When Shepherding Means Sitting Still

When my church called me as an elder several years ago, I was humbled and excited. By God’s grace, our congregation was in a healthy place and I was called to labor alongside a group of godly men who were already serving well. We took to heart the Lord’s instruction to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2). I felt a joyful burden to love our church, to feed them with the Word, to care for their needs, and to guard them from harm.

As excited as I was, I was also acutely aware of my own inadequacy for the task. I knew enough to know that that was a good thing, and it compelled me to deepen my relationship with God through prayer, time in the Word, and fellowship with other believers. “To shepherd the church well,” an older pastor counseled me, “you must first love God and learn to rely on His strength.”

And so it was that I began my pastoral journey, trusting that Christ would lead me. But still, I was ready to roll my sleeves up and get to work.

Rolling Up My Sleeves

I loved the work of ministry right away. I dove in, workman-like, ready for a class to teach, a church policy to draft, a conflict to mediate, a mission trip to lead, a widow to serve, a young man to disciple. Like many, I am geared toward productivity, action items, and a desire to see tangible results, so you can see how these aspects of ministry would appeal to me. Each is a well-defined task working toward a visible outcome, often of the instant-gratification sort. They are, of course, good and necessary activities, each of them an opportunity to partake in and share God’s grace, and I loved being involved in such holy labor. The work was hard, but fulfilling. Emotionally and spiritually taxing, yet deeply satisfying.

In the midst of my busyness, though, God began to use the rhythms and routines of shepherding the flock to shape me in an unexpected way. To whatever extent I was still relying on my own work ethic, God brought me to the end of myself and showed me the beauty of simply being still.

The End of Myself

Because of my hard-headedness, God made it plain for me. To my checklist of pastoral tasks, He added the impossible. He brought me into the lives of hurting people whose problems were far beyond my powers to fix, people who were not looking to become items on my to-do list.

For the marriage that had fallen apart, there was no advice I could give to salvage it. To the parents mourning the death of their child, I had no words soothing enough to reach the depths of their grief. Sitting with the wisp of a man dying in his hospital room, all I could do was pray. And, I confess, it frustrated me. Wasn’t there more I could do?

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

To the pastor who thought it was his job to fix people’s problems, God brought the unfixable and asked him to sit with them instead––to listen, to put an arm around them, to pray with them, and to remind them of the gospel one more time (and again the day after that). He showed me that these weren’t problems to be solved; they were people to be loved. When I came to the end of my abilities, all I could do was point them upward, past me, to the One for whom nothing is impossible.

Sitting silently with someone in their suffering; laying hands on a person and believing the promise that “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:17); developing habits of prayer for those under my care—these things don’t easily fit into a productivity chart, but the formative powers of these experiences have been a flood of grace in my life.

So I embrace the stillness because it is a testament to God’s sufficiency in the midst of my inability. And I frequently ask myself: When shepherding means sitting still, will I trust that the Lord is at work?

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Scott James is a member of (and has served as an elder at) The Church at Brook Hills. He and his wife have four children and live in Birmingham, AL, where he works as a pediatric physician. He is the author of The Expected One: Anticipating All of Jesus in the AdventMission Accomplished: A Two-Week Family Easter Devotional, and the upcoming illustrated children's book The Littlest Watchman.

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