Shepherding Toward Jesus

David is described in the book of Ezekiel as the prince leading them to the King.  The role of the shepherd leader is to always point to the chief Shepherd, Jesus.  He is the ultimate aim in our…leading.  If we seek to lead others to a ministry, a philosophy, or style, we are not shepherds but wolves (Acts 20:28).  God entrusts the shepherd to lead the flock to the King, not to the prince. 
Scott Thomas & Tom Wood (Gospel Coach, p. 126)

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Shepherding With Jesus

“Shepherding helps you stay close to Jesus.” Seems like an obvious conclusion, but how often is it actually put into practice?  How often does a shepherd of souls rely on their own wit, assumptions, history, and opinions rather than on the Savior of souls, the Chief Shepherd Himself?  Given enough time and people, and even the most hard-headed and self-confident shepherd will realize that they need Jesus.

Darrin Patrick’s section entitled “Shepherding Helps You Stay Close to Jesus” in Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission succinctly lays out the logic behind relying on Jesus when shepherding people.  He does an excellent job of contrasting the pastor who locks himself into the safety of the pulpit with the pastor who engages himself with the flock entrusted to his care by Christ.

There is something about dealing with the enormity of people’s sin that necessitates staying very, very close to God. In preaching it is easy to hide a lack of spiritual connection with God through good preparation and raw ability. But the unpredictability and sheer emotional content of pastoral work confronts you with your own necessity for a Savior. In preaching you can prepare what you will say ahead of time. But in pastoral work there is a lot of room for insecurity and anxiety as you wrestle with the questions, objections, and arguments of your people in real time. It is terrifying! It drives you to dependence on God (pp 83-84).

Shepherding: Preparing for Living

Shepherding people requires time, energy, and money.  It can seem like a drain. Yet the benefits to the faithful shepherd outweigh the cost.  Darrin Patrick lays out some of the pluses in his book Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission. The first item he lists is: Shepherding Prepare the Pastor for Living.

When you deal with the sin of others, you become more aware of your own sin. When you shepherd the stubborn, you see your own stubbornness.  When you shepherd the selfish, you see your own selfishness. When you shepherd the broken, you inevitably see your own brokenness.  Positively, when you see others obey, you want to obey. when you see others use their gifts effectively, you want to use your gifts effectively.  This should come as no surprise to us, since it is the Holy Spirit who reveals sin, empowers obedience, and imparts gifts. Both the Greek and Hebrew words for spirit mean “air” or “breath.”  The English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which also means “air” or “breath.” This is where we get words like respiratory (breathing) and expire (no more breathing). It is also where we get the word inspire. It’s as if when the Spirit is at work in those whom we counsel, we pastors are, by the same Spirit, inspired to repent, believe, and obey with the best gifts we have (pp 82-83).

Fear of Man Snares

A leader with  a strong personality can be a great strength, but it can also be a danger to the leader and to those that are being led.  The negative sides of strong leadership emerges when the shepherd and the sheep become unfaithful to one another.

The unfaithfulness comes about when the shepherd becomes driven by his own interests more than the well-being of the sheep and the sheep fall into the snare of “the fear of man” (Proverbs 29:25) and begin to consider the leader untouchable in regards to constructive criticism or input.  This may happen over time because of brow-beating, mocking, or other forms of abuse or it may come out of receiving so much help that the leader becomes loved to the point of being considered almost (or in scary situations, completely) infallible.

The Resurgence blog post 8 Snares Set by the Fear of Man does a great job in exposing spiritual dangers that trap people.  The article is well worth reading in its entirety, but the eight points it brings our are the following:

  1. Idolatry. When we care about what man thinks more than what God thinks, we turn people into idols that we worship—seeking to please them in order to earn their approval or respect.
  2. Ineffectiveness. When we fear man we neglect God’s calling for us and we lose focus on executing the tasks in front of us because we’re too preoccupied with what others are thinking.
  3. Lack of love. When we’re overly concerned with “getting it right,” we turn people into projects to accomplish. We withhold our compassion and grow reserved and calculating in our pursuit of people.
  4. Fakeness. If you’re overly motivated by the opinions of others, you won’t act like yourself. You’ll be a chameleon, adapting yourself to any situation for the sole purpose of fitting in.
  5. Apathy. Fear man and you’ll quit taking risks because of the potential for embarrassment in failure. If an endeavor is unlikely to succeed, you’ll never take the chance. In other words, you’ll never do much of anything.
  6. Dishonesty. It’s tough to speak truth into someone’s life because the truth can be painful. If we fear somebody’s response, however, necessary words will remain unsaid because we care more about ourselves (being liked) than we do about the person (seeing Jesus work in their life). This negligence always creates more long-term damage than the hurt it avoids in the present.
  7. Isolation. Fear of man won’t let you delegate anything because others might not do a good job (or they might do a better job), which could reflect poorly on your performance and reputation. Fear of man compels you to control everything—even if that means going it alone.
  8. Decision Paralysis. When we live out of fear rather than out of the convictions God has given us, we spin in circles unable to move forward.

