So we're finally going to get into it, Ezekiel 34. Now, the chapter is often titled, "A prophecy against the shepherds of Israel," which might lead you to think that we're going to talk about pastors. Not so. Because that's another one of the big myths that a lot of false prophets try to latch onto - the problem with the church is its pastors, and if you only had the right pastor, your church wouldn't be broken. (And guess who the "right" pastor is. That's right - the false prophet himself, of course!)
But the truth is that most persons who are wounded by the church are not wounded by the pastors; they are wounded in the pews. Most persons who are leaving the church are leaving because they're sitting next to a hypocrite, not listening to one lead worship. Most persons are wounded more by the gossip they accidentally overhear in the bathroom than by the teaching, true or not, in the sermon.
The problem in our churches is not our pastors, not most of the time. The problem that every church faces is our people - it's our broken persons trying to be in fellowship with other broken persons where our insecurities rub against one another and set each other off and turn each other away.
So here we are, in Ezekiel 34, and here's what I was reading about God's people that struck me as I thought about the church:
Therefore thus says the Lord God to them: 'Behold, here am I, and I will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and butt at all the weak ones with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will save my sheep, so that they may no longer be a prey and I will just between sheep and sheep. (v. 20-22)
Some of you read that passage, and it strikes you the way that it struck me - yes, this is the problem with our one anothering. We have a bunch of fat sheep who like to push with their side and shoulder, who like to shove everyone else around, who want to use their influence and their "righteousness" and the length of their Christian journey and whatever else they can brag about to drive a bunch of brothers and sisters around using their horns and if a little blood gets shed, so what? There's no place for weak sheep in this herd!
Others of you read that passage, and you have no idea what I'm talking about. You don't go to a church that has this problem. You are in a place where the strong sheep help the weak sheep, where they help them figure out where they are going astray and keeping them on a firm path. Where you keep leading them as best you can toward food, but it seems like they just refuse to eat. You don't have a fat sheep problem, you think; you have a lean sheep problem.
My question to you would be: are you sure? Because if you put any reasonably hungry sheep in front of real food and make space for it to eat, it's going to eat. Plain and simple. If you think you're leading your lean sheep to food and they just won't eat it, maybe your big fat sheep butt is standing too much in the way while you hover over them telling them what great food this is and trying to shove it down their throat. Or maybe you're intimidating them while they're trying to eat; maybe they just want to graze, and you're trying to shove a banquet feast down their throat.
The point is - a lot of churches have a fat sheep problem, whether they know it or not, and it's the fat sheep (not the shepherd) who are more often than not driving the lean sheep away, shoving them around with their sides and their shoulders, butting at them with their horns, and sending them out to starve.
The bad news is, the people of God seem to have always had a sheep problem. The good news is, at least it's not a new problem like some of the shepherds are trying to claim. This has been a problem in our one anothering all the way back at least to Ezekiel.
Is there more good news? This is God we're talking about, so of course there is! (Stay tuned.)