A short essay written and submitted in the year 2009 when I intended to be part of the list of candidates for the Episcopate to the National Search Committee.
Pastoring the flock is a very vital task in the Church but is mostly unattended to by our pastors, as our experience tells us. The Right Revd Felixberto Calang of the Diocese of Cagayan de Oro, in a message to his clergy in a regular monthly meeting, points out that “waiting ministry” is the attitude that can be observed in many of our ministers today. Many parish priests stay idly in the parsonage or in the church office “waiting” for requests for sacramental services; e.g. baptism, wedding, requiem masses, etc. On another occasion, The Right Revd Per dela Cruz use the term “sacramental machine” to refer to priest who do nothing but administer sacraments. “Waiting ministry” is now fast becoming a culture to many of the clergy of our Church. It is a manifestation that the ministry of pastoring the flock is wanting in the IFI and that this needs the utmost attention of pastors of the local churches, the bishops. Shepherding/pastoring should be dealt with seriously. This paper is an attempt to find meaning and rekindle the Jesus way of caring not only to the flock but also to those that are tending the flock so that we may be able to reawaken the shepherding ministry of the bishop in the local church in such a way that it can enable priests to be good pastors in a community called the parish, making the church a truly pastoral community.
Take care of my Sheep
After they had eaten, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?” “Yes, Lord”, he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, Take care of my lambs.” A second time Jesus said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” “Yes, Lord,” he answered, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” A third time Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter became sad because Jesus ask him the third time, Do you love me?” and so he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep…” – John 21:15-17
We may be upset too in the way Jesus is asking. But upon a moment of reflection, we should realize that Jesus is just emphasizing how important it is to be taking care of the sheep. Jesus is making it sure that Peter will not forget that loving God is attending to the needs of His people. Thus, he asked the question of love and pronounced the instruction of loving the flock three times.
Shepherding is a great commission that the Lord Jesus, the Chief Pastor is commanding Peter as an expression of loving God. Jesus is conveying to peter that loving God is serving the people.
In the introduction of his book on Applied Theology entitled “Tend My Sheep”, Harold Taylor said, “Jesus himself used the idea of a caring shepherd looking after a flock, to describe His relationship with His disciples and faithful followers; In Luke 12:32, we find this, “Do not be afraid little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the Kingdom”; also in John 10:7ff:, So Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth: I am the gate for the sheep. . . I am the gate. Those who come in by me will be saved; they will come in and go out and find pasture… I have come in order that you might have life – life in its fullness. This should have been the relationship of the disciples and other leaders and all the members of the church that was to come.
Shepherding was familiar to the people of Israel, most of them owned or worked with flocks and herds of sheep, goats and cattle; and it was widely used by writers of the Jewish Scriptures to describe religious and political leaders, and even God himself.
Incarnational: Jesus’ Pastoral Leadership
The ministry of Jesus is first and foremost one that is incarnational. It is becoming one with men, a ministry of identification and involvement. Jesus sends His followers into the world, in the same way, to be identified with, and involved in, the life of the people with whom they live and work. In His paper Towards a Common Understanding of the IFI as a Church, The Most Revd Tomas Millamena said that “God sent himself, in Jesus (John 1:14), He emptied himself. He humbled himself. He became a servant and immersed with the poor, deprived and oppressed by the wicked spiritual forces, by rulers, authorities and cosmic powers (cf. Eph. 6:12). He immersed as human being with God’s people, his own people. He lived with them, prayed with them with joyful and painful experiences.
