Recently, St Helena's (Boerne) welcomed the Rev. Ned Bowersox into our common life as Interim Rector. Early on, he set what I imagine is an important tone for interim rectors, but doubtless, too, a true tone for all rectors. Ned said (paraphrasing), "There is a shepherd at St Helena's Church, and it's not me. I'm a sheep-dog to the shepherd -- but, emphatically, I AM NOT the shepherd." Importantly, Ned's comments remind St Helena's (and the whole of Christ's church) of the vicarious aspects of ordained ministry that point with every inch of them to the one priesthood of Christ, who alone is the Good Shepherd of the faithful.
I wonder how many churches in times of transition find it difficult to remember that -- whatever the stakes and whatever it appears might be lost in the process -- the place of Christ as their Shepherd is not up for grabs. Put another way, the congregation never ceases to act in and with the only resource that matters: the presence of the Risen Jesus who calls them into His Body and makes them His life for the world.
So, with all of this rattling around in my head, I stumbled on Bishop Willimon's blog from a couple of days ago; in it, he writes about the question of numbers, or, "Why does my pastor seem so caught up in growth?" And while it seems to me that purely numerical growth is an ever-present temptation to the church, Willimon helpfully reminds us that if the temptation is strong, it may be because there is a truth to be reclaimed in the inclination to grow; moreover, that truth emerges when the addition of members is not viewed with suspicion as the agenda of the pastor, but as the good and beating heart of the Lord who alone is Shepherd.
Forget "the 200 barrier" or "resource-sized" goals...what happens when the compassion of the church is expressed as Jesus expressed it: "for the sake of that one..."?
Which brings us to the end. Weekly, I encounter ministries who would like more P.R. "May we speak to the subject during Sunday's announcements?" they ask. "May we write one more testimonial in the Cross Finder?" "Would you send out an email?" And of course, we say yes, and will continue to do all of these (really good) things. But it is the heart of our Shepherd -- as well as the empirical witness -- that the most inspired invitation continues to be -- you guessed it -- the invitation, face to face, for the sake of that one.PS If you read through this article and didn't follow the link, it's not too late! You'll enjoy it.