Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Sheep In Lion Country, Part 3

Part 3: Understand how to behave as a shepherd.

First, some general principles:

Never dismiss or trivialise the experience of the presence of ‘lions,’ ‘wolves,’ or ‘bears’ – the attacks of satan, including through sickness or demonic oppression – in people’s lives.

Never, ever, suggest that those who know Jesus the Shepherd will not experience such attack, or that if they do it is because of unconfessed sin on their part. Immunity from spiritual attack is not biblical; what is modeled biblically is God as our stronger covenant partner, who will pursue the enemies who have carried us off, inflict defeat on them, and carry us home. Unconfessed sin may give the enemy something to manipulate in achieving their aims, but, the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy simply because the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.

Always encourage people in such circumstances to focus – and re-focus – on Jesus the Shepherd, rather than on their circumstances. This is not denial, but a conscious decision to look to our Deliverer. How one does so will vary, in part, depending on our tradition of spirituality. But recognise that a sheep in the jaws of a lion might not be able, at that moment, to look to the Shepherd; and at times we all need those around us to stand with us and do what we cannot.

What I want to focus on here is a practical model for supporting those in more extreme pastoral situations; those we might describe as sheep who have had their leg broken, either through attack (such as sickness) or folly (such as a deliberate decision to do something that separates them from God and those around them). The model is based on the shepherd’s practice of (breaking a leg where necessary and) resetting the broken leg with a splint and bandages. The model uses structures to form a solid ‘splint’ and people as the ‘bandages’ that firmly hold the person in need of support. We have used this model in situations as diverse as:
Long-term sickness, where a family has needed support (spiritual, emotional, practical) over a period of time, necessitating that the support did not become overly burdensome for one or two individuals;
Alongside marriage counseling for the couple concerned, helping a young married man who had been visiting prostitutes. In this situation, it was not appropriate that the issue remained a secret; it was not appropriate that the whole community knew (not least, out of respect for his wife); and it was not appropriate that only church staff knew (because pastoral responsibility does not only fall on those paid to do it, and also to avoid exposing church leaders to the temptation to use knowledge of an individual’s falling short in order to exercise control over them).

Obviously, we’ve tailored the model to suit, but, here’s a composite version:
The ‘bandages’: we asked an individual or couple to take a day in the week when they would take responsibility to pray for the person in question, for a set period of time, to be reviewed at its end. They would also contact the person during the day, by phone, including praying with them. In some cases, they might do something practical to help out, too.
The ‘splint’: sometimes the structure was to ask the person in question to be at a certain place at a certain time in the day for the duration of the re-setting; for example, attending communal prayers. If that sounds a bit like reporting to the police station while out on parole, at least in addressing sin issues, it is! But, it also requires of the person that they actively engage with the process, which is essential if it is to be effective. Sometimes the structure was to identify trigger-situations, and to be accountable to acting accordingly (e.g. I will not go to that place at that time).

Obviously, this is only one model, and only appropriate in certain situations. But we’ve found it helpful, and worth sharing with others.

Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

(Luke 15:1-7)

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:40 am

    Bloomin' useful Andrew, given me plenty of food for thought as always. Useful from the perspective of the times when I have been broken, and the times when I am bandages and needing to put splints in place.