The Church of Jesus Christ and the Need for Pastors With a Renewed Focus on Their Roles As Shepherds
The church is in need of pastors with a renewed focus and emphasis on their roles as shepherds of the flock of God. The basic assumption and thrust of this article is that over the last two decades there has been an inordinate amount of attention given to training pastors to be leaders as compared to that of their biblical calling — the call to be shepherds. The shepherding model for pastors, though neglected at times, is still the clear biblical and needed model today.
I do not suggest that pastors should not develop leadership skills. Being a leader and a pastor are not mutually exclusive. The issue at hand is one of focus and a clear mindset as to what is the ultimate concern of serving as a pastor. Though exceptions to the rule exist, a leader primarily focuses on completing a task, whereas a pastor-shepherd focuses on caring for the flock. The comparison of task versus relationship is in focus here.
The mindset a pastor chooses to adopt in leading and caring for the flock will be of great significance. Though the scope of this article is limited, I give sufficient space to briefly address this subject with the intent of calling pastors to a renewed focus on their roles as shepherds.
Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd, concluded His earthly ministry by asking the apostle Peter to “take care of my sheep” (John 21:16). The apostle Paul would pass on a similar admonition in his parting words to the Ephesian elders, asking them to “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God” (Acts 20:28).
Finally, the apostle Peter would once again echo these words of focus and responsibility before his departure, encouraging the elders to “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (1 Peter 5:2). In each case, these spiritual leaders, including the Lord himself, deemed it appropriate and necessary to emphasize in their parting words to pastors and church leaders their great responsibility of shepherding the flock of God. Unfortunately, from time to time and especially in recent days some have neglected this emphasis and focus on the pastor-shepherd model.
Pastor-Shepherds: The Neglected Model
According to E. Glenn Wagner, pastors and churches today are moving away from a community model for life in the local church, and moving toward a corporate model.1 In part, he believes this is happening because more and more pastors are focusing on becoming CEOs today instead of following the biblical model of pastor-shepherd.2
Wagner believes such an approach to ministry is unhealthy, both for the church and for the pastor. Wagner speaks from the perspective of being a long-time pastor, former vice president for Promise Keepers, and now a seminary professor. He is not alone in his concerns.
H.B. London, Jr., of Focus on the Family works with pastors nationwide and believes many of them have become enamored with the success of megachurch pastors and make the mistake of believing that a corporate model or mindset is the answer to a successful pastorate.3 As London notes, however, most American pastors have approximately 100 or fewer parishioners in church on any given Sunday, and what their people really need is a pastor-shepherd, not a CEO.4 Nonetheless, as Matthew Green, former editor for Ministry Today points out, “In the ’80s and ’90s, many pastors were taking their cues from the helping professions, earning counseling degrees and melding psychology with theology. These days, you’d be just as likely to find a pastor reading Forbes or earning an M.B.A. 5
Clearly, there has been a trend in recent years of an increasing number of pastors trying to glean what they can from business and leadership principles. But as Green cautions, Western business practices are not always “naturally compatible with the values of the kingdom.”6 He sounds the call for an increased measure of discernment that, according to Green, seems to be in short supply at this time.7
John Piper, renowned author and pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, voices his concern more adamantly, stating, “We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry.”8
The concern being expressed is not a disdain for good business or leadership principles that can obviously be helpful to pastors. The concern is over recent trends that indicate many pastors are more focused on running a business or becoming a leader than they are in pastoring a flock. According to Wagner, the result is a “wrong pastoral identity,” and consequently, the church becomes a corporation instead of a community.9 This change in mindset is understandable, when popular individuals like Andy Stanley, the pastor of a megachurch in Alpharetta, Georgia, suggests that the “term ‘shepherd’ needs to go away!”10 He argues that the sheep and shepherd metaphor is not relevant for the American church today.11 Stanley also suggests that the shepherd model was gone by the time of the Book of Acts, apparently forgetting Acts 20:28 which I referred to earlier.12
