A hen and her chicks

As pastors we can't save everybody.

Sharon Cress is the Coordinator of Shepherdess International

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! " (Luke 13:34).

Although I grew up in a small town, four miles out we had our "farm," a seven-acre plot, with its menagerie of animals. The chickens didn't interest me. Horses did. However, when one of my sister's favorite hens hatched a brood of the cutest little striped fluffy balls I had ever seen, my interests became more varied.

Mother hen seemed to have a terrible time trying to get those fast-moving, hardheaded chicks to obey. She would cluck them to her, settle down on them to keep them warm, and then, one by one, we would see heads start peeping out from all directions. She would settle down again and fluff out some more, and in a moment, heads would all pop out again. Hard as she would try, those chicks were deter mined something was more interesting than staying warm and safe under her wings.

The chicks were only a few days old when the weather forecaster predicted a hard freeze. We threw extra hay in the barn, shut all the windows and doors, and watched as the horses snuggled together in their cozy stalls. The chickens all nested for the evening in their chicken house side. The hen and her brood settled in their soft nest. As we could have predicted, those curious little chicks would not stay under her. She went all through the routine fluff and rearranged several times, but heads continued popping out. We left for the night, wondering if the hen would ever get a wink of sleep because of these 14 rebellious chicks.

When we opened the farm doors the next morning, the mother hen's usual patience gave way to panic. With agitation and frenzy, she cackled incessantly. Strewn around her were eight frozen dead chicks. The other six were huddled together deep under her feathers, never moving.

Paralyzed, I surveyed the scene. All I could see were dead chicks. Poor mother hen! She had tried so hard to keep those chicks safe, warm, and protected, but whatever it was that attracted their attention flies on the wall, the flicker of the barn lights, or just plain curiosity as to what's out there in the big world it was more of a temptation to them to pursue these things than staying safe and secure under her warm wings.

Ministry's limitations

Jesus, the Great Pastor, used the analogy of a hen and her chickens to describe His love and care for His people. Pastoring the flock 2,000 years later, we can still relate to His concerns for those to whom we have responsibility of spiritual nurture. Frequently our members stray away from the safety of the church family. Different interests, bright lights, other "pseudo" ministries, enticing entertainments, or just plain boredom with the "safe," all draw a person's attention away until one morning they wake up and find themselves cold and dead to the fellowship and safety of the Body. Then we start looking inward and become self-critical. We flog our selves mentally for what we could or should have done pastorally to prevent the loss.

As pastors we seem many times to have a self-set obligation that not one shall stray. Should one leave, we take it as our fault. We think we didn't do enough if only we had visited one more time, made one more call, explained more fully a question about the church, preached a shorter sermon, used livelier illustrations, done just one more anything! And yet, would it really have made a difference?

Satan would like for us to focus on the "lost" or "dead" as being a result of our failing. And, it doesn't make it any easier for us when people make us the target for their bitterness.

As pastors we can't save every body. In fact, we can't save anybody. Only Jesus can. And He can save only those who come to Him by free choice. The God who created each little chick made us, the crowning glory of His creation, with brilliant minds and the freedom to choose.

When we forget this, we slip into discouragement. Satan would like us to dwell on his victories those he has enticed away from a warm relation ship with Jesus to pursue their own fancies. And in becoming discouraged over those who leave, we might, at the same time, neglect those who still hunger for the nurture of our ministry.

Ministry with a heart

Jesus had the heart of a pastor. He understood how frustrating it can be to never be able to gather the whole flock together safely. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!"

Observe that key phrase--"and ye would not." It isn't that the Lord didn't do enough for us. He did all He could. We could make the choice but "we would not." He couldn't do any more. And He doesn't blame Himself for not doing more. He has no reason to.

Jesus is our pastoral example. We must stop slapping ourselves for other peoples' choices choices we would not have made and would have tried vainly to prevent them from making. Release them to Jesus. He cares about them more than we ever possibly could. Continue to pray for them, love them, and keep contact with them. Mean while, continue to look forward to those still searching for the risen saviour. "What if's" will only drag you down and an effective ministry with it.


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Sharon Cress is the Coordinator of Shepherdess International

March 1995

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