I was having a conversation recently that sparked a thought in my mind as I am transitioning into a new pastoral role. I love the picture of the pastor as a shepherd and have always chafed against the idea of the pastor as CEO. The shepherd gives an understanding of caring for the people in the church. When Jesus restored Peter, he asked him to take care of his sheep and Paul left behind shepherds in Acts 20.
As a shepherd, I find my calling to nurture the people and help them grow in the way of God. I come alongside of them and guide them in the way of Jesus to see them reach their full potential. As I transition now, I am pouring my energy into relationships. How will they know we care for them, if they do not know us? Vision casting is happening, but primarily in this season, I am being led to invest into the lives of the people God has entrusted to me.
As we transition and seek God for direction, we are listening to the heart of the people. My friend and mentor told me the shepherd needs to listen to his sheep to get direction. That may seem counterintuitive at first glance, but there is a genius here. Jesus said his sheep know his voice in John 10, and so often we leave it there. But how often did Jesus stop to listen to his people? The amazing thing about Jesus is how often he asked the people what they wanted. I am thinking, the blind guy is yelling out for you to show mercy to him, and the king of the universe is asking what the blind man wants. Ummm, as one blind person reading the story, I think he wants to see. But Jesus used opportunities like this to allow us to speak.
As a pastor, when we listen to our sheep, we can get direction for the church. I am not talking about listening to their complaints or asking them as a directionless leader where should we go. I am suggesting that if we listen to their hearts, we will gain a perspective as to where they need to be led. When we hear their hurts, pains and concerns, we can find a way to bring Jesus into those spaces.
In Thai culture, this doesn’t come easy. The power distance in a culture like this is extremely high. This means that that people are shy to speak their true feelings to the leaders. They avoid contradiction or asking questions. The leadership sets the direction and the followers get the worked done. In the West, it is completely the opposite. We are allowed to question our leadership and even ask why? This goes against the way of the Thai people. This means I need to foster the space to speak and for me to listen in a way that is appropriate in Thailand.
Now, Jesus walked and ministered in a culture that had a high power distance as well, and he found a way to foster open relationships. How many times was Peter getting in trouble for asking odd questions, like how many times is sufficient for forgiving your friend? The disciples also asked who is the greatest. Even James and John asked for the right to sit at Jesus right hand when he entered his kingdom. Jesus found a way with sensitivity to the culture to create an atmosphere where everyone had a voice. I want to do the same.
How often do you stop to listen to those you lead?
When you listen, how do you create space for them to have a voice?