Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The 23rd Pastor (Excerpt from Chapter 2 "Shepherd")

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.”[1]  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."[1]   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.

[1]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1954), 29.

[1]Cited by Blaine McCormick and David Davenport, Shepherd Leadership: Wisdom for Leaders from Psalm 23 (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003), 115.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The 23rd Pastor (Excerpt from chapter 1: "A Psalm for the Pastor's Journey")

The 23rd Pastor: Shepherding in the Spirit of Our Shepherd Lord released a couple of weeks ago on Amazon.com.  This is more than a how-to book; it's a book that tends to the pastor's soul.  I'm using my blog to share excerpts from the book.  Here's an excerpt from chapter 1: "A Psalm for the Pastor's Journey" …


A gnawing sense of Inadequacy is a daunting shroud that weighs upon a pastor’s ministry either paralyzing him into inaction or firing up nervous feet that send him running away from the pain and people he should be running toward.  “If only I could be more self-confident,” a pastor whispers to himself. 

No.  Psalm 23 reminds us that self-confidence is not what we need; God-confidence is what we need—confidence in “the Lord … with me … forever.”  Psalm 23 reminds us that our Shepherd Lord gives us everything we need in any situation when we lean into him.  His rod and staff, they comfort us.  If we need wisdom, God will give it.  If we need courage, God will give it.  If we need compassion, God will give it.  If we need words, God will give them.  It is important that we pastors prepare ourselves and equip ourselves for the broad and demanding nature of our work, but no pastor can be prepared for everything.  We don’t have to be—because we are not alone when we enter these situations.  Our Shepherd Lord is with us.  Experience breeds confidence.  Pastoral seasoning breeds confidence.  Training breeds confidence.  But nothing breeds more confidence in me than knowing my Shepherd Lord is leading me, is with me, and will be faithful to me all the way to the end as I depend on him.

In fact, this dependence on our Shepherd Lord can keep us from trying to play God, from trying to fix people or manage their lives in our feeble wisdom.  I have done my worst work when I have tried to fix people: “Listen to me.  Do this.  Don’t do that.”  Some people get helped, but most folks get frustrated because they either cannot or will not follow the counsel, and I get frustrated because they don’t take my “wise” advice.  (I sometimes wonder how many people I’ve messed up along the way.)  I do my best work when I point them not to myself but to the one true Shepherd Lord and his wisdom and resources.  If I can get their hands into the hand of Jesus, if I can get them wrestling their issues out in prayer and Scripture, he can lead them to green pastures, still waters, down righteous paths, and through the dark valley to a better place and a brighter day.  He can restore their soul.  He can get them all the way home.  I can’t.  The Lord can.

Early in my ministry, an older minister told me that I would be called upon to enter a lot of situations that are way over my head, situations where I would not know what to do.  He said, “You don’t have to know what to do, but you need to act like you do.”  This is a “fake it till you make it” approach to pastoral care.  It worked pretty well for me early in my ministry.  But it did not take too many years for me to realize I do not always have to know what to do, because Jesus knows what to do.  I have to know Jesus.  I have to trust my Shepherd Lord.  And when I find my confidence in him rather than in myself, he has a way of showing up and doing his thing in spite of my shortcomings.  That is my great hope as a 23rd pastor.


I encourage you to get your copy on Kindle or in paperback at Amazon.com.  Thanks!

Monday, November 5, 2018

The 23rd Pastor (Excerpts from the Introduction)

Okay, so I'm trying to promote my newly released book, The 23rd Pastor: Shepherding in the Spirit of Our Shepherd Lord.  Here are a couple of excerpts from the introduction …


I share this to suggest that a pastor in the classical sense—a shepherd pastor—can still pastor a growing church.  I understand that some of you are in churches that have little potential for growth.  Rural America and many of its small towns are dying.  Numerical growth is difficult to achieve in settings where population declines, schools consolidate or close, business dries up, Main Street looks like a boarded-up ghost town, young people move away, and the average age of residents increases.  If you pastor in a dying community, please don’t belittle your ministry.  And don’t think this book is not for you.  If God has called you in this season to shepherd a church whose average attendance numbers drop every year, you are there by God’s design to serve his purpose.  Give it all you’ve got.  Such churches and communities need a pastor who loves God and loves them.  And remember: churches can grow in numerous ways.  A church can grow in unity, in generosity, in mission vision and involvement, in community ministry, in development and deployment of the members’ spiritual gifts, in biblical understanding, and in faithfulness.  If you pastor in a community where numerical growth is not likely, shepherd the church toward whatever health and growth look like in your setting.  I was glad that when the 80s rolled into the 90s, the language and discussion moved from “church growth” to “church health.”  If you can shepherd your church into health, the church will grow in the ways it needs to grow and has the capacity to grow.  Unless you see the name Ichabod[1] written across the front door of your church building, don’t give up.  God hasn’t written off you or the church you serve.  Don’t you write them off either.    

