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52 Churches

A Shepherd Cares for His Flock

Discussing Church 33

Even though this church is only nine miles from our house, the contrast between their lives and mine is stark. These people live in poverty. And their shepherd cares for his flock.

Consider these four discussion questions about Church #33

1. We struggle to sing hymns. The organist learned to play because no one else could, and the minister isn’t adept at leading singing. We push through. God doesn’t care about our musical ability, only our heart. 

How can we better align our perspective with his?

2. The people of this rural congregation struggle getting enough to eat. Behind the church is a sizable garden, planted for their church community. The pastor offers venison for Thanksgiving to those in need, as well as firewood to help heat their homes. 

How open are you to see the needs of others? What can you do to help?

3. The reality of these people’s lives puts an exclamation point on being in need. Their physical needs are great and their life, far different than mine.

How can you help meet the tangible needs of the people in your church? Your neighborhood?

4. These people worship God with their church community, their extended family. Being together is what matters. This minister takes care of his congregation; he’s a shepherd who cares for his flock. He loves them, and they, him. 

How can you show love to others?

[See the prior set of questions, the next week, or start at the beginning.]

Get your copy of 52 Churches and The 52 Churches Workbook today, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Jeremiah Issues Three Warnings to Church Leaders

Beware of Slacking Shepherds, Godless Pastors, and Misleading Ministers

The prophet Jeremiah doesn’t just warn the people about judgment for their sins, he also warns their religious leaders too. The twenty-third chapter of the book of Jeremiah details three leadership failures. Most troublesome is the third item about misleading ministers. Everyone in leadership should heed Jeremiah’s cautionary words and seek God’s help to avoid repeating these errors.

1. Slacking Shepherds

Jeremiah proclaims woe to the shepherds (a metaphor for religious leaders) because they fail to take care of the sheep (a metaphor for God’s people). The prophet gives three examples to demonstrate the shepherds’ failure. First, they have scattered the sheep. Second, they have driven the lambs away. Third, they have neglected to care for their flock.

God pledges to punish these failed shepherds. Then he will replace them with good ones (Jeremiah 23:11-12).

2. Godless Pastors

Next, Jeremiah condemns godless prophets and priests. Imagine that. These men should represent God to his people, but they don’t. Even in the temple (the church building), God finds them full of wickedness.

He promises to banish them to the darkness, where they will fall. He proclaims disaster for them (Jeremiah 23:11-12).

3. Misleading Ministers

Jeremiah continues rebuking prophets who proclaim lies. They fill the people with false hope. These religious leaders don’t have the mind of God. They don’t hear what the Lord says. Instead, they make up things to tell the people (Jeremiah 23:16-17).

In short, they fail to speak God’s truth.

God’s punishment for these misleading ministers is that he will forget them and cast them from his presence (Jeremiah 23:39).

We need leaders who will speak God’s truth regardless of what the world thinks or how their congregation responds. Click To Tweet

Today’s Preachers

This issue of misleading ministers happens today at too many churches, albeit with a modern twist. Preachers speak what the people want to hear and not what the Bible says. They avoid proclaiming the parts of God’s Word that may upset their congregation. They water down the good news of Jesus by removing what may offend. Instead of speaking biblical truth, they substitute it with nice sounding messages of their own making that delights listeners, avoids confrontation, and minimizes conflict.

God wasn’t pleased in Jeremiah’s day by the leaders who did this. And he is not pleased today.

Our preachers today must listen to God and teach what he and his Word says. We don’t need any more slacking shepherds, godless pastors, or misleading ministers.

We need leaders who will speak God’s truth regardless of what the world thinks or how their congregation reacts.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Jeremiah 23-25 and today’s post is on Jeremiah 23:16-17.]

We need leaders who will speak God’s truth regardless of what the world thinks or how their congregation responds.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Twenty-Third Psalm, a Favorite Passage for Many

David Teaches Us About God as Our Shepherd

In the twenty-third Psalm, the former shepherd boy David, looks to God as his Shepherd. This short six-verse Psalm is a favorite of many, who have perhaps memorized it as a child. Here are a few of the key points we can learn from the twenty-third Psalm.

God Takes Care of Us

As our Shepherd, the Lord will take care of us in the same way a human shepherd cares for his sheep. Yes, sheep are not the smartest animals, and they need help if they’re going to survive. The same holds true for us. We’re not so smart either, and we need God’s help if we’re going to make it.

God Provides What We Need

With God as our Shepherd, we don’t need a thing. He provides everything. He gives us a safe place for our bodies to rest. And he guides us to a place of peace to restore our souls.

God Guides Us Down the Right Path

Next in the twenty-third Psalm we learn that God shows us which way to go. As our guide, he walks with us on our journey of life. Though we may not know which way to go, he does.

