Why Ministry is 24/7/365

Recently, during my devotion time, I was reading Luke 2.
I read a verse I've read dozens of times before, but something stood out to me, that I hadn't noticed or thought about before.  It's in verse 8.

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks AT NIGHT."

Didn't these shepherds ever get a break?  Here they are on-the-job at night.  I can see them working during the daytime, feeding the sheep, taking the sheep to fresh water, guarding against any wolves or predators that might attack and tending to any wounds or injuries the sheep might have.  

But apparently, their work didn't fall into the perimeter of a set 9 to 5 time schedule.  Even at night, they had to be attentive to the needs of the sheep.  Ready to protect the sheep against predators that might quietly approach in the darkness.  Ready to help any sheep that might become sick in the middle of the night.  Ready to assist any mother sheep who might give birth in the wee hours of the morning.  

Apparently, it was a 24/7/365 task. 

If you are in ministry, does this sound familiar?

Does it seem the responsibility of shepherding is always on your shoulders?  Do you chuckle when someone asks "What do you do all week?  Don't you just work on Sundays?"  

Do you sometimes find yourself going to the hospital in the middle of the night to pray with a family in the emergency room?  Do you sometimes wake up in the morning with a heavy heart for a volunteer that is struggling?  Have you ever gotten a phone call during your vacation that immediately pulled your mind back into everything you have going on at church?  Have you ever had to cut a meal with your family short so you can help someone in need?  Have you ever dwelt all day on the ministry while pretending you were enjoying your day off?  

Seems like you have a lot in common with the shepherds of old.  The work of shepherding is always with you.  It's not something you can just cut off at 5 pm each day.  It's not something you can drop on Sunday afternoon and forget about until the next Sunday.  

I get it and understand.  You are a shepherd because God has called you to this role.  And He has placed a passion deep inside you to care for the sheep.  He has infused your DNA with compassion and empathy for the sheep.  You work your tail off to make sure predators never get near those in your care.  You are ready, 24/7/365 to help them grow, meet their needs and protect them. 

But in your heart of hearts, you are tired.  This 24/7/365 schedule is draining you.  You don't really enjoy your day off.  You spend it thinking about the sheep, answering emails about the sheep and answering phone calls about the sheep.  Even on vacation, your mind drifts back to the sheep and your spouse or friends have to pull you back.  

Being a shepherd is becoming a drudgery.  You even find bitterness creeping in because of the times the sheep have taken your time and attention away from your family.  You wonder what it would feel like to walk away from the sheep and let someone else watch them.  

You question if the sheep even care about what you do for them.  Even with all the time and attention you give them, they still bite at you, sometimes shun the food you provide them and even run away on occasion.  You ponder if being a shepherd is really worth it.  You sometimes find yourself wanting to hand in your shepherding tools and swap your shepherding schedule for something easier.

I've been there.  Felt that.  Wanted to do that.  

Have you?  If so, there's a passage that has helped me and I believe it will encourage you as well as you shepherd. 

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God.  Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.  1 Peter 5

Here are some important, helpful things we learn about shepherding in these verses...

You are a shepherd because of God's call on your life.  

"care for the flock that God has entrusted to you..."

When I get tired.  When I get discouraged.  When I feel like 24/7/365 is closing in on me,  I must go back to why I am doing the work of a shepherd.  It is because I was chosen, ordained and anointed for the job by God.

Stay focused on God's call on your life to shepherd.  It will carry you through the storms, trials, late nights, early mornings, tiring events, long weekends and sleepless nights.

We must shepherd in a way that helps us maintain a good attitude.  

"...watch over it willingly, not grudgingly..."

When I have no margin in my life as a shepherd, my attitude goes south.  When I run on empty as a shepherd, the work of shepherding becomes drudgery.  When I don't come apart, I begin to come apart as a shepherd.  When I get bit by a sheep, I lash back in anger.  When a sheep goes astray, I am too weary to go after them.  

My attitude about shepherding is in direct correlation to how I shepherd.  And how I shepherd is controlled by how much margin I build into my life, how I take care of myself physically and emotionally and how I prioritize my life.

We should be shepherding for the outcome rather than the income. 

"not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God..."

If you are in a paid ministry position, you're probably not in it for the income.  You could be making more money in the business world or another field.  

But you can fall into the trap of coveting the things you could have if you made more money.  Perhaps you have looked at the magnificent house of a church member and wished you had went a different route that paid more money.  Or you walked past an expensive car in the church parking lot and wondered if you could be driving it, if you weren't giving so much of your time and effort to shepherding.  Or when a volunteer tells you they are going on an exclusive vacation, you secretly wish you could afford to go there. 

Yes, we must provide for our families and have a livable wage.  But we must also remember that we didn't get into shepherding for the money.  We got into it to make a difference for eternity.  The income may not put you on a Forbes' list, but the outcome is priceless.
When I first shepherd myself well, I am then able to shepherd others well.

"...don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example..."

The most important person I shepherd is myself.  The hardest person I shepherd is the person I look at in the mirror.  When I shepherd myself well, it enables me to be a good shepherd for the sheep in my care.  

This means I have to find a way to often pull away during the 24/7/365 craziness and find rest.  This means I must guard my heart as a shepherd.  This means I must spend time with Jesus.  This means I must first shepherd my own family well.  This means I must give from the overflow of what God is pouring into my life.

I am not the Chief Shepherd. 

...and when the Chief Shepherd appears...

I am not the Chief Shepherd.  I simply work for Him.  This means I don't have to carry the weight of shepherding.  That's not my job.  When I realize this, I can enter the light burden and easy yoke of the Chief Shepherd.  

I can't change anyone's life, only the Chief Shepherd can do that.

I can't answer a volunteer's prayers, only the Chief Shepherd can do that. 
I must remember that I am responsible to people but not for people.  

As shepherds, we are to do our very best, while remembering that ultimately it's the Chief Shepherd who does the work through us.

We can't completely see it now, but one day we will know that it was worth it all.

"And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor."

One day, I will be in the presence of the Chief Shepherd and the time I spent shepherding will be worth it all.  One day in heaven,  I'll get to see the full impact I made in the lives of the sheep God allowed me to shepherd and my heart will leap for joy.  

One day, I'll take the crown I receive and will cast it at Jesus' feet and thank Him for using my life for His glory.  The 24/7/365 will fade away into a wonderful, timeless eternity. 

So...if you're a little tired and weary of watching your "sheep by night," I pray you will be encouraged.  Thank you for your heart for the sheep God has entrusted you with.  May your shepherd's heart be refreshed and refilled today.

Shepherd on my friend!