For Teaching, Reproof, Correction and Training in Righteousness, Issue 98

November 17, 2016 by Presbyterian Foundation

Ezekiel was surrounded by the ‘likeness’ of the glory of the LORD, and he heard ‘someone’ speaking: “eat what is offered to you; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 1:28, 3:1). Each week, pastors continue to eat what is offered to them, and continue to speak to the community of faith. From time to time, the Presbyterian Foundation will offer brief studies of Scripture that may be useful to pastors in teaching and preaching God’s word.

Ellen Charry’s theological commentary on the twenty-third Psalm includes a fascinating insight into the biblical metaphor of sheep and shepherds, an image that appears in half of the books of the Bible. Charry notes that metaphorical sheep appear as “hapless dolts” in many scriptural references. They are stupid, helpless animals, easily domesticated for food. They are unable to sense danger and protect themselves. As herbivores they are innocent of blood, but vulnerable to beasts of prey. They simply cannot care for themselves very well, which is why they need a shepherd.

Metaphorical shepherds are not always reliable, however. The prophets rail against bad shepherds who shirk their responsibilities. Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah are especially hard on shepherds (rulers and leaders) who do not provide needed care for the flock, even abandoning them.

Charry notes that we may not be happy to be compared to hapless and helpless creatures, but the biblical image is meant to acknowledge that the people of God often wander, get lost, and become vulnerable to “predators.” The people of God, the sheep of God’s pasture, need a shepherd to search for them, gather them back when they scatter, and rescue them from who and what seeks to harm them.

Ellen Charry writes that picturing us as sheep that may lose ourselves, picturing the Church as a flock that wanders, “contrasts sharply with the later Christian portrayal of people as sinful, conniving for their own advancement, arrogant, and rebellious against their ‘shepherd.’” Sheep are far less likely to defy their shepherds than to ignore them and go off on their own. The core of the image is that when we wander from God, when the church loses its way, we need a reliable shepherd. Is God the only reliable shepherd? Yes, but Christ still calls congregational leaders (we call them “pastors” after all) to feed and tend his sheep. Pastors are called to be good shepherds after the example of Christ, not the bad shepherds so often pictured in Scripture.

Year-End Giving for your Congregation

For most Presbyterian churches, December is the biggest giving month of the year. The combination of the Christmas emphasis on giving and the tax code’s rewards for charitable gifts will have many of your members writing checks. There are additional ways to give, and your church budget could benefit if your members know about them:

  • #GivingTuesday: Following on the heels of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday – #GivingTuesday puts the global spotlight on charitable giving, especially on-line giving. The Presbyterian Mission Exchange provides an online giving portal for all Presbyterian congregations and mission causes.
  • IRA Distributions: Donors over 70 ½ years can make charitable gifts directly from their IRA funds under a tax law provision made permanent in December of 2015.  Please call the Presbyterian Foundation for more details or talk to your financial advisor. Learn more
  • Stock Gifts: Many Presbyterians like to make gifts of appreciated stocks at year-end – both for tax reasons and because more personal wealth is often held in investments than in cash. The Presbyterian Foundation can accept these gifts on your congregation’s behalf if you are not set up to handle them. Learn more
  • Nontraditional Assets: The Foundation may also accept gifts of real estate and other nontraditional or non-liquid assets and convert them to cash for your ministry. Learn more

Contact your regional Ministry Relations Officer to learn more about ways your church can benefit from members’ year-end generosity.