El Buen Pastor United Methodist Church stained glass window, Edinburg, Texas
Scripture: Psalm 23
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
I will always be grateful for the amazing ten years I pastored El Buen Pastor United Methodist Church in Edinburg, Texas before I was newly appointed to serve a cross-conference appointment as the Southwest Texas Conference New Church Developer in San Antonio. The translation of El Buen Pastor from Spanish to English is, The Good Shepherd. The magnificent stained glass window pictured above, a classic artistic portrayal of Psalm 23, stood as a spiritually formative focal point at the front and center of our sanctuary. The dominant image of a gentle shepherd carrying and caring for a young and helpless lamb certainly helped shape the self-image and missional understanding of the loving and nurturing congregation for they understood themselves by and large as sheep to be cared for, rather than as leader shepherds of those in their familial and social networks of relationships.
One day, when I was praying about how to lead and help turn the congregation missionally outward, I re-read Psalm 23. This time, I was drawn to verse 3, “He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.” It struck me that Psalm 23 is at its core a missional psalm. It is written from the perspective and experience of a sheep confidently looking to his leader shepherd for his missional leadership, direction and assignment, accompaniment, protection, and missional success. Interpreting Psalm 23 with a missional perspective transformed the way our congregation understood and practiced our ministries our nurture, outreach, and witness. After all, we now understood our mission as preparing and sending confident Christian shepherd leaders into the dark valleys of the world for the sake of the Lord’s name and to proclaim the favor, goodness, mercy, and love of the Lord.
The sheep in Psalm 23 testifies that in his experience, the shepherd is a good and trustworthy leader worthy of subordinating oneself to and obeying, even when the shepherd sends the sheep through the darkest valleys for the sake of shepherd’s reputation/name (v. 4). The sheep accepts the shepherd’s missional assignment, and with boldness and fearlessness, he heads out into and through the darkest valleys fraught with dangers, toils, and snares because he has been set apart – anointed – for the mission. When the mission is over, the shepherd refreshes and restores the sheep for the next mission (v. 1-2). Over and over again, the sheep experience the goodness and mercy of the Lord while on assignment and mission. He trusts that the shepherd’s goodness and mercy will continue forever (v. 6).
Next time you sense the leading of the Lord to enter into a challenging situation – a dark valley – for the sake of the Lord’s reputation or name, read and pray Psalm 23. Seek the assurance of the Lord’s leading, direction, protection, and care the psalmist proclaims and invites us into. When you find the shepherd’s assurance, head out with boldness and trust. Paz.
I arise today through the mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, through the belief in the Threeness, through the confession of the Oneness, of the Creator of creation. Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man [person] who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.
The Breastplate Prayer is attributed to St. Patrick of Ireland