Regine and I have moved from Winnipeg to Calgary last week. The movers are delayed in delivering our furniture. We are living in a house that looks attractive from the outside but is cold and empty on the inside. There are none of the usual things that make a home feel warm and inviting. I wonder if this is a symbol of what is happening in our communities, regions, and countries. There is a strong current of withdrawal from public life and a reduction of vision to simply caring for ourselves and our families. The outer walls remain intact but we are losing the warmth of communitarian values and compassion for those who are different.
The current period is difficult to navigate for those in leadership positions. Many pastoral leaders struggle to understand declining congregations and changing values in the post-Christendom age. They recognize that their church communities must find new models of worship and witness in a fragmented social context. However, the way forward is anything but clear. International mission leaders are working with reduced budgets and increased pressures to respond to massive population movements, civil violence, areas of hunger, and environmental destruction. Those who lead service ministries to people on the margins are discovering a growing mean spirit in our social networks. We blame the poor for their poverty and immigrants for their desire to build a new life in our neighborhoods. There is more than a mistrust of local and national governments. There are also suspicions about anyone who articulates a message of compassion, justice, and creation care.
The words of Ezekiel 34 were addressed to political and religious leaders in Israel. The historical context was complex, contested, and confusing. The prophet reminded leaders of their responsibility to be shepherds dedicated to the well-being of the sheep under their care. In all probability, these leaders would have rejected any comparison of their positions with those of humble farm workers that lived in the fields with their animals. Ezekiel reminded these leaders of the outcomes that were important for God:
- The weak are strengthened.
- The sick are healed.
- The injured receive medical care.
- The strays are brought back into the community.
- The lost are found.
We can re-phrase these description expressions for our own time and places. I think it would be a good exercise for leadership groups and boards. The text invites us to re-center our leadership goals on building stronger communities in which wounded and vulnerable people are welcomed with compassion and care. God holds us accountable to move our organizations in these directions.