Before my present gig as pastor began, I team-taught an adult Christian education class at the large Presbyterian church in my city. The two other leaders, Tim and Jack, agreed with me that we should offer a six-week summer lecture series on faith and culture. In our minds, there were fascinating Christians out in our world who were working on interesting fields of study in science and art. There were experts in gene sequencing, alcoholism research, and brain function as well as artists who could talk about St Matthew’s Passion, Blaise Pascal or photojournalism.
It was our assessment that although the Protestant movement had a strong emphasis on the “priesthood of all believers” there was very little opportunity within church life to give the average pew member a chance to talk about faith in everyday life. Business leaders who attend church really don’t hear much about the work world in the average pastoral sermon and, I admit, I was curious about what my friend, the agronomist, would say about the ethics of genetically modified foods.
Well, the lecture series was an immediate hit and over the past six years we’ve heard some brilliantly interesting people talk about their passions. I have personally learned so much about God’s beautiful world and people.
One of the unexpected consequences of launching a speaker’s platform to the masses was, however, that the “fringe” element really comes out of the woodwork and wants to push their particular agenda. It also means that there would be a fair amount of disagreement expressed when issues of global warming or dealing with terrorism are discussed. Jack, the newly retired member of the trio, was given the dubious honor of communicating with the miscreants that surfaced at every lecture and for six years he has admirably held the rag-tag series together. He has really been the person most responsible for the success of this effort. His reward was that we gave him the honorable title of “Sheepdog” and, just to prove he is as “hip” as he wants to be, he still signs his emails to us with ” ‘dogg.”
In the book of Acts there is no shortage of dynamic and charismatic leadership shown by the apostles Peter, John and Paul. James and Philip also perform their eldership duties with aplomb. They are rewarded for their dedication to the message of Jesus resurrected by being summarily executed or exiled. Before they are killed or sent to Patmos we find their contribution etched into the life of the early church.
Such dynamic leadership is not without the potential for disagreement and you’ll find plenty of that on the pages of Acts. Alongside the disagreement and debate is the additional element of miscreants making their way into the flock to stir up trouble. The early church clearly needed a sheepdog to manage the divergent and divisive influences and in chapter 11 of Acts it becomes clear that person is, once again, Barnabbas.
What a great gift it is to encourage those who are trying to find a place for their faith and to excise those influences that detract from the message of hope and charity. Let’s determine to be more of a Barnabbas-like encourager or “sheepdog” today.