying about.
Regular church attendance has been dropping for decades. The crisis appears to have accelerated that.
We need to pray and seriously consider how we are going to be accepting and reach sheep who may not be of our fold. Not familiar with our way of doing things - so that we can continue to be a beacon of light and hope in this community. One flock. One shepherd.