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"Compassion and Shepherding" (Chapter 3)

It took me a while to get my head around exactly what Callahan was saying in this chapter.  The switch went on when I saw the outward focus of this element of a small, strong congregation.  Along with that came the realization that I need to shift my thinking about "compassion and shepherding."  When I have applied these concepts to the small church, my first thought has been inward, not outward.  The slam on the small church is that it is inward-focused - which is probably more on-point than we want to admit.  It's the phenomenon of the members perceiving their church to be friendly but visitors leaving because they weren't included in the friendship circle.  Compassion and shepherding directed inwardly keeps others out.  The compassion and shepherding of the small, strong congregation, which is such a rich blessing to those who are receive it, has to be turned outward to the community as well.  It's one way we express our participation in God's covenant with Abraham, being both receivers and channels of God's blessing (Gen. 12:1-3).

I've been working through Christopher Wright's Mission of God.  If you know the book, you know it will be a long process, but, I trust, a fruitful one.  I had one of those "why didn't I see this before?" moments today, reading what Wright had to say about Jeremiah 29 (particularly Jer. 29:4-14).  While false prophets were telling the exiles in Babylon that their time there would be brief, Jeremiah was saying the opposite.  God wanted them to settle in.  Babylon was not their permanent home, but it was their home for the time.  With all the distress, confusion, and testing of faith brought on by the exile (Psalm 137), God's word to his people was "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.  Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper" (Jer. 29:7).  Blessing the people that took you captive?  I can't imagine that being on their natural "to do" list.  Seeking the peace and prosperity of your temporary home is an aspect of participating in God's mission.  It is receiving and expressing the compassion of the Good Shepherd who knows there are other sheep that are not yet part of the flock (John 10:16).  This is the ministry of compassion and shepherding directed outward.

I wish Callahan had stayed away from the word "sacrament" to describe compassion and shepherding.  But, I appreciate what he's getting at.  The blessing of God's compassion and shepherding is experienced and lived out by God's people - no matter what the size of the congregation - and becomes a blessing to be shared generously and outwardly.  It can energize the "one excellent mission" of the small, strong congregation as it shares that mission with the commuity as a gift.

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How does this chapter sit with you?

What will it mean, in concrete terms, in your context to "seek the peace and prosperity of the city" in which your congregation has been placed?  Let us know some things you have been doing - or some things this is prompting you to do.

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George Carey on Aug 25, 2008 6:30pm

Ed,

Just received my book and have read the first three chapters. WOW! He has put into words and principles much of what I have discovered as key ways of thinking/ministering in the small churches I have served with. I will write more later as I proceed with my reading. What a great idea to blog this way.
George R Carey