Not only does the shepherd lead the sheep to pasture and water and bring back the strays, he also has to nurture them and guard them at night. Ezk. 34:2-4 Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.
Every night as the shepherd brings the flock home to the fold, he counts them at the gate as they pass under his rod to make sure none was missing. This is also the time when he examines them to ensure that none is sick or injured, giving herbs, applying ointment, or binding up wounds as necessary. He is especially tender towards the young and the feeble when he drives them to pasture. If a sheep gives birth, he would guard the mother during her helpless moments, picking up the lamb and carries it to the fold until it is able to walk. This is the caring function of the pastor, and here I believe our Panama colleagues are able to do a better job than their N. American counterparts. They are more aware of the problems as they work closely with their members, who feel that even though their pastors may not always be able to help, they do care about them. Part of this is due to the make-up of the flock, and part of it is due to the size of the congregation.
The demographics of the average Chinese church in Panama consist of early middle-aged, lower middle-class families from rural China, with primary or secondary education. They speak conversational Spanish because their business demands it and they need to survive, but they may not know how to read and write it. In contrast, the average Chinese church in Canada consists mostly of late middle age, more established families from urban Hong Kong, with post-secondary education. Nearly all speak, read and write English. In short, our Panama brothers and sisters are less sophisticated, and more open to share and ask for help. As well, the small size of their church of under 30 adults means everybody knows everyone else quite well, which makes for an intimate environment where caring can take place.
In Toronto, often I hear Christians complaining that people are unwilling to share, and they hardly know anybody even after years in the church. This however, is a two-way street, as we are not just at the receiving but giving end as well, and we have ourselves to blame for the lack of warmth in the church. In addition, with larger churches averaging one pastor for every 100 members/adherents, the attention span of the pastor is spread out thinner.
For example, say a pastor does 2 visitations every week, one evangelistic to reach non-believers, and one pastoral to care for believers. Assuming an average of 2 adults per family, the 100 members under his charge would comprise 50 families. One caring visit a week would mean a full year just to visit every family once. No wonder he spends more time with the young (new believers), the weak (physically and spiritually), and the hurt. But then the strong would feel they are being neglected and complain. With a small church, the pastor can visit each family several times a year and no one would feel they have been left out. Regardless, criticism is par for the course. The adage is still true, “If you can’t stand the heat, don’t get into the kitchen!”
(To be continued)