Pastors are supposed to be the examples to their flock in godliness and humility as examples to their congregation, like Peter tells us in 1 Peter 5:3. However, in reality we have feet of clay like anyone else; we have a tendency to get a little territorial about our church. I suppose it is understandable in some respects to see that, because let’s face it every pastor has to justify their salary! We get so busy shepherding the people that God has entrusted us with sometimes that we forget that we are not really shepherds but rather under-shepherds. In 1 Peter 5:4 Peter calls Jesus “the Great Shepherd,” taking Jesus’ own title for Himself of “the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) and making it superlative. He is the true Shepherd; we just work for Him as minions.
So in reality, we don’t shepherd the flock; we shepherd a flock, or more aptly a part of the Flock. Some pastor bigger churches and some smaller, but even the largest churches in America (Lakewood Church, pastored by Joel Osteen, is the largest in America; the largest church in the world is in South Korea) are a drop in the bucket compared to the Church worldwide.
On our trip I got several reminders that the church I pastor is just a small part of the kingdom of God. Rwanda was very, very good for my understanding of exactly what part I need to play in being part of the broader kingdom, and how we should all model the unity that Jesus prays over His people in John 17:23.
It started on our first full day in Rwanda. We got to worship on Sunday in Kigali with Evangelical Restoration Church, where one of the board members of Dwight’s NGO goes. It has to be one of the larger churches in Kigali, as it probably seated 1500 with the balconies. (it’s still Rwanda, though: dirt parking lots and plastic lawn chairs for seats!) We were really awed by the facilities; we were NOT expecting to see this kind of building!
Far better than the facilities was the amazing worship experience we got to have with the people of ERC. They were very welcoming and kind to us, ushering us to seats in the second row and introducing us to the congregation during worship. I know that first time visitors at church don’t like to be singled out, but we were honored guests and they were very kind in welcoming us. We also got to participate in some amazing worship time with the church that made us feel right at home.
What a blessing to be able to lift up our hearts and our voices to the Lord with the saints in Kigali. Though sometimes the words didn’t come through in English, the worship of the Living God did, loud and clear. Laura and I both wept as we sang along in Kinyarwanda (and one song in Swahili). We had a lady sitting with us named Margaret whose English was good enough to translate for us, and the sermon was a really great reminder from 1 Peter 3 for husbands to treat their wives well. I was really impressed with this message, because in Rwandan culture husbands pretty much rule their homes their own way. This church was preaching godliness and counter-cultural theology, and it was great to see.
Kigali was just the appetizer for the main course of being part of the broader Church. In Gacundezi my mission was to train pastors, which I got to do on Wednesday. We had almost 30 churches represented, with several significant leaders of 10 or more churches present! The purpose of the training was for me to teach them basic Bible interpretation, basic discipleship, and basic theology. What wasn’t on the agenda was for them to teach me about the unity that Jesus wants for His church.
The cross-section of pastors who came to the training really impressed me with the unity of the kingdom of God. In the center of this picture is Reverend Obed, who leads 10 Anglican churches in the area. To the right is Pastor Agnes who leads a Pentecostal church in Gacundezi. The man on the left is Jonas, who is one of Obed’s “evangelists” and leads a single church in a village close by. In the background are four boys from the Gacundezi secondary school who want to be pastors when they are done with school.
These and the other pastors all spoke of the unity of the body of Christ with me. We went around the room and introduced ourselves, and I asked them each to share where they saw God at work in their congregation as well as the greatest challenge that their congregation faced. Time and again they spoke of a desire to work together to preach the gospel and see people come to know Christ as Savior. I was almost reduced to tears as I listened to them ask for ways that they could work together, and for advice on how to convince other churches to work with them as well! They want to exhibit unity. Their knowledge of Bible interpretation is weak, but their obedience to the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) is amazing. I was really convicted of the fact that there are 12 churches between WG and I-17 on Greenway Road; when was the last time we asked God and each other how we can work together to build the kingdom?
As if my mind wasn’t already blown with the unity and desire to be the Body of Christ, God showed me more. On our last couple of days I really was impressed with how much our team gelled and how well we got along. This team was primarily made of people who attend Highlands Church in Scottsdale; for them to even invite a pastor they didn’t really know is a huge deal. I led devotions daily in Rwanda and we kept the focus on serving God by serving His people in Gacundezi. We worked with Dwight Jackson of FH, and in this picture we are in the home of Jonas and Dorcas of Evangelical Restoration Church as well. This represents 4 local bodies all getting together, across denominational lines and cultural lines as well, to serve God together.
Listen to the prayer of Jesus for His people in John 17:19-23, and see if you hear in it what I heard in it in Rwanda:
“For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
Unity. It is Jesus’ desire for His people, and I got to experience that in our time in Rwanda. Unity is heady stuff, and frankly I enjoyed it too much to let it become a fun memory. It is definitely a lesson I want to take with me from here to be part of the global Church, not just part of my local church. I love the church and am as committed as ever to serving Christ in a local assembly of believers. However, I have been reminded that I need to keep the main thing the main thing and serve Christ with all who call on Him for redemption from their sins.
So from here on out I want to be more committed to seeking opportunities to partner with churches near us to reach our communities. I am going to seek to work with Southwestern College and Phoenix Seminary more to build relationships between congregations like mine with others to go together and make disciples of the world. I am going to be quick to say yes to chances to work outside the US with the church who is seeking to honor God and win people to the worship of Christ.
I am a shepherd. Well, okay, an under-shepherd. And hopefully now more than ever, an under-shepherd who sees that it’s less about my flock than it is about THE FLOCK, the Church.