Friday, January 23, 2015

On Not Being a Pretentious Shepherd

"The next session covered briefly the three types of relationships we need, if we are to be people growing. We need those who are further along the way, who give us hints of where we are and raise the question of where we are going--what the next step might be. They may be teachers or counselors, or, when we are without these, books. Then we need those who are our peers--fellow pilgrims with whom we share the day-by-day events of our life in Christ, the discoveries we make, the places where we are challenged, our discouragement, our hope; brothers who hold us accountable, who remind us of our covenant relationship; brothers who mediate forgiveness. And thirdly, we need those who are not so advanced as we--a little flock which is ours to tend and nourish. 'All these relationships,' said Gordon [Cosby], 'are utterly necessary to our spiritual development, but the one I want us to look at in this class is the one of being shepherds, because it is at this point most of us will feel the most hesitancy or timidity. We will feel that it is pretentious for us to be guides to others at the point of their life in Christ.'" (110).
-Elizabeth O'Connor, Journey Inward, Journey Outward

So I've been reading this book about a group of folks in D.C. who started a coffee house church before it was "cool," and am fascinated by this quote. According to O'Connor and her peers, there are three essential types of relationships that every believer needs. I'm going to rename them into my own vernacular:
  1. Titans
  2. Sisters
  3. Little Sisters.
I had a bit of a contentious discussion the other day with a colleague of mine who was reluctant to consider anyone in his life to fit into category #3: "Little Sisters" (or "Brothers" in this case, whatever). In O'Connor's words, "We feel that it is pretentious..." I hear that. I feel that. I understand that there are hierarchical overtones to the notion of shepherds and the "little flock." Yes, the shepherd/flock "construction" creates a dichotomy that has implications of power and influence. Yet somewhere along the way, in our postmodern culture, hierarchy has become nearly synonymous with evil! I don't necessarily believe that to be true. I'm not saying that it's unwarranted. It seems that aversion to hierarchy is a reaction to countless misuses of power in the form of paternalism and dogmatism in the church. I mean, that and the fact that this country was founded on supposedly "egalitarian values." So it's in the American bones and psyche to defy hierarchy, so to say.

This being said, I am coming to a pretty strong conviction that there are varying stages of spiritual maturity (in the Greek it'd be nepios, teknon, paidion, and huios--see Cooke, Prophecy and Responsibility), and that any any point in time, any believer has people "ahead" of them (titans), "beside" them (sisters) and "behind" them (little sisters). I have also come to the strong conviction that it's high time that I start giving some attention to my lil' sis cohort and stop being a greedy asshole!


If you know me to any degree, you'll probably hear me at one point and time rant and rave about the 'titans' in my life. These are the folks that I just 'want to get in the room with' to soak up their words of wisdom, receive their prayers, encouragement and teaching for the journey. I also often describe these people as "nuts" (in the best way, duh). In the spirit of the now far outdated meme, here are my titans in somewhat chronological order:

Grandpa &
Susan &
Ann &
Ruby &
Joyce &
Celia &

These are people that have walked beside me, shared of their lives with me and listened to me. I pretty much just draft off of them. They are my coaches and consultants. I love them and thank God for them VERY frequently.


My peers are also folks that I cherish deeply and love and want to hug constantly. They're the ones that I talk to on a regular basis, who are usually grappling with similar questions. They're less intimidating than my titans but they go hard spiritually:

Hillary &
Faith &
Laura &
Lisa &
Courtney &
Naomi &

These are my peeps! They're the ones I can pray with throughout the week and who keep me accountable. I love them so much, too!

Little Sisters

Okay, so now I hit the dreaded "growing edge." It was a sobering realization that while I love to receive oodles of instruction and encouragement from my titans and my peers (who wouldn't?), I'm making little to no concerted effort to "pay it forward" by seeking out and staying loyal to any "little sisters." Do I actually have little sisters in my life? HAHAHA, maybe two, perhaps three, and those being very informal mentorship-esque relationships. My best friend has an older woman at her church to prays for her literally every day. I am not that dedicated.

It has recently emerged in prayer that the Lord is calling me to step into a new role of discipling some of the people he's brought into my life. Is it "pretentious" of me to start moving in obedience to that call? I'd like to believe not. Did I think it was pretentious of my grandpa to disciple me while I was in high school? Hell no! "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (1 John 3:16). My grandpa would have laid down his life for me, so I could all the way trust him to be my shepherd. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11b). I believe God is inviting me to shepherd others with this same heart of love. I mean, literally in prayer I heard, "Are you willing to lay down your life for these people?" My first thought was "Fuck," but, after some crying and stuff, I said, "Yes."

I've been thinking a bit about what it means to be a part of the "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9). It's part of my priestly duty not to be a spiritual elitist, and to draw near to those who may be (relatively) immature spiritually (believe me, I have plenty of immaturity issues I am praying through). "Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God... He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness" (Hebrews 5:1-2). This just makes me think of Pastor Kerry, of Japanese Presbyterian Church, who in my opinion is a shepherd of shepherds and lives this out daily. Rather than disdaining people around me, or getting overly frustrated with them for being fearful, hard-hearted, unbelieving, etc., God is inviting me to intercede on their behalf, love them and in humility consider them to be better than myself (Philippians 2:3). In many ways I sense the Lord reminding me to remember the condition I was in when he first found me, so as not to become blinded by my own self-righteousness and self-importance. I'm just learning loads!

As you go, disciple

All this to say, I'm entering into a new season and stepping into a new role of discipling others. *Scary!* What I am writing about isn't especially revelatory and it isn't profound. It's just that I am discovering new levels of meaning to the words of the Great Commission, which used to make my skin crawl (I save that for another blog post), but now have a whole lot of operational meaning: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19). A student who was doing Fuller extension once told me (and I never went back to fact-check, just trusted him blindly so... *shrug*) that a more accurate translation of the verse would be as you go, disciple, like it should just be part and parcel of the whole following Jesus thing. It doesn't necessarily feel natural to me now, but I am praying that one day it will.

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