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Minstry: Pastoral Leadership

From Shepherd to CEO

What the Modern World Has Done to the Local Pastor

In an older time the image of the shepherd was common. It was drawn from real life, from rural life to be sure, but there was little doubt about the implications of the term. A shepherd was someone who cared for the sheep. The local pastor saw himself, and was seen by the people, as a shepherd. Jesus was the Good Shepherd and the pastor was the under-shepherd, charged with the very ministry of Jesus in a particular place and at a particular time. With the local church as the flock and the pastor the under-shepherd, the people of the church expected friendliness, love, compassion, good spiritual food and above all, a relationship. When one shepherd moved on to another flock, his replacement sought to care for the sheep in his own way but he was not competing with his predecessor. He was merely taking up where another shepherd had left off, knowing all the while that one day he would move on and another shepherd would care for these same sheep. Just as he did not want the next shepherd to destroy the work he had done, he was careful to honor the work of the shepherd before him and to build upon it.

In the light of what they knew about shepherds in this bygone era when pastors and church people read the words of Jesus to Peter that morning after the resurrection, the words made sense to them. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” indicating the other disciples. Peter had boasted of a greater love for the Lord than all those who followed him. What an empty boast this turned out to be when Peter fled before those who arrested Jesus and denied three times that he even knew him. Now, here by the sea, after a miraculous breakfast, Jesus asked Peter this question three times. Each time Peter declared that he did love Jesus. He was making progress. He no longer quantified his love in relation to others, he merely stated that, in spite of his failure and denials, he really did love Jesus.

Jesus’ three charges to Peter set the tone for pastoral leadership. In essence Jesus said, “If you love me, feed my lambs, care for my sheep, feed my sheep.” He was saying to Peter and the others, “You men are the ones I have chosen to do my work after I am gone. But my work isn’t about you as leaders. It is about you as sheep among sheep. This whole thing is about the flock, the church I am building that is impervious even to the gates of hell. I will give you a ministry. The Holy Spirit will dwell within you. You will have an anointing from me. You will be able to lead the multitudes but this will never be about you except that you are also a sheep in my flock.”

The Shepherd’s Song
Today, as we stumble along listening to the dark, opening strains of the music of a new century, now in its third decade, have we lost the song of the shepherd? The pastoral image of a shepherd watching the sheep is so foreign to our urban, suburban and even small town civilizations that the words Jesus said to Peter seem to have no place to take hold in our modern minds.

We have created an office for the senior pastor that is nearly impossible to fulfill. The local church seems to be totally dependent upon the pastor:

  • a good pastor means a good church;
  • a young pastor means a young church;
  • an older pastor means an older congregation;
  • a struggling pastor makes for a struggling church and
  • an ineffective pastor means an ineffective church.

Just to make a random list of the expectations as they come to mind, the local pastor is expected to be administrator, teacher, preacher, prayer-warrior, soul winner, businessman, architect, building contractor, personnel manager, diplomat, referee, and crisis counselor.

He/She is no longer expected to function as a shepherd but more like a CEO,
the Chief Executive Officer in a business.

How did this happen?
In many ways that I have not seen, I’m sure, but I can see a theological downward spiral that has contributed to this demotion of the local pastor from shepherd to superman.  The shift took place as the 20th Century drew to a close.

  • It began innocently enough with our theology of the centrality of the Word of God. While this was laudable, it was so easily corrupted. In an ever-tightening schedule, the worship ministry of the people of God was given short shrift to make room for the preaching. Congregational worship was even seen as merely a warm-up for the sermon.
  • If the Word is the center of our spirituality, then the sermon was the center of the service, and the preacher was the center of our polity. Our denominational governing structures became organizations by, for, and about preachers, especially pastors, and most especially senior pastors of larger churches.
  • Often an “us and them” mentality existed between the professional ministry and the laity and it seemed foster a state of war between some senior pastors and a host of enemies: the official board, the pastoral staff, the congregation and church government officials.
  • Too often a new pastor felt he or she must first destroy the work and even the memory of his or her predecessor before he or she could do the “work that God has anointed them to do.”
  • Charismatic giftedness became primary while the fruit of the Spirit was ignored. A preacher’s powerful “anointing” justified ungodly methods, attitudes, and behaviors. Along the way the Kingdom of God was lost. The kingdom of the “preacher” had come and his will was to be done. Should anyone dare to question the leader, that person was marked as an enemy.