Modeling Truth

I finished up the book Beyond Opinion by Ravi Zacharias.  In the final chapter a couple great paragraphs reflect the need for our modeling the truth both in our public lives and in our private lives:

“After lecturing at a major American university, I was driven to the airport by the organizer of the event.  I was quite jolted by what he told me.  He said, “My wife brought our neighbor last night.  She is a medical doctor and had not been to anything like this before.  On their way home, my wife asked her what she thought of it all.”  He paused and then continued, “Do you know what she said?”  Rather reluctantly, I shook my head.  “She said, ‘That was a very powerful evening. The arguments were very persuasive.  I wonder what he is like in his private life.'” (p 304)

Shepherd Family“This call to a life reflecting the person of Christ is the ultimate call of everyone who wishes to do apologetics because of the snare of argument and its overriding appeal that suppresses the devotional side of truth.  This applies especially to leadership within the church.  If the shepherd is not living the way he should, how can the ones shepherded follow the right path?” (p 305)

I have written about this topic in the past, but that last sentence, “If the shepherd is not living the way he should, how can the ones shepherded follow the right path?” really struck a chord within me.  Not just because of the moral implications of a right living both in private and in public (as what we do in private eventually seeps out into the public), but because of the shepherding aspect.

As a person in any kind of leadership role within the church – from behind the scenes to behind the pulpit – can we really expect people to live normal and active Christian lives if we are not doing so?  Can we expect people to share the gospel if we do not model it ourselves?  Can we expect others to labor to disciple and mentor others if we are not actively doing so?

I am not calling for those in leadership to be “all-inclusive” workers – we are part of the body of Christ and a priesthood of believers after all.  But we (myself definitely included) must be careful not to excuse away inactivity and laziness in the realms of moral living, the gospel, and discipleship with pseudo-spiritual wording like, “It’s not my gift”, or “I am called to preach/sing/[enter your service here], not labor like that”.

Paul’s words, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1) strikes a sobering note when thinking on Ravi Zacharias’ words.  If as leaders we allow ourselves to become lazy in our love and labor for the Lord those whom we lead will soon imitate us in this unhealthy habit.  I pray for myself and all others in any kind of leadership role within Christ’s church that if in any area of our  life & labor we have slipped into laziness that the brakes would be put on and a fire would be rekindled so that we do not just speak the truth but also model it privately and publicly.

Ministry Burn-Out Prevention

burning matchIn preparing for the Oasis planning session the other day, I focused in on 1 Peter 5:1-7.  In those seven verses I found 10 Keys to Prevent Burn-Out in Ministry.  At the end of my praying over and considering these verses I left telling Jesus about how awesome He and His Word are.

Here are the verses (in the NLT) and my “notes”:

1And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: 2Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. 4And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. 5In the same way, you younger men must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, serve each other in humility, for“God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” 6So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 7Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

10 Keys to Prevent Burn-Out in Ministry:
  • Peter appeals to those in a leadership role within the church to care for others in 5 key ways:
  1. Care for the flock – have an active care and interest.
  2. God has entrusted the flock to you – they are God’s flock, not yours, and He has placed then in your trust.
  3. Watch over them willingly with an attitude that in doing so you are serving God.
  4. Don’t watch them grudgingly with an attitude of “what will I get out of it?” – if you notice that your attitude is “me” centered and not “God” and “others” centered it is time to adjust your focus & attitude.
  5. Lead them by your own good example – words, actions, attitude matter.
  • If you do the above five things then you can expect a reward from the Great Shepherd upon His return.
  • To aid in your long-term serving you will need to equip yourself with the following 5 items:
  1. Serve as a team – you are not a solo-shepherd but on a team of shepherds.  Being a loner and a “control freak” will only hurt you (which ultimately hurts the sheep, too).
  2. Serve your team-members with humility – when you are struggling be humble (drop your pride) and admit it to someone on your team so that you can get help.  The longer you hold onto your pride and self-sufficiency the shorter your survival rate will be and the higher the stress and eventual resentment levels will be.
  3. Remember to come to God as your power source – He, not you, are the ultimate source of strength and power in your serving.
  4. God is the one who lifts people up and honors people who serve – even when it seems that nobody is appreciating you (which hurts because the Bible commands us to look for ways to appreciate & encourage one another), remember that the ultimate Person you are seeking honor from is Jesus and His timing for doing so is the best timing.
  5. God cares for our cares & worries while we are serving His flock – in all the cares & worries that come from caring for sheep, you can be assured that He wants you to bring them to Him as He cares for both His flock and His shepherds.  He knows how best to care for us and the sheep, so don’t be shy in telling God your concerns.