March 13, 2014
Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,
Tom was a natural leader. And he benched me!
One of the most difficult spiritual lessons I’ve had to learn is that I shouldn’t always have my way. In my home church in Brooklyn, New York, I was the pastor’s eldest son, a leader in our emerging English ministry, and an aspiring pastor myself. I was used to having my way.
But as a member of my church’s team in the Chinese Christian basketball league, I was not the leader. Tom was the captain. And I sat on the bench the majority of time during the tournament because it was for the good of the team. Even though I wanted to be a starter and play more minutes, I put aside my ego and followed Tom’s leadership. That year, our team won the championship! I scored the basket that sealed the victory!
The reason why this was an important “spiritual” lesson is because it taught me what “hearing the voice” of Jesus the Good Shepherd meant (John 10:3-4). Like me, you may have been taught that Jesus is a friend who always stands by and helps you. Almost every “Good Shepherd” image that I’ve found shows a kind Jesus gently and lovingly embracing a lamb. I discovered, however, that this is only partially true. As a shepherd, Jesus leads us – sometimes to places we would not normally go if we had our own choice. Yes, he wants us to flourish and have abundant life, but the green pastures are not often what we expect – initially, at least.
During our Lenten sermon series, we will look at Jesus as a shepherd. In his encounters with Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the blind man on the road, and Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jesus doesn’t only heal and affirm people, he also leads them into God’s truth and grace. Often he contradicts everything they think is right and good.
That’s why a distinction must be made between shepherding and counseling. Now, I believe in having a mentor, a life coach, and a spiritual director. I believe that seeing counseling is very beneficial. But insofar as these activities focus on just helping us discover our individual selves or gain personal well-being, they are not shepherding.
When I was a seminary professor, my job was to not only teach, but also to help future church leaders find their callings. So I enjoyed serving as mentor, counselor, and life-coach. But as a pastor at Canaan, I see my primary role to be that of a shepherd (even though, on occasion, I will mentor and counsel – and even play a priestly role during important life transitions). My main responsibility is to help all of us – together – to hear and heed the voice the Good Shepherd.
Shepherding is about guiding people towards God’s purpose even if it seems to be at cross-purposes with their own desires. After all, a shepherd is a leader, not a life-coach. And a sheep is a member of a flock, not a client. So biblically-speaking, to be shepherded means to yield to and follow a shepherd’s lead (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
In my previous church, I wasn’t usually interested in the activities that our leaders organized and promoted (they were designed mostly for teens and young adults). But I learned from my basketball experience to be available when called upon by our leaders. So I always showed up. By showing up, our members and I demonstrated the truth and power of the gospel. How? When visitors and people outside the church saw us show up in force and demonstrate our commitment to the church’s mission, the excitement was contagious. My sons were nurtured in an environment where the practice of high spiritual commitment was visible everywhere. Our little English ministry became a positive influence in our community!
But all this happened because a majority of our members willingly followed our shepherds’ lead. We made ourselves available when called upon. We taught each other that sacrificing our personal desires and preferences for the mission of Christ and his church was the holiest of all the spiritual disciplines (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). And God provided more than what each member needed (Matt 6:33). For example, when the young adults gave sacrificially to the church, God blessed them with good employment, marriages, and a baby boom. They are some of the happiest and most outgoing people I know (which is why my youngest son, Benji, is so committed to them). There is actually a sociological principle behind this – the more one gives and invests in community, the more one receives!
As I look back at my last four years with Canaan’s English Ministry, I am grateful for those who have continually displayed their devotion to the life and mission of our church. Those who felt “burnt out” prior to my arrival have had an extended “sabbatical” while I focused on involving new and inexperienced members. I thank God that some who felt “burnt out” have again made themselves available. God has brought new people into our community as well. All of these are good signs. But the best will come when a large majority of our people make themselves available when called upon, and, thus, demonstrate to the world that the gospel is alive and well at Canaan’s English ministry!
Tim Tseng 曾 祥 雨 :: Ph.D.
Pastor of English Ministries