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 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.
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.” 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.
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.