There was a man in the church who did not like change. He wore the same suits that he purchased thirty or forty years ago. Even though the jackets were threadbare in places he saw no reason to change them. He was also very vocal about how he disliked these new changes and this new pastor. His friends, equally disgruntled about changes in their lives, frequently came together to dine on pastor potluck. This man did not want any pastor to lead him, but he did need a shepherd to care for him.
In Acts 20:17 – 21:6 Paul is preparing to go to Jerusalem and face resistance. There are some key insights from this passage geared to pastors in all types and sizes of churches to shepherd those who do not want your shepherding.
Know your calling.
Paul knew his calling. He was to go to Jerusalem to testify about the grace of God to the Gentiles. Fulfilling his calling was going to press him into adversity. The difficulty did not derail Paul. Nor should difficulty derail you.
To shepherd those who do not want your shepherding you must possess the unshakable knowledge that your identity rests in Christ and his atoning death and resurrection. Your identity does not rest in the size of your church, the eloquence of your sermons, or the number of books you have published. Know that you know that you know that your calling is first to Jesus, then to the ministry.
Difficulty defines you.
Few people enjoy difficult seasons of life. Many look at their problems and cannot wait for them to be over. The Bible though transforms tragedy to triumph by calling on you to demonstrate faithfulness through the difficulty. God is able to use difficult moments, difficult people and difficult churches to refine you as his servant.
Shepherding those who do not want to be shepherded demands being faithful to the Lord while dealing with difficult people and challenging circumstances. You need to learn to love the difficult to love. The challenge you are enduring can become an opportunity for God to show his faithfulness to you because you have remained faithful to him.
Pay careful attention to yourself.
In the middle of Paul’s address to the Ephesian elders, he tells them to “be on guard for yourself” (Acts 20:28, CSB). No doubt he gives them the same counsel that he has already embraced. Be on guard. Watch yourself. Pay attention.
Often the allure of temptation is greater during seasons of difficulty than in any other time. The lure of alcohol is a temporary to relieve stress. Prescription painkillers create a passing and false sense of ease and peace. Pornography is deceptive intimacy void of the demands of your real marriage. These big three have knocked out too many pastors. Broken too many homes. Crushed too many churches.
In challenging times you feel weak and tired and are more susceptible to temptations. When you are more susceptible to temptation the greater the challenge is to guard yourself and press back temptation. An accountability partner is only effective if you are paying attention to yourself and honestly seeking someone to hold you responsible for your life and faith. The only person who can pay attention to the inner workings of your heart and mind is you.
Guarding yourself is more than creating a line of defense. Guarding yourself calls you to continue to grow and develop. Growing both in your faith and in your skills as a leader.
There are people in your church who do not like you. They certainly do not want to be led by you. You have to be okay with that. They still need you to be their shepherd.
You can only be responsible for how you act. You must shepherd those who want nothing to do with you. Treating them with the kindness and compassion you desire even if they are trying to throw mud.
Be faithful to your calling and keep on pressing on.