Peter’s Pastoral Leadership:
In his First letter, which he wrote to encourage the chosen people of God scattered in Asia Minor, who were facing persecution and suffering because of their faith in Jesus, Peter has this to say;
“I, who am an elder myself, appeal to the church elders among you. I am a witness of Christ’s sufferings, and I will share in the glory that will be revealed. I appeal to you to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly, as God wants you to, and not unwillingly. Do your work, not for mere pay, but from a real desire to serve. Do not try to rule over those who have been put under your care, but be examples to the flock… In the same way you younger people must submit yourselves to your elders. And all of you must put on the apron of humility, to serve; for the scriptures says, ‘god resist the proud, but shows favor to the humble. Humble yourselves, then, under God’s mighty hand, so that he will lift you up in His own good time. Leave all your worries with Him, because He cares for you.” 1-Peter 5:1-7
Peter is perceived by many as the leader of the apostles and of the disciples in the early church after Jesus. It is therefore worth tracing the way Peter is doing what Jesus commanded him when it was his time to lead the flock of God. Peter’s leadership manifested the pastoral leadership that Christ taught them when He was still with them.
In his book, Spiritual Leadership, J. Oswald Sanders described Peter as a natural leader of the apostolic band. What Peter did, the others did; where he went, the others went. His mistakes, which sprang from his impetuous personality, were many, but his influence and leadership were without equal. See that your flock of God is properly fed and cared for, peter urges (1-Peter 5:2). Such is a shepherd’s primary responsibility. In these words, we can hear the resonance of Peter’s never-to-be-forgotten examination with Jesus after his failure, the examination that restored him and assured Jesus continuing love and care (John 21:15-22). Likewise, these “strangers in the world” (1-Peter 1:1) about whom Peter was writing were themselves passing through deep trials. Peter could feel for them and with them, and he wrote his letter to elders with that in mind.
Bishop: The Chief Pastor
“The bishops are the principal dispensers of the Sacrament of Orders, and from whom both priests and deacons derive their authority in the ministry. . . The Episcopal ministry is of fundamental importance in the life of the local and universal Church, being the ministry of pastoring and building up of God’s people. It reflects the communion of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and from whom we draw order in the life of the Church.” (Rediscovering the Local Church, February 11, 2000)
By tradition and by provision of our Canons, the Chief Pastor in the local church is the bishop. Thus, after dispensing the sacrament of ordination to those being set apart as priests and deacons, the bishop has shared the ministry of pastoring to the latter. The priests and deacons received and are granted the privilege of sharing in the ministry of the bishop. Let it be emphasized that the authority is not transferred but only shared.
After the ordination, the priest has not become the bishop but a faculty of the latter’s office and is accountable to him. It can also be said that the priest is pastoring the flock for and in behalf of the bishop in a particular area of responsibility – the parish entrusted to him. Also, the bishop is pastoring the flock in and through the parish priests. It is also worth noting that the kind of pastoral ministry the priest exercises in the parish would largely reflect the kind of pastoral leadership exemplified by the bishop.
The bishop should therefore be a model pastor to the pastors under his care.
Pastoring the Pastors:
It can be said that the Bishop as the Chief Pastor can be seen and felt in the parishes through and in the parish priests – the pastors in the fields. Whatever happens to the people through the pastors’ efforts or non-efforts in the ministry reflects the Chief Pastor’s leadership. This therefore calls for the Chief Pastors to effectively pastor the pastors who are his faculties and representations in the fields – the parishes.
Like Jesus, the Bishop should be compassionate to pastors under his care – the parish priests and deacons. Jesus exemplified this in Mark 6:31; There were so many people coming and going that Jesus and His disciples didn’t even have time to eat. So He said to them, “let us go off by ourselves to some place where we will be alone and you can rest a while.” It should be noted that this is the time when the apostles came back and reported to Jesus after they were sent off by Jesus to the nearby villages to do preaching and casting out demons, (cf: Mark 6:6-13, the Sending of the twelve). That means they were very tired and so, Jesus had compassion on them and advised them to have a rest even for just a while. The bishop therefore should see to it that his clergy are properly fed and that their needs are regularly, properly and timely met. Compassion is not taught by words it is learned by the heart through experiencing it, feeling it. One is usually compassionate when he/she felt being compassioned with by others. Therefore, the priests and deacons will become compassionate too when they feel the same from their bishop.
