In the second chapter of The 23rd Pastor, I write about the phrase, "The Lord is my shepherd," and apply that to pastoral life. Here are some excerpts …
Maybe you remember one of John Denver’s biggest hits: “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy!” I love the song, but I am no country boy. I spent the first eight years of my life in Little Rock, Arkansas. I did the rest of my growing up in Branson, Missouri. I grew up in a city and a small town. I never lived on Green Acres. I visited a farm a time or two. And while I have known some men who worked with cattle, I have never known a shepherd. “The Lord is my rancher”—I could understand that a little better. Ranchers raise cattle, brand the calves, move them from pasture to pasture, keep them watered, and when the time is right, they sell them to the highest bidder so they can make a living, and you and I can enjoy that ribeye or that hamburger. Maybe that is why ranchers try not to get too attached to their cattle. “The Lord is my rancher.” No thanks.
“The Lord is my shepherd.” That’s better.
Without minimizing the importance of character and oversight in the pastor’s work, I am suggesting that the shepherd metaphor gives key direction to the work of a biblical pastor, especially a 23rd pastor. The shepherd metaphor becomes the filter through which our character and oversight passes as we lead the congregations God entrusts to us. Our character reflects the character of our Shepherd Lord—minus, of course, his sinlessness and perfection. Even though Jesus may be blurred a bit by our faults, shepherd-pastors want the flock to see glimpses of Jesus in them. We want to bear in our character his resemblance. We want to offer our oversight through the heart of a shepherd, so we lead the flock rather than drive them, we love them rather than use them, we draw close to them rather than keep them at arm’s length, we get to know them rather than view them as a necessary nuisance to our work, and we consider what’s best for the flock rather than what’s best for us. The good shepherd Jesus laid down his life for the sheep; sometimes we shepherd-pastors must lay down some things of our own to serve the flock with a shepherd’s care.
When we try to be a shop-keeper or CEO rather than a shepherd, our character and our oversight tends to reflect power rather than service, bottom-lines rather than relationships, self rather than Jesus. In his book, They Smell Like Sheep, Lynn Anderson recounts an incident from some of his travels in the Holy Land. Anderson and his local guide had spent part of a day traveling around the region learning about sheep and shepherds. Late in the day, they observed a man cruelly driving a flock of sheep through the streets of a town. This man yelled at the sheep and whacked them with a stick whenever they got out of line. Although the sheep kept moving forward, they were visibly shaken. Anderson commented to his guide that this harsh, driving man did not conform to the description of the kind, leading shepherd that his guide had given him throughout the day. “Oh, that man’s not the shepherd,” his guide replied. “That man’s the butcher.” Shepherd-pastors will never be confused with butchers.
I remember the first time I preached the ordination service for a pastor. Mike Roy had grown up in the church I served in Greenwood, Missouri. God called him to ministry. And when he became pastor of a nearby church, he asked if I would preach the service. I was honored to do so. It was during this time that God had been working out this shepherd image in my heart. That image drove the sermon whose title was “Be a Real Minister” and whose text was 1 Peter 5:1-5. In encouraging Mike to shepherd his flock like Jesus shepherds us all, here is part of the charge I offered him that day:
Be a shepherd who nurtures a relationship to the flock through love. Love the people with whom God calls you to work. It’s not easy because some aren’t very easy to love, some don’t love us back, and some may even work against us. Love them anyway. Don't harangue them or abuse them. Don't speak ill of them. In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God." You are part of them. When you accuse them you accuse yourself. So love them with a Christ-like love. Love them by being with them. Be with them when the baby comes. Be with them when death barges in. Be with them in the hospital and in the home, in the cemetery and in the study. Be with them in good times and in bad. Imagine them looking over your shoulder and whispering in your ear as you seek to hear in a Bible text the word they need to hear from God. Keep them in your heart. They will try you sometimes. They may frustrate you often. You will sometimes feel like throwing up your hands and shaking the dust off your feet. They may even feel the same about you sometimes. But keep them in your heart. Feel for them what Paul felt for the Philippian church: “I long for you all,” he wrote to them, “with the affection of Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 1:8). Love them because of who they are—the bride of Christ, the church of the living God—and in spite of who they are—stubborn sinners, works in progress, but a work that God began and will continue until the day of Jesus Christ. And in the midst of being with them, show them Christ and point them to him in all things—even when it’s hard and even when you don’t feel like it. For the sheep in the flock and for those still outside, in all things and in every situation, point them to Christ. Lean on the staff of the Chief Shepherd and he will help you.
And, my shepherd-pastor friend, he will help you too.
The 23rd Pastor would make a good gift at Christmas for your pastor. You can find it at Amazon.com. Thanks.
Cited by Blaine McCormick and David Davenport, Shepherd Leadership: Wisdom for Leaders from Psalm 23 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 115.