As probably all of you know, both pastors of Zion have received calls to serve other churches last month. As I write this, neither of us has announced a decision. That will probably not be the case by the time you read this. I don’t know what will happen, but whether one or both of Zion’s pastors go to tend a different part of the Lord’s vineyard or not, I want to bring you comfort and hope from God’s Word for the present and future of Zion Lutheran Church.
One of my favorite Scripture passages that I return to again and again for encouragement in my vocation as a pastor is John 21. Some time after the resurrection, the disciples went from Jerusalem to Galilee, and were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. They caught nothing. Suddenly, Jesus appeared on the shore and told them to catch the net on the right side of the boat. When they did, they were unable to bring in the catch because there was so many fish! After they had breakfast with Jesus, he asked Simon Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Each time Simon answered, “You know that I love you.” And Jesus responded, “Feed my sheep.”
Simon Peter, as one of the twelve apostles, is among the first ministers of the church. He was called by Jesus to preach and teach the Gospel. Jesus called him to show his love for Jesus by feeding Jesus’ sheep, that is, His holy and precious people that He has purchased by His blood, called to faith, and kept in the holy church for the day of salvation. Pastors today, as “successors” to the apostles, are also called by Jesus to fulfill this ministry. There are, of course, differences between the calling of the apostles and the calling of pastors, which really belongs to another newsletter article. But in terms of what Jesus says to Peter, this applies to every pastor today.
The thing that always sticks out to me is that Jesus tells Peter, “Feed my sheep.” Pastors like to use this shepherd and sheep metaphor for describing their work in the church (in fact the word “pastor” means shepherd in Latin). And while it’s true that even the Bible describes the work of the pastor as “shepherding” (1 Pet. 5:2), it is clear that the flock and the sheep belong to Jesus, not any pastor. All of you people of Zion Lutheran Church of Mitchell, South Dakota are part of the flock of Jesus. He sends you pastors to care for you in His name and at His command, but He is truly the chief shepherd of your soul and of this congregation (1 Pet. 5:4). Pastors come and pastors go, but Jesus the Good Shepherd will never abandon or forsake you. He will feed and nourish you, even if for a time there is a vacancy in the pastoral office that God has established among you. If that should happen, He will bring other shepherds to bring you His gifts of Word and Sacrament, until the time that He knows best to bring another servant to you to feed His sheep.
Remember that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). Whether your pastors continue to stay and serve for many more years at Zion or not, God is at work to bless Zion Lutheran Church. I will not presume to know His plan for this congregation, but should it involve a pastoral vacancy or not, we know that He is at work to bless this congregation yesterday, today, and forever.
Walk by faith, trusting the Lord to provide for you. You are His sheep and He will feed you. The man whose hands and mouth He uses really is not that important in the end. And if nothing changes at the present time (as no doubt many of you have been praying!), know still that the gifts of Jesus belong to you, not because of who your pastors are, but because of who your savior is, who has called you by name, who forgives you, and who keeps you in the faith.
The Lord bless you with all of His riches in Christ Jesus,