And if you are in a situation where the potential for numerical growth is more realistic, shepherd the church toward growth in healthy ways.  Avoid slick strategies.  Seek the glory of God before rising numbers.  Shepherd your people toward passionate worship, persevering prayer, evangelism, ministry, authenticity, extravagant giving, and genuine love for God and people.  Shepherd in these ways, and God will grow the church in non-numerical ways that will likely lead to rising numbers as well.  Such numerical growth will be organic rather than contrived or manipulated.  It will be the result of relationships and the wooing of the Holy Spirit rather than the latest church attendance fad of the day.  That is how God has grown the two churches I have shepherded. 

[1]1 Samuel 4:21. 


Across the years, I have found nurture and instruction for my pastoral work in David’s words about the Lord’s shepherd work.  The psalm has inspired me to be a 23rd pastor—aware of the vast expanse of the field, yet attentive to the central tasks of the work, a pastor who leads and nurtures in the name and wisdom of the One who leads and nurtures him.

This is a needed reminder.  General observation leads me to believe that the new generation of pastors does not receive much training or encouragement in classic pastoral practices.  And plenty of mid-lifers and old-timers like me, in the weariness of decades of ministry, may have forgotten a few things along the way.  Worse yet, some longtime pastors have decided to lean their rod and staff in a corner, take their ease, and meander their way into retirement, leaving the flock to fend for themselves.  We can do better.  God expects better.  Tend the flock.  Feed the sheep.  That’s what shepherd pastors do.  And the church needs more of them.  There are times when I feel like a dying breed—a pastoral relic, a marred statue in the museum of pastoral history, a throwback Thursday pastor every day of the week.  There is so much emphasis these days on church planting, church revitalization, and niche churches that most of the training involves leadership skills, vision development, organizational structure, and outreach strategies for reaching a church’s target demographic.  But whether you pastor First Church or Split Church or Biker Church or Hispanic Church or Cowboy Church or Duck Dynasty Church or Homeless Church, the people still need a pastor, and the pastor still needs the Shepherd Lord.  The church will be forever blessed if this breed of pastor never dies.

I am writing this book to keep this breed of pastor alive and well.  I also want to dispel any ideas that a shepherd pastor is a passive pastor, timid to do much more than dry some tears, hold some hands, and try to keep the flock happy.  Shepherd pastors certainly dry tears and hold hands, but they also lead, challenge, and grow the flock in healthy ways.  Shepherd pastors are quick to pat their sheep on the head and willing to take their staff and poke their sheep in the flank when necessary.  Shepherd pastors are anything but passive.  Shepherd pastors lead their flock like Jesus leads his.  Frederick Buechner wrote some words that have made me smile and also haunted me a bit since I read them: “There is perhaps no better proof for the existence of God than the way year after year he survives the way his professional friends promote him.”[1]  I do not want God to “survive” my ministry.  I want God to thrive in my ministry, in the church I serve, and in me.  Most pastors I know want that too.  And that best happens when we learn to shepherd God’s church under the presence, blessing, leadership, and guidance of our Chief Shepherd Jesus.

[1]Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 187.


If you find that intriguing, I encourage you check out the book via paperback or Kindle (you have to search them separately at Amazon.com.  Thanks.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The 23rd Pastor

For the last few years I’ve been thinking of writing a book on pastoral life based on Psalm 23.  My dream has become reality with the publication of The 23rd Pastor: Shepherding in the Spirit of Our Shepherd Lord.  This is not just another how-to book on pastoring.  The book includes some elements of how I go about my pastoral work, but this is a book for the pastor’s soul.  The book combines a lifetime of love for the psalms and for this psalm in particular with my love for pastoring the church.  I take each phrase of the psalm and consider its implications for the pastoral life based on how the Good Shepherd shepherds us.

You’ll see what I mean with the Table of Contents:

1 – A Psalm for the Pastor’s Journey

2 – Shepherd: The Lord is my shepherd

3 – Contentment: I shall not want

4 – Rest: He makes me lie down in green pastures …

5 – Devotion: He restores my soul

6 – Righteousness: He leads me in paths of righteousness …

7 – Shadow: Even though I walk through the valley …

8 – Enemies: You prepare a table before me …

9 – Calling: You anoint my head with oil

10 – Blessing: My cup runs over

11 – Pursuit: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me …

12 – Forever: And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever

I deal seriously with the Scriptures.  I tell stories.  I try encourage, challenge, and inspire newbies and seasoned pastors to be the shepherd God called them to be.  I hope you’ll check it out in paperback and Kindle at Amazon.com.  Thanks!