Monday, July 28, 2008

You are the Shepherd?

The idea of moving from ministry doer to minister equipper, requires a paradigm shift for most of us. Ephesians 4:10-12 describes the role of pastor as that of a teacher. It further defines the pastor's role as the one who equips the saints to do the work of ministry. If the pastor is the only one doing ministry in a local church, the congregation will rarely grow beyond 200, if that.

One of the biggest shifts involves a very popular metaphor that's used in the Bible, a "shepherd." Is the pastor really to be the shepherd of the flock?

While there are certainly leadership and caretaking behaviors in ministry similar to shepherding, we're far more like sheep than we are like shepherds. Our job is not to be the smart human who shepherds the stupid sheep. That attitude can often be heard at church conferences when a non-ordained attendee says, "I'm just a layperson." This sort of class distinction is destructive to team building.

John 10:16 reminds us that there is but one Shepherd. David said, "the Lord is my Shepherd." It is not the pastor or ministry leader. We are, when we're at our best, lead sheep -- just ordinary people who have a sense that God has called us to help lead our peers and equip them for roles of ministry/serving, based around the passions and gifts that the Shepherd has given them. I often say, "I'm just a sheep trying to help other sheep find their way home." We are all human. The pastor does not Call nor Gift others. The pastor simply helps people discover their gifts and callings - to fulfill their passion or divine purpose in life.

Have you ever heard the complaint, "I'm not being fed"? Somehow when I hear that, and after working for years in trans-local ministry I have heard it plenty, I picture a shepherd with a sheep in a headlock forcing grass down their throat. Or, I picture my six-month-old grandchild being spoon fed by his mother. Jesus did say to Peter, "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). But, in Biblical times, the shepherd led the sheep to greener pastures, where the sheep ate for themselves. The way they were "fed" was by leading them to lush pastures so that they could avail themselves of the nourishment they needed. Healthy guidance was provided.

It may be more a case of instructing the sheep what not to eat. When assailed by the wolf of heresy, by the hostile marauder, by new conditions of any kind, by special danger, we caution the sheep. This passage is more about love than about force-feeding the sheep.

The writer of Hebrews (5:11-13) said, "I have a lot more to say about this, but it is hard to get it across to you since you've picked up this bad habit of not listening. By this time you ought to be teachers yourselves, yet here I find you need someone to sit down with you and go over the basics on God again, starting from square one—baby's milk, when you should have been on solid food long ago! Milk is for beginners, inexperienced in God's ways; solid food is for the mature, who have some practice in telling right from wrong." Some people just don't eat, even when the table is spread before them.

This is a difficult concept for many of us in ministry to embrace because it feels like we're stepping down, losing our position and authority, and diminishing our sense of calling. However, when we surrender our rights to act like the Shepherd (which is old school), we begin to foster more of a "We" mind-set and less of the us-them attitude that works against effective team unity and synergy. The old school of driving the sheep will not work in the 21st century.

Do you remember the story of the drunk dragging a 20 foot logging chain up the sidewalk upsetting the pedestrians? A police officer stopped him and asked, "What are you doing dragging that 20 foot chain up the sidewalk?" To which he replied, "Did you ever try to push one?" We lead not push. Leaders serve, they do not drive people. If driving is attempted., it usually drives people away.

What can you do to foster the sheep-like qualities you have and let the other sheep know that you're not the Shepherd, that you're just trying your best to serve the Shepherd? It may be saying as much in a sermon, or Sunday school lesson, or even a board or staff meeting. Being aware of the shepherd-thinking that sneaks into your conversations and preaching is a step in the right direction. How you talk about others with other pastors and staff members is another idea. Subtly, you'll begin to build a flock of sheep that's truly amazing.

What do you think? Click "comments" below.

[Based on an article by Alan Nelson]

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