Loss of a Friend.
Yesterday I did something that I have not done for a long time, I took a funeral for my precious friend Gerald. Some of you regular readers of the blog will have read about this man before, someone I would call a true servant. Willing to do any or everything for people and for the ‘church’ building without the desire for position or title or recognition. Even to try to give him a financial gift would end up in him getting miffed that you would think he would want paying for what he did for God. He was a shining example of service and someone I loved dearly. The only thing at that time was that he was never comfortable in ‘church’ meetings in a ‘church’ building. How naive I was back then to judge him for such things. As he lay in a coma I apologised for my attitude towards him in those days, trying to make him conform to the pattern, when really I think God was trying to teach me through him and his example. Last week I took the blow of hearing the news of his death. I heard in the holy aisles of Asda. That night there was much crying out to God, questions that remain unanswered, memories flashing by. A stillness came over my spirit as I wrestled many of the big questions. The why’s that will always remain why’s. I ended up visiting the family who I have been through many adventures with. Baptisms, weddings, grandchildren, drug addiction and alcohol abuse, friends going off the rails, but also great adventures of faith. I sat in a room with them and all of a sudden I became a pastor to them. In-fact I had never stopped being a pastor to them. I had no church or pulpit, I had no title, position or ministry, but to them I was their shepherd, the one to guide them to green pastures during this time of bereavement. The one who would bring them a cup of still water to refresh their parched, damaged souls. The one who would remind them of a table set before them where their heads would be covered in oil. This man who had served me so many times now had me serving his own family. Giving my time, my life, my effort, my energies, not because I had to or my position demanded it, but because I wanted to. I poured myself out for this family, and will continue to do so. I have realised the function of poimen, the shepherd, the pastor, is not about a trained gift person it is about walking amongst people who are lost, who need for a moment a shepherd just to walk with them. In my own pain of loss I walked with the Gealy family. Not giving easy answers or Bible verses, but time, attention, love. I was a shepherd without walls.
Leadership is Service.
The opportunity to shepherd is not for a select few, it is for all. We all have opportunity to stand alongside someone who is lost and broken and guide them for a while. This is not a tell them what to do thing but a walking alongside, with, arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder. Walking broken streets while you listen to stories of pain and need and hope and grace and doubt. Being that refreshing drink offering to a life and not a broken record of set Bible verses to quote that you’ve learned from heart. These people do not want to know what you believe, they need to know that you still believe in them no matter what they are going through or thinking. For too long we have seen every walking person as a potential catch or as someone to bring a quick fix too, but it is time we saw them as people, many sheep without a shepherd, lost, walking aimlessly through life. We do not go to them to point them to the way, we carry the Way. Our lives become the Way. We have not come to lead them but to serve them. To lay down our lives for friends, strangers, walking companions. Life becomes the training ground rather than colleges and churches. We learn from the broken rather than experts in the pulpits. We allow our lives to become part of their lives. Our story is their story. As I sat with the family after the service yesterday I did not feel like the ‘minister’ amongst the bereaved, I was part of the bereaved needing the company and ministry myself. I felt part of them. I laughed with them, I wept with them, I listened with them as they shared stories of past memories as well as hopes for the future for their own children. This family called me their pastor so many times as I was introduced and it seemed so natural and not manufactured by a position I had obtained. Still Paul, but amongst the broken.
Where are we walking?
As I have worked since and slept and risen this morning I thought about the walk outside the walls and the many people we find walking there with us and alongside us and around us. We live to share the road with them. For some it may be a fleeting moment of time, for others our lives get intertwined like a tapestry, woven together so beautifully by the one true Shepherd. Every life can give of itself for someone else. This is not to distinct between believer, unbeliever, the sorted, the messed up, this is about laying down our lives for those around us. Stopping the flow of self and seeing the other. Pouring out as a drink offering for them. This could just be giving a glass a water or having a coffee, but the still waters and the oil will flow from conversation and time spent together. In those moments love flows from the throne room. Healing balm is poured out. Not in prayers but in simple conversation, and sometimes even in the silence of shared lives and moments. Jesus gave up glorious places to walk amongst us. So often the church just wants the glorious places. This was never the call of the church at all, it was always to be amongst, within, beside, with. We do not serve community, we are community. We are people, we are just as lost. It is time to call us all forth as the shepherds without walls.