James Emery White, pastor of a megachurch and former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts, offers a more balanced perspective than Andy Stanley when he states, “A call for pastors to lead is not a call for the corporate model to invade the church. It is a call to recapture the fullness of the biblical role for pastors, and to meet the needs of the church in our modern world. The pastor is a shepherd, but he is to fulfill that role through leadership.”13
Lynn Anderson would respond to White, Stanley, and others by saying that the No. 1 priority for pastors needs to be people.14 Anderson is a veteran of 35 years of ministry and currently serves as president of Hope Network, a ministry dedicated to coaching, mentoring, and equipping spiritual leaders for the 21st century. He is a firm believer in studying and developing essential leadership skills but makes the point that even the most people-oriented pastors can find themselves pulled in the direction of tasks and away from people.15 Consequently, Anderson believes every pastor needs to make a conscientious identification with their role as a pastor-shepherd, lest they fall prey to the demands of tasks and fail to serve the people.16
Wagner believes a theological basis for ministry is the key that will help pastors maintain a proper understanding of their role as shepherds.17 In his opinion, the misplaced focus by so many pastors today on being leaders, CEOs or some other kind of corporate official results in the neglect of the pastor-shepherd model. His hope is that pastors will return to the Word of God that should be the basis and foundation for a theologically sound ministry. He writes, “If we go back to the very beginning, back to the Lord’s bedrock idea for his people, back to the Bible’s fundamental plan for the church, what do we find? We find shepherds and sheep. … When God wanted to give His people a picture of the way He wanted them to relate to one another in community, He chose the metaphor of sheep and a shepherd.”18
Pastor-Shepherds: The Biblical Model
Any study on the biblical basis for the pastor-shepherd model must begin with the understanding that God has chosen to picture himself as a shepherd from the beginning of the Bible to the end (Genesis 48:15; Psalm 23:1–6; Isaiah 40:11; John 10:1–16; Revelation 7:17).
God would not limit the shepherd’s role to himself, however. He gave Israel a shepherd-king in the person of David. As Roger Ellsworth emphasizes, “He was to rule on God’s behalf and in accordance with his will.”19
Psalm 78:70–72 describes some of the background and context for God choosing David, “He chose David His servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep He brought him to be the shepherd of His people Jacob, of Israel His inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
It is noteworthy that David was a shepherd and a leader, the two characteristics not being mutually exclusive. It is equally noteworthy, however, the Psalmist mentioned his integrity of heart before his skillful hands, as being a shepherd first, speaks to the heart of his role.20
In this way, David was the fulfillment of the promise God had made to His people when He said, “I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15).
In writing the most beloved psalm of all, Psalm 23, David would provide a picture of the comprehensive role and care given by the shepherd.21 This biblical model included providing for the flock, protecting the flock, and leading the flock.22 Like today, in the case of some pastors and some churches, there would be times throughout Israel’s history when the shepherds would neglect their roles as caretakers of God’s flock (see Ezekiel 34).
In those times God promised to shepherd the flock himself.23 By the time of Jeremiah, there came to be the general idea or understanding that the term shepherd would very likely apply to their coming Messiah.24 The fulfillment of that expectation would come in the arrival of Jesus Christ himself as the Good Shepherd (poimen).25
Charles Jefferson, in his classic work, The Minister As Shepherd: The Privileges and Responsibilities of Pastoral Leadership, writes, “One of the secrets of the fascination of ‘shepherd’ as a title is that the word carries us straight to Christ himself. … So far as the New Testament tells us, Jesus never called himself a priest, or a preacher, or a rector, or a clergyman, or a bishop, or an elder, but He liked to think of himself as a shepherd. The shepherd idea was often in His mind.”26
The shepherd idea or role would not end with the Lord, however, for in like manner, “Ephesians 4:11 reveals that He has appointed leaders in the church to serve as ‘pastors,’ the literal meaning of which is ‘to shepherd’.”27
Professor and church historian, James F. Stitzinger, in writing about “Pastoral Ministry in History,” concludes that shepherding is a term well-suited to describe the biblical role of pastors.28 And though those in the institutional church have challenged this simple New Testament pattern through the centuries, Stitzinger believes, “The role and duties of a pastor as presented in the New Testament are the basis of all future biblical ministry in history.”29
Pastor-Shepherds: The Needed Model
Matthew, in his Gospel, gives Jesus’ perspective on the needs of people: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’ ” (Matthew 9:36–38).
