One of the most important aspects of the Biblical faiths is the vocation of the pastor-shepherd, whether priest, minister or rabbi. Although much of Western modernity has placed a great emphasis on clerical motivational speakers and attractive gatherings with great music, the Judeo-Christian traditions are based on discipleship.
Whether Jewish “Talmudim” or Christian “disciples,” both branches of the same tree depend on pastoral mentorship.
Pastoral mentorship is the ancient way of shepherding God’s flock. Although leading synagogue or church services are a crucial part of our faith traditions, the personal, one-on-one work of a spiritual guide who cares is the very nectar of our religions.
The essence and power of our religions are not found in lectures given from a distance over a microphone, but rather, walking, serving and praying with believers in the day-to-day grind of regular people.
The power of our religions is not found in theological diatribes and intellectualism; the power of our religions is found in God’s Word put into practice in the midst of the people. Pope Francis once said: “The shepherd smells like sheep.”
When I was a young minister many years ago in Geneva, N.Y., I became friends with a rabbi who would oftentimes invite me to his Shabbat dinners. I was impressed that his door was open to anyone who would walk into his home on Friday nights, even without an invitation.
Before dinner, his wife would lead the prayers over the candles, and while we ate, the rabbi talked to us about stories in the Talmud and told Jewish jokes while we stuffed our faces with challah bread and matzah ball chicken soup.
After dinner, my rabbi friend would share a deep teaching with his commentaries, ending the night with ancient chants that sweetened our ears and hearts. This rabbi didn’t lecture us from a distance; he taught us the mysteries of his religion by means of the loving examples that he encouraged to emulate as we lived our regular lives, whether Jewish or Christian.
Rather than spending unending hours preparing liturgies and sermons in his office, Rabbi Grossman would visit all the storefront owners of the little town, eat and pray publicly with town-folk and tourist alike, sharing the hope of the Biblical living God with everyone, regardless of background, religion, or race.
To shepherd is to mentor, not lecture. To shepherd is to care, to rub elbows with the people. To shepherd is to build lives, not just preach to them.
To shepherd is to be common among the common-folk. To inspire the laity by actively serving in their midst as an example. To make a significant impact in people’s lives in a personal way. To actually care – to “adopt” many “spiritual children” and to teach them the precious pearls of our faiths.
To shepherd it to walk with folks, not as super-spiritual giants, but as simple men and women who have been called by God to serve as his personal representatives in the lives of those who need Him.
Rev. Juan C. Rivera of Bluffton is a Latino missions consultant and counseling therapist for Jamison Consultants.