God Protects Us When We Go Astray

Even when we stray from his path and go in the wrong direction, he’ll protect us from the evil we may encounter. He’ll go with us. We’ll move without fear because God, as our Shepherd, will keep us safe from harm.

God, our shepherd, will make sure that goodness surrounds us and love follows us through the rest of our life. Click To Tweet

God Blesses Us Throughout Our Life

God, our shepherd, will make sure that goodness surrounds us and love follows us through the rest of our life. And when our life is over, we’ll hang out with him forever in his house, our eternal home.

[Read through the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Psalm 21-25, and today’s post is on Psalm 23.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

Zachariah Teaches About Shepherds, Their Sheep, and Us

To Deserve a Good Shepherd, We Must Be Good Sheep

Zachariah isn’t one of the better-known Old Testament prophets, and we don’t often read his book in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it. A reoccurring theme in Zachariah’s writing is a shepherd and his sheep, about bad shepherds and bad flocks.

These allusions to a shepherd apply to Zachariah’s audience, looks prophetically into the future, and provides a valuable illustration for us today.

The eleventh chapter in Zachariah’s book digs into perplexing references about shepherds and their sheep. It’s about God and his people, about leaders and their charges, and it’s about us.

Each of these emerges with a bit of perplexing confusion. Zachariah seems to be talking figuratively, while at the same time personifying God.

Zachariah writes, “The flock hates me, and I’m sick and tired of them. I’m done with them. Let them die,” (Zechariah 11:8-9).

I wonder, how often do we hate God? Or at least, how often do we act as though we do? I get that. What horrifies me, however, is the thought of God giving up on us and walking away. Yet it’s exactly what he did and is doing in this text with his chosen people.

May we never hate God. More importantly, may God never give up on us.

Now let’s apply this to today’s congregations and their leaders.

Churches Who Detest Their Shepherd

Most church members at most churches adore, or at least respect, their leaders. That is their preacher, or more biblically, their shepherd. Yet I’ve seen instances where things go awry, where the church flock—the sheep—despise their leader—their shepherd. Though this is sometimes the fault of the leader, more often, it’s the result of bad sheep who misbehave and don’t follow well.

Shepherds Who’ve Given Up on Their Flocks

Other times I’ve seen shepherds who’ve given up. They’re burnt out, exhausted, and function in survival mode. This may be their own issue, but I suspect that in most cases it’s a human reaction to how they’re treated by their flock.

To be a good shepherd and a good flock, be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Click To Tweet

Shepherds and Their Flocks

Sometimes churches who disrespect their pastor and pastors who have given up on their church deserve each other. The blame lies with both parties. Unfortunately, once a church finds itself in this situation, it’s almost impossible to work through it and turn things around. Aside from God’s supernatural intervention, a broken shepherd-flock relationship is impossible to fix.

A Good Shepherd and Good Sheep

God gives us shepherds to lead, protect, and nurture us. But we need to be good sheep too. We need to speak well of our shepherds, stand up for them, and respect them. If we can’t do that, we’re hurting our shepherd and damaging the flock. If we aren’t careful, we’ll be the cause for the very thing Zachariah writes about in today’s text.

Good shepherds and good sheep are part of the solution, not the cause of the problem.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Zechariah 8-11, and today’s post is on Zechariah 11:8-9.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

The Good Shepherd and the Bad Shepherd

Shepherds Have a Responsibility to Their Sheep and Sheep Have a Responsibility to Their Shepherd

We know Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Bible also addresses bad shepherds. The book of Jeremiah talks about this, but it’s easy to miss it if we read too fast.

The Bad Shepherd

Quoting God, Jeremiah writes, “My people are lost sheep. Their shepherds led them astray.” As a result, they’re lost, wandering around and not having a safe place to rest.

The shepherds aren’t doing their job. If they lead their sheep anywhere, these bad shepherds head in the wrong direction. But mostly they just let their sheep flounder, roaming wherever they wish. Their sheep wander around and can’t find their way home. These are bad shepherds.

However, before we place too much blame on bad shepherds, we must remember that we’re often bad sheep. Isaiah says that we go our own way (Isaiah 53:6).

We need someone to rescue us. Just as our shepherds have a responsibility to us to be good shepherds, we have a responsibility to them to be good sheep.

Like shepherds, another leadership role is teachers. James cautions us against becoming teachers, warning that teachers will be judged more strictly, held to a higher standard (James 3:1). I suspect the same applies to shepherds.

The Good Shepherd

Contrast these bad shepherds to Jesus, who is the Good Shepherd. He says so himself. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is willing to die for his sheep. He cares for them and knows them. When danger comes, the Good Shepherd won’t run away like a hired man.

