99 problems but a sheep ain’t one of them.

A Pastor friend of mine asked a good question. It is always a fine idea to reflect on the leadership and see where they are directing the flock. This is a huge warning in the Bible. Make sure they are good shepherds! But at what point do we stop and ask “Why do all the sheep want to wander?”

Now the easy answer is well…sin. But in order to more fully address this issue I think we need a more comprehensive look at the Bible and our culture. Even Jesus said there would be times to leave the 99 and go and search for that pesky stubborn lamb. If only we were able to simply just offer in sacrifice those that wander would make this a whole lot easier, but no, Jesus encourages the chase.
Prone to wander Lord I feel it…
We all feel the need to quit sometimes to want to stop, to give in, to not go the next step, in short, to take the road less traveled. When the walk is too hard or the truth too much of a hassle. Jesus even spoke about the two roads. One is wide and the way leads to destruction and quite frankly many choose it. But the lesser traveled road is much narrower and their are few who find it.
It may be that those who actually grow are few and far between.
Again I wish we could just leave it there and say well those who fail in the day of adversity are weak. But we must always remember the next proverb about our responsibility to save those that are falling  away.
But we are not so much talking about apostasy but failure to launch. Why won’t people grow? Why won’t people learn? Why all the apathy? But I do think there are similarities.
So let’s first look at the wandering. Jesus also had a following problem. He even reminded that not all who say Lord, Lord will inherit the kingdom. I think the first obvious  reason is that both wheat and chaff are growing together in the church. It would be nice if we had a chaff detector so we could weed them out but   God didn’t allow the angels to do that lest the rest be uprooted with them. So we need to realize not everyone out there in the seats is fully on board, this is the nature of an audience. It is not really the point for us to be overly concerned about those who just seem to never get it. Jesus spoke to the masses but focused on twelve.
Jesus focused on those who he chose and those who responded. Jesus gave the appeal but they had their reasons for not following after him. “I need to go to a funeral”, “I just got married”, “I need to go see about some land”. Tomorrow would be better and easier quite frankly.
In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul says there is meat for the eating but we are satisfied with milk. He would love to take his people to the next level but well that would require teeth and some chewing.
1But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3for you are still of the flesh. 

He says they are of the flesh as in acting as if they are still in the old nature. Acting as if we are still in the old nature has a way of preventing growth.  It would be nice to move deeper in our walks but some simply can’t. The writer of Hebrews takes up this same theme in chapters 5 and 6 and it is even said that it is not been given for some to do so. But Paul says he wants to feed the sheep heartier meals but they are just not ready. The writer of Hebrews reminds that part of the problem is dullness of hearing. Specifically this means with regards to the word of righteousness in the practice of distinguishing between good and evil. If God’s people do not practice distinguishing between good and evil as his word teaches then they will remain infants. This is how we get the transfer to itching ears desiring it easier? Remaining in the flesh means people want to hear safer, less demanding messages, and thus finding someone else who will acquiesce and teach such.
But well babies need to eventually be weaned. Sheep in the flock do as well. There is something to be said for knowing the people and when it is appropriate to switch to solids. Some will always be spoiled and like what they are used to but a good parent makes the change all the same. Jesus pursued the sheep but he let the goats go their own ways.
At the same time these are adults we are talking about. There is a time for people to grow up as Paul himself says when he was a child he spoke like one but a time came for him to put off such childish things.  Do babies have itching ears? Do babies only seek out what fits there fancy? Well yes they do. Part of this is to acknowledge that growth can be difficult, if it wasn’t people would do it. If it was easy I wouldn’t bother with this topic.
But it has been said if a whole classroom fails then fire the teacher but if a few struggle then they may need extra attention, or detention. So how do we interact with the few that need help?
Well we broach the topic. How are things going? How is God working in that situation? How are you handling that problem? What scripture has helped you in this struggle? Who are you leaning on? How is that distinguishing good and evil thing going?
The sad truth is some people will just not go into the deep end.
So I think the question for us is how do the few that struggle respond? If they say I can’t do it, we need to help them see how. If they say I won’t do it, well let them be. Pray and perhaps God will help them with their answer or he perhaps he will move them onto another pasture. Or as we fear they may remain and continue to just eat milk-grass.
I think all we can do as leaders is intervene when they start to take up more than their fair share.
But this is hard for leadership. We want all of our people to prosper.  But even Jesus had a son of perdition to deal with. All we can do is sow and water but God Brings the increase. This may mean patience on our end and a rod to other end, on some behinds perhaps.
I wish there was an easy answer to this one. Some continue onto discipleship and some do not leave the playpen. Some are sitting playing the part and some are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Some take the call seriously and some just play with sin. Hopefully leaders know the difference before they hand out some responsibility.
Much of the New Testament is about growth. It really seems to be answering the questions of what Jesus so succinctly summed up: How do I love God and my fellow man?
We all get to walk this path together and for some of us we are at different spots on the journey. You may see Jim in a valley while Sally is on a peak. In a few weeks their positions may be different but are they on the journey? I think a good tell is, you guessed it, humility.
The humble do not make excuses for the journey, they acknowledge it, whether on the peak or in the valley. Those that learn to practice and distinguish between good and evil as the writer of Hebrews says. They continue on and those are the ones we run after if they start to drift.  So why do some learn and others don’t? Well it could be many reasons but as leaders we give chase. Grace for all but sometimes we have to let the goats leave if they wish.

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