Midweek Message: "Shepherding the Flock – Current Observations and Concerns"

Week of the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

We recently celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday, which inspired some musing on my part on the current state of seeking to shepherd, as pastor, the flock that is Resurrection Lutheran Church.

A year ago this month I took up residence in the parsonage, making my move from Phoenix and New York. I recall wondering then if I could find a convincing, helpful parable about a shepherd for whom the whole flock is scattered. There are such biblical stories about scattered sheep, and then there’s the parable about the shepherd leaving the 99 to seek the one lost sheep. What about the flock that is fully scattered, quarantined as individuals and families in their own homes throughout the area? How can one seek to shepherd a congregation that does not congregate in person?

That was then, and this is now. Which is to say, while we are not yet worshiping indoors, we are in fact now congregating in person every Sunday outdoors for worship and conversation and to give expression to our social ministry with those in need in collecting from members food items twice a month for distribution through AFAC. Sunday in these respects and in limited measure has become Sunday again, that is, the Lord’s Day that features the worshipful assembling of God’s people in person, in our case currently outdoors. This warms a pastor’s heart. Thanks be to God!

And shepherding initiatives as pastor also include the weekly sermon (video and text) and these midweek messages and our Zoom Bible studies, Evening Prayer during Advent, Lent and on festivals also via Zoom, virtual administrative meetings, care-giving via phone calls, emails, visits in person, and more. All such activities and the conversations that happen amidst them constellate to make for the work of a shepherd, a pastor. Thanks be to God.

At this point in our life together, I have a sense that solid pastoral relationships are building with the core of active members of the congregation. This number seems to be around one-hundred people and some more. But our membership records suggest that Resurrection Church has more than four-hundred persons on the books. Which is to say, there are still many members of the flock who have not yet congregated again, and that is a matter of concern to me. I have listed about one hundred additional persons named in our directories who have not been present for any of our in-person or Zoom gatherings.

Being a pastor, a shepherd, is deeply part of my personal, spiritual, and vocational identity, and pastors long to engage the flock. Not being able to connect with the fullness of the flock that is Resurrection Church disquiets me, unsettles me. So it is that I have been seeking the “lost sheep.” This effort centers on and is organized by reaching out to members on the anniversaries of their baptisms. This initiative has been quite revealing, resulting in some good conversations that allow me to better know both individuals and families. But it has also been true that when I call some of the phone numbers available to me, not infrequently I find that the numbers are no longer in service. Likewise, many emails bounce back indicating that we don’t have the most recent contact information for many. Moreover, some phone messages and emails are met with no reply at all.

All of this leaves me wondering about the nature and extent of our congregational flock. Who really constitutes this fold at this point? How many of the people I don’t yet know will return once we are worshiping in person in doors again? How best can I and we go about reaching out to the folks whom we know but who have not yet been present at our various pandemic-restricted events in person and online?

Toward generating creative responses to these questions and concerns, the Outreach and Membership Support Committee and I are convening a group to brainstorm about how to proceed in identifying whom we know to be missing in our gatherings and seeking the most up to date and preferred contact information.

In the meantime, you also can greatly assist in this effort by letting me know now members you are wondering about who have not been present in one way or another since the pandemic began. Kindly reach out to me so that I can reach out to them!

Finally, and most significantly, may Christ, the Good Shepherd, lead and guide us in faithfully tending the flock entrusted to us for the sake of our mission in and for the world.

Prayerfully, under the shepherding care of Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman