I had just moved to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as a college pastor. Suburbia tends to insulate us from the deep, historical pains of a city, so I asked Tracy Hipps to give me on orientation. The social terrain between Birmingham’s white and black and rich and poor is more vast than in any city I have ever lived. Tracy knew that terrain well, so I hopped out of my little beat-up truck one morning and loaded into his little beat-up truck for a “tour.”
I met a pastor at our first stop whose example reworked and expanded my concept of pastoral ministry.
I do not remember his name. His house was in a rough section of town most folks I knew never dreamed of visiting (unless it was an disturbing dream). I remember that he had a large dog in the back lot—man’s best friend… and would-be intruders’ worst enemy. I especially remember the truck. It looked like an old FedEx delivery van that had been stripped down and repainted in a nondescript dirty white. It seemed to be begging for another coat. When Tracy introduced us, he was firing up that truck and getting ready for his day.
Why would a pastor drive a hand-me down delivery van? What was a pastor doing with this eyesore of a box-truck?
It was Monday. That’s the day of the week when he drove to all the local grocery shops in his section of the hood and collected their expired items… and then delivered them to his hungry, impoverished church members.
(Jesus to Peter: “FEED MY SHEEP”—Jn 21:17)
I had just finished a two-year stint serving a small congregation in North Carolina. There is a lot I did as a pastor not because I read it in some pastoral manual but simply because I had a flock to tend—their needs and circumstances gave shape to my idea of “pastor.” Many were sick. So I spent a lot of time at Durham Regional and Duke University Hospital. Some died. So I worked a lot with Clements and Hall-Wynne Funeral Services. We had signed up to clean Old NC 10, the road in front of our church building, so I spent some time picking up litter. Along with preaching and teaching, I helped with a few practical things here and there. I even dug a grave once for an urn—the family could not afford the funeral service’s fee so another parishioner and I went out to the cemetery with shovels. The next day I preached during the Sunday morning service, sped off to the funeral home to preach at the memorial service, dashed home to change into rougher clothes, then met the family at the graveside, read Scripture, helped set the urn in the hole, and then shoveled the dirt back on top. A Sunday-day’s work.
But I never scrounged around the city for food so my parishioners could eat for the week.
I fed my sheep, I think. With Scripture and teaching and encouragement and exhortation, I fed them. I broke the bread and served the wine (well… grape juice). But this pastor I met that morning in Birmingham was bringing bread and juice to the hungry of his flock just so they could eat.
I preached on John 10 this morning at a small Baptist church in a nearby village. Lying behind the Shepherd Discourse are God’s harsh critiques of the faithless shepherds of Israel in Ezekiel 34. Those leaders did not feed the sheep. They ate the sheep. But the Good Shepherd, the great Shepherd-God-King Jesus, lays down his life for the sheep. As the divine Shepherd, he does not just lead us to green pastures beside still waters (Ps 23), he actually gives us the food and drink of His own flesh and blood: “my flesh is true food , and my blood is true drink” (6:55). Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does not feed on the flock like the faithless shepherds; he feeds the flock, and he does so with his own life. The flesh and blood of His sacrificed life nourishes us and gives us life.
That’s a shepherd for you.
“Feed my sheep,” he later told Peter—and so the shepherding role of Jesus was and is extended to others. To me. Maybe to you. Shepherding the people of God costs so much. For both Jesus and Peter, it cost everything.
I am thankful for living examples of this sacrificial pastoring. This guy who does not enter his pastorium next to a safe sanctuary on Mondays but climbs into an old delivery truck—that’s a shepherd I have much to learn from….