Like Jesus, the bishop should be a help to the pastors under his care that they may become a help to the faithful also. Jesus calms the storm and also calms the disciples who were frightened by it. He gave courage to the disciples when they were afraid and terrified (cf: Mark 4:35ff; 645ff). Human as we are, clergymen are also facing storms in life. Family problems, financial and what not and we need someone to calm us. Like Jesus who will make our load lighter, the chief pastor – the bishop must be able to help.
Like Jesus, the bishop should be able to listen to the clamor of the pastors under his care. Moreover, he should be sensitive to the unsaid feelings of his subordinates so that the latter may do so to the faithful under their care. Bishops should not be like secular superiors who fail to listen to their subordinates because of the temptation of being the boss or higher in the authority. Often times, the boss ends defending his own proposition or statement just to prove that he is the boss. He cannot give time to listen sincerely to his subordinates and accept that he can also commit mistakes. If the bishop will be right and correct always over and above his clergy, the clergy too will prove to the people under their care that he is always correct, and he alone should be followed in the parish. The priests will surely learn to listen to their parishioners if they appreciate the value of listening because they were listened to by the bishop.
Before asking the subordinates for explanations why they seem to fail his expectations in their ministerial performance, it would be wise for the bishop to know first their current situation and condition, whether they are comfortable with the tasked he gave them or the hardships they encounter in doing it. While it is true that Christian living is never in a convenience, it is still a must that every detail of our Christian life is guided by the pastors as Jesus did.
It is also worthwhile for the bishop to offer encouragement and praise to people who has done exemplary their jobs or if they have shown good qualities or even if they only have shown eagerness to do the job. A little thing may be to others, but subordinate’s morale booster are praises and recognition of their superior. When Jesus discovered qualities of the people like that of the centurion’s unquestioning trust and obedience or the humble faith of the syro-phoenician (Canaanite) woman, he praised them. Jesus said to the people following him, “I tell you, I have never found anyone in Israel with faith like this” (cf. Matthew 8:5-13). “you are a woman of great faith! What you want will be done for you” (cf. Matthew 1521-28).
In providing guidance to the people through the pastors under his care, the bishop should avoid these three “unpastoral” traits; (1) being the traditional big man who is the commander, commanding respect and obedience to what he is saying and doing without considering that others may have brighter ideas than his; (2) being a political statesman who enjoys the influence to other people with tributes and bribes and whose taste of right and wrong depends on how many people voted favorably to a certain issue and not of what is morally correct according to Christian tenets; (3) being the policeman who indeed up watching and looking for faults and scolding them of their misdeeds and disturbers are to be rebuked.
Like Jesus who dwelt among his people, whose mission is incarnational and in touched with the lives of the people, the bishop must also be in touched with his people. He must be one and among his clergy. He should know them, feel them, and be one with them in all undertakings of ministry.
A good pastor is someone who is moved with compassion at the pitiful plight of mankind and has confidence that the Gospel message will bring deliverance and wholeness to anyone who believes it. He also realizes that he will not know them until he speaks the truth in love to them. We get to truly know the hungry by setting good food for them. We can never effectively bring the message to the people in need when we are not part of them; when we are not with them; when we are not among them; or the least when we have not come to them and experience them in their homes or at their tables. As the church asked the clergy and leaders to immerse with the people to effectively minister them, bishops must also set example by his immersion with his clergy.
I would like to end my piece by echoing Bishop Calang’s statement, “Doing the ministry of shepherding is a painstaking yet glorious task and persevering in this task is our call and challenge.”
- The Good News Bible, Today’s English Version;
- Harold Taylor, Tend My Sheep, Applied theology 2, 1998;
- J. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 1994;
- The Most Revd Tomas A. Milamena, Towards a Common Understanding and Vision of the IFI as a Church; 1998;
- Rediscovering the Local Church, February, 2000;
- Statement on Church Mission, October 23, 1976;
- The Right Revd Felixberto L. Calang, Messages to the Clergy Meetings, Bishop of Misamis oriental, Bukidnon and Camiguin