The need of the hour 2,000 years ago was for shepherds, and the need remains today.
While some may suggest that the pastor-shepherd model is obsolete, Wagner responds with the following questions, “Does compassion ever go out of style? Does genuine caring ever grow old? Can modern life ever do away with the basic human need to receive tender love? Do not all people of all times need a shepherd? Are people still harassed today? Do they need to receive the gentle, tender compassion of a loving shepherd?”30 The answer from Anderson and many other pastor-shepherds to that last question is a resounding, “yes!”31
As London points out, there is a “ministry of presence” that is unique to the pastor who is committed to shepherding their flock.32 Warren Wiersbe, well-known author, pastor, and professor, believes, “Human nature has not changed! Now, as then, our cities are teeming with people who are as ‘sheep not having a shepherd.’ The growing isolation and loneliness of modern society presents a great opportunity for the pastor who has a shepherd’s heart.”33
Jack Hayford agrees and his words offer a fitting conclusion to the call here for pastors everywhere to renew their focus on their roles as shepherds of the flock of God, “Our call is by no means a ‘leftover’ assignment. By God’s definition, it is contemporarily relevant and eternally significant — and always marvelously filled with promise. Four decades of shepherding have proven to me that, contrary to the comedian’s line, a greater need than ever exists for people ‘in this line of work.”34
Timothy P. Schmidt is senior pastor, Calvary Christian Church (Assemblies of God), Lynnfield, Massachusetts.
1. E. Glenn Wagner, Escape From Church, Inc.: The Return of the Pastor-Shepherd (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 21.
2. Ibid., 25.
3. H.B. London, Jr., “Why Pastors Must Be Shepherds,” Leadership 17, no. 4 (Fall 1996), http://www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/shepherding/articles/120705.html (accessed June 14, 2007; no longer available).
5. Matthew Green, “From D.Min.s to M.B.A.s,” Ministry Today 25, no. 2 (March-April 2007): 6.
8. John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 1.
9. Wagner, 21.
10. Andy Stanley, “Leader’s Insight: Get-It-Done Leadership,” Leadership 27, no. 2 (Spring 2006): 28.
13. James Emery White, “Why Pastors Must Be Leaders,” Leadership 17, no. 4 (Fall 1996), http://www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/shepherding/articles/061907.html (accessed June 14, 2007; no longer available).
14. Lynn Anderson, They Smell Like Sheep: Leading with the Heart of a Shepherd, vol. 2 (New York: Howard Books, 2007), 97.
16. Ibid., 96.
17. Wagner, 29.
19. Roger Ellsworth, The Shepherd King: Learning from the Life of David (Grange Close, Darlington: Evangelical Press, 1998), 17.
20. Everett F. Harrison, Geoffrey W. Bromiley, and Carl F. H. Henry, eds., Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1960), 485.
21. Jay E. Adams, Shepherding God’s Flock: A Handbook on Pastoral Ministry, Counseling, and Leadership (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 6.
22. Madeleine S. Miller and J. Lane, eds., Harper’s Encyclopedia of Bible Life (San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1978), 142.
23. William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 644.
24. Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, reproduced in Logos Bible Software [CD-ROM] (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001).
25. Mounce, 645.
26. Charles Edward Jefferson, The Minister As Shepherd: The Privileges and Responsibilities of Pastoral Leadership (Fort Washington, Pennsylvania: Christian Literature Crusade, 2006), 11.
27. Mounce, 645.
28. James F. Stitzinger, “Pastoral Ministry in History,” in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Biblically, ed. John MacArthur, Richard L. Mayhue, and Robert L. Thomas (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2005), 31.
29. Ibid., 30.
30. Wagner, 74.
31. Anderson, 9.
32. H.B. London, Jr., “Why Pastors Must Be Shepherds,” Leadership 17, no. 4 (Fall 1996), http://www.christianitytoday.com/bcl/areas/shepherding/articles/120705.html (accessed June 14, 2007; no longer available).
33. Jefferson, 6.
34. Jack W. Hayford, Pastor’s of Promise: Pointing to Character and Hope as the
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