Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Pastor As Shepherd

There are many responsibilities of a pastor. Some are chosen by the individual, while others are placed upon. There is yet another category of responsibilities which is often over looked by pastor types and non-pastor types, the Scriptures. As I have been mining the scriptures lately I have been look at what it means to be a pastor in Christ's church. One of the things I keep coming back to is the idea of the pastor as shepherd. For those who know me and have been inflicted with my ministry as a pastor, know this is an image or role of the pastor that I am very uncomfortable with. Wanting to become the best pastor I can for Christ, and his church, I have determined to take a good look at the pastor as shepherd. So far two conclusions have emerged, first, I will need to allow God to transform somethings in me which I have held dear over the course of my ministry. Second, the way we think of the shepherd is often not consistent with the teachings of Scripture.

Upon further reflection I have learned me resistance to embrace the role of pastor as shepherd comes from my own misunderstanding of the role of a shepherd. What I have carried with me from experience is when a shepherd is talked about what is meant is a person who will be a passive person who merely responds to all the felt needs of the sheep. In my little mind this reduced the shepherd to the role of caretaker. While care taking is very important, I have always felt called to a different style in ministry. Whenever I have entertained the idea of becoming the pastor as shepherd a voice from with in would quickly sound a warning that I was designed and gifted to be more than a caretaker of a church. As I have poured through the scriptures on this issue I have found a very different view of the pastor as shepherd.

As my investigation continued I found that many in the church wanted the pastor as shepherd to be the person who was in fact a caretaker of the people. Based on the listening I have done the common description of pastor as shepherd is as follows. The pastor will always know what is happening in my life and respond appropriately, which is determined by the person in need not the pastor. The pastor as shepherd will keep conflict to a minimum, and solve conflict by finding the path which keeps everyone happy. When it comes to the preaching and teaching of the pastor as shepherd, quality communication is desired but no challenging of the status quo in the church or individual lives please.

So, what have I found as through exploring the pastor as shepherd through the scriptures, tradition, experience and reason? That I am in fact to be a shepherd to the people God gives me charge with, however, I need to be transformed in my person and understanding. This leads to the question, what then is the pastor as shepherd?
  • Comforter and Confronter. The pastor as shepherd fulfills the role of offering comfort to those who are in need. This includes those who are in need physically, emotionally and spiritually. Further the shepherd also confronts those who are too comfortable. John Wesley is often quoted as saying we are to "Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." The shepherds crook is not for beating the sheep, it is to provide guidance and comfort.
  • Guide. The shepherd was not necessarily a day-to-day part of the sheep's life. The flock was left to roam the open pasture, grazing and investigating the days away. When trouble was around the shepherd would collect in the flock and bring them into the fold until the danger had passed, then returned the flock to the pasture. It is the shepherd who keeps the sheep moving in the directions they need to go.
  • Resource for the journey. Funny thing about sheep is they sometimes forget how to be sheep. The same thing happens to followers of Jesus, we forget what we are about and the shepherd provides resources for the journey so we can remember what it is we are about as followers.
  • Vulnerable Heart. To be a good shepherd, our hearts must be available for and to the flock. In John 10, Jesus explains his willingness to sacrifice and lay down his life for the flock. This requires a vulