Dr. Timothy C. Tennent's Charge to 2013 Seminary Graduates

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The first sermon series I ever preached as a newly minted United Methodist pastor back in 1984 was a series on the Seven “I Am” sayings of Jesus found in John’s gospel :  Jesus said, “ I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the gate,  I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the Truth and the Life,  I am the True Vine, I am the Resurrection and the Life.    All of these seven must have been indelibly written on the memories of all the disciples, not just John.  We see it, for example, in the memory of Peter as recorded in 1 Peter 5:1,2 which I want to use as my charge to the 2013 class:

To the elders among you, I appeal to you as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings. And one who also will share in the glory to be revealed.  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.  And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Peter remembers that Jesus said, I am the Good Shepherd.  Here he calls Jesus the Chief Shepherd.   It is title only found here, but seems to be providing the theological space to make every pastor a shepherd just as Jesus, who is Light of the world, calls us to be lights in the world.  So, in the glorious presence of the Chief Shepherd, listen to this charge:

Be Shepherd’s of God’s Flock

If shepherd is used as a verb –  “to shepherd” –  it means to lovingly care for.  To shepherd is the opposite of “to abandon” or “to leave in danger”.   You are called to shepherd God’s flock.  Many of you will be pastors.  Love your flock enough to faithfully preach God’s word.  Don’t waste your precious sermon time on “bland fluff.”  Don’t work out your sermon on Saturday night.  No, let your sermons be the overflow of a life spent in God’s Word.    May those under your care never doubt that you have spent much time abiding in the presence of Christ.  Love your flock enough to spend time with them:  Listen to them in times of loss, comfort them in times of grief, and stand with them in times of trial.  Be a Shepherd of God’s flock.  Some of you are going forth as counselors, or teachers or missionaries or other ministries of the church.  You also go forth as ambassadors of Jesus Christ the Chief Shepherd.   May you shepherd those under your care and thus fulfill the law of Christ, which is love.

Do not be greedy for money, but eager to serve.

Graduates of the 2013 class of Asbury Theological Seminary, ministry is not the ladder of a human profession; it is the loving response to a divine calling.  Be eager to serve the church, the blessed body of Jesus Christ, knowing that whatever you do in word or deed, you do it unto Christ himself, who knows your needs and will meet them according to his bountiful abundance.

Be examples to the flock.

You are being sent forth in holiness – sanctified – spirit filled.  You are not just to be forensically righteous, i.e. some kind of declared, but alien righteousness.  That is there.  But you have also been called and empowered to be righteous… to be God’s shepherds when much of the flock has been scattered.  Never forget that the Chief Shepherd is always before you – showing you the way, leading the whole flock, the global church throughout time and around the world of which we are a part.  Never lose your sense of wonder that the Chief Shepherd, the one who said, “I am the Good Shepherd” has called you to be a shepherd of His flock.  Thanks be to God.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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