He’ll stick around and protect his sheep, even if it means dying so that they can live (John 10:11-18). Even if it means dying so that we can live.

That’s exactly what Jesus did.

The Good Shepherd protects his sheep, even if it means dying so that they can live. Click To Tweet

Human Shepherds and the Good Shepherd

Our human leaders—shepherds—sometimes disappoint us and let us down. Though most of them have good intentions, they’re flawed human beings just like us all. They make mistakes.

Though they may not go to the extent of Jeremiah’s bad shepherds, they certainly aren’t on the same level as Jesus, our Good Shepherd.

Thank you, Jesus, for being our Good Shepherd. You know us, you love us, and you die for us.

[Read through the Bible this year. Today’s reading is Jeremiah 49-50, and today’s post is on Jeremiah 50:6.]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Christian Living

Are You a Pastor?

It’s time to reframe our idea of what it means to be a pastor

I am not a trained minister, an educated member of the clergy, or a professional pastor. These titles all unnerve me. I am not a pastor, at least not in the traditional sense.

About a decade ago a woman left me completely flustered when, full of sincerity, she asked, “Are you a pastor?”

I gasped and then suppressed a laugh. “Oh, no!” I assured her. “I am definitely not a pastor.”

She cocked her head and eyed me quizzically. “Well you certainly seem like one.”

My initial thought was offense. Despite having many pastors who are friends, I apparently didn’t hold the profession in high regard. However, I suspect her words were given as a compliment, even though they freaked me out.

Later I shook my head in disbelief and in a vain attempt to dislodge the memory from my mind.

But this wasn’t the only time someone asked me this question, merely the first. The second time, despite being caught off guard again, I believe I responded a bit more graciously. This surprising question has been repeated over the years that followed and again resurfaced this past week..

Being a true pastor is not about    credentials, it’s about having a heart to care for others. Click To Tweet

I hope people ask this because they sense something positive in me, such as a caring spirit, a gentleness that transcends self, or the love of Jesus oozing out. If so, the question “Are you a pastor?” is a tribute to God’s work in my life, even though my answer remains an emphatic, “No.”

Many people consider a pastor as synonymous with minister or preacher. I do not. I prefer to think of a pastor as a shepherd, as one who follows the example of the Great Shepherd. The pastor as shepherd is one who cares for his or her flock.

Simply put, a pastor cares for others. This care comes through both prayer and through action.

In this respect, we are all called to be pastors, or as Peter writes, we are priests (1 Peter 2:5). As followers of Jesus we are tasked with caring for one another. I care for you and you care for me. We should not wait for the paid clergy to do this. We should act before they get a chance.

This makes us pastors.

Yes, I am a pastor—and so are you.

When was someone a pastor to you? How can you be a pastor to others?

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Reviews of Books & Movies

Book Review: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

Book Review: A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23

By Phillip Keller (reviewed by Peter DeHaan)

The idea of a shepherd overseeing his flock is a powerful metaphor of the relationship between God and his people. Unfortunately, today’s world has largely lost touch with its agrarian roots, missing much of the deeper meaning of a shepherd’s watch and care over his flock.

A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 takes an interesting and insightful look at the 23rd Psalm from the perspective of a shepherd, who is also the author. By learning how a good shepherd protects, cares, and provides for his sheep, we can gain a better understanding into how our Good Shepherd cares for us, his sheep.

Furthermore, as we learn about the sacrifices Keller made for his sheep and the ways in which they benefited—generally oblivious to his loving efforts—we gain insight into God’s sacrifices for us to keep us safe from enemies, healthy from maladies, and content in our existence.

Sometimes, though, sheep thwart the shepherd’s efforts; in this regard, Keller again shares from his experience, in which we see the loving patience of the Good Shepherd emerge.

Reading this book will appreciably change the way you read Psalm 23.

[A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, by W. Phillip Keller. Published by Zondervan, 2007, ISBN: 978-0310274414, 176 pages.]

Read more book reviews by Peter DeHaan.

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.

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Bible Insights

God is the Shepherd

God is the Shepherd

In the fourth word picture for God, we consider the common image of God as the good shepherd and we as his sheep.

God, as the good shepherd, is caring, protective, patient, brave, wise, sacrificial, and most significantly, knows us by name.

Sheep, are known as being not too intelligent, easily getting into trouble and frequently needing to be rescued, but they do know the voice of the shepherd, usually going to him when he calls.

(See A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 for a more in-depth and insightful consideration of this word picture.)

[Psalm 119:176, Isaiah 53:6, Ezekiel 34:11, Matthew 9:36, John 10:3, John 10:15, John 10:27, 1 Peter 2:25]

Peter DeHaan writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and live a life that matters. He seeks a fresh approach to following Jesus through the lens of Scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.