Thought for the Month (June 2007)

Dear Friends,

I found a true story the other day that I would like to share with you. Are you sitting comfortably? then Ill begin.

Surprisingly, preachers, and especially pastors, are not renowned for their tenderness. An Australian friend of Ron Boyd-MacMillan was asked to start a ministry supporting the persecuted church. He visited church after church in his home country, preaching his heart out on the needs of the persecuted, but garnered only meagre response. He was clueless until one day, visiting a sheep farm, he witnessed the farmer call the sheep toward him with a word. "Is that all it takes to bring the sheep running?" he asked, astonished. "Try it,"grinned the farmer. My friend spoke the same word that galvanized the sheep. One, out of a flock of two hundred, looked up vaguely at a cloud. The rest kept on munching. "The word has to come from the mouth of the shepherd!'' declared the farmer.

This rang a bell. My friend said, "It's because I'm not the shepherd that the people are not giving. I need to get the pastors on my side, and let them speak to the flock. That's the answer. They need to hear the message from the voice they trust and love."

My friend travelled around the length and breadth of Australia having meals with pastors. He told them of the torture their counterparts were enduring in places like Sudan, North Korea, and Columbia. The idea was to get the pastors to challenge their congregations, who would be moved by the voice of the shepherd. But nothing changed. The pastors made sympathetic noises, but they didn't take up the challenge. He paid for them on trips to the persecuted in China, Vietnam, Laos, but they came back unmoved.

Finally, in despair, he spoke to an elderly retired pastor whom he revered. He explained his strategy and asked his venerable friend to point out where he might be going wrong. This is what the old man said: "Your strategy will work only if you invite the pastor's wife along. Pastors are hard hearted. It's an occupational hazard. But if you tell these stories of suffering to the pastors and their wives, she will be touched with compassion and your ministry in each church will be underway. The spouse will ensure it." Sure enough, that was it. The logjam was broken. And the ministry prospered after that as the pastors, forced into action by spouses that were broken-hearted, addressed their congregations with the urgency required to bring action.

Sad, though, that the hard heartedness of pastors would constitute the logjam. The old retired pastor ruminated on this:
"It's just that in our line of work we get accustomed to suffering. We have to. After all, we have to get through the funeral of the nine-year-old child even though every one else can cry all the way through. We have to cope publicly. And so we gain a deadly familiarity with tragedy and sorrow. If we are not very careful, we end up not feeling, in private or in public."

God seems to have known the score in Genesis 2:21&22.

Eric Christian

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Tunbridge Wells United Reformed Church