In the opening decades of the 21st Century, young leaders embraced the concept of relevance, which was also laudable. In time, however, cultural and personal preference took the driver’s seat.

  • Cultural issues came to the forefront of their minds and hearts.  Tradition was the enemy and innovation was the coin of the realm.
  • The look and feel of worship services morphed into culturally relevant events as the theology of worship as a church growth tool took control.
  • Altar calls and altar services of prayer were seen as unnecessary and offensive to visitors.
  • All music except contemporary worship music was eliminated and the soloists and ensembles that produced traditional music were no longer needed.
  • Services became highly prescribed and technology-driven.  Worship that flowed “decently and in order” took on a new and presentational quality.
  • The point of worship was no longer to “give the Lord the glory due His name.” The point was to do the most current and popular music to reach the next generation.
  • Services were planned by committees instead of the traditional concept of the pastor and worship leader getting “a word from the Lord” and developing that word into a message or a song set. (We should remember that “a camel is a horse designed by a committee.”)

The lead pastor and the worship pastor had to take on leadership styles that were closer to that of business leaders instead of shepherds.

How do we hear Jesus?
Today, when we declare our love for Him, what do we hear Jesus saying? Judging from the fruit of “pastors” who are no longer shepherds, but “ranchers” as I heard one declare, or CEO’s, or generals or chieftains, this must be the way their Bibles read:

Peter, do you love me more than these?
Yes, Lord, I love you.
Count my lambs.

Peter, do you love me?
Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.
Manage my sheep.

Peter, do you love me?
Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.
Dazzle my sheep.

We shrink in horror at such a prospect. Certainly the words of Jesus should still ring true in this postmodern 21st century.

“Feed my lambs.”
Where there are lambs there are rams and ewes—families. The Lord insists that his flock be multi-generational. How can we deliberately choose one generation of sheep and eliminate those who don’t fit our target group? Like a healthy flock, we need children, youth, young adults and middle aged folk; we need our grammas and grandpas as well as our singles of all ages.

“Take care of my sheep.”
Managers can manage workers they don’t like or even respect, but a shepherd must love the sheep. He or she must know them to love them. How often is the modern pastor advised to keep his distance from the sheep? This gap between the clergy and the laity serves no one well, least of all the Good Shepherd. “Taking care” is a job description so rich and varied that a team of shepherds can be required, but they all must be motivated by love for the Good Shepherd and for His flock. The building of a community is the role of the shepherd.

The words of my dear friend Jackie Brown, on his deathbed from cancer, made a life-changing impression on me. I was the typical artist—task oriented, driven, and fully capable of using people to help me slake my inner thirst to create. I also had a deep desire to worship God with my creativity and to lead the church in worship. “You can’t love God without loving his people.” Jackie’s words challenge me to this day. I must create, it is true; I must lead others, it is my calling; but I must, above all, love God by loving his people, if I am to be a shepherd.

“Feed my sheep.” Don’t entertain them. Don’t seek to dazzle them. The world does that better than we ever will. Feed them. Feed them food fit for their stages in life, nourishing their growth. The food of the Kingdom is rich and filling:

  • The Gospel accounts of who Jesus was on this earth, what he said and did;
  • The Apostolic letters dealing with today’s challenges with such relevance that it seems impossible that they are 2000 years removed from our time;
  • The psalms so full of pain and comfort, questions and answers, praises and petitions;
  • The Old Testament characters and their stories, still so fascinating;
  • The fiery prophets with their voices still hoarse with the anointing, calling us to lives of righteousness;
  • The baptismal tank where the New Covenant is made public;
  • The Table of the Lord where the New Covenant is made personal;
  • The gifts of the Spirit, making us worshipers, witnesses and warriors in effectual, fervent prayer;
  • The Fruit of the Spirit making us a people who can be trusted and dwelt with in peace;
  • And the koinonia of the saints—a fold safe from the wolf, the bear and the roaring lion.

Food indeed.

I do not doubt that pastors love the Lord Jesus and want to please Him. If this is the case, we must listen to the words He actually said, not the ones our culture has put into His mouth.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

From Shepherd to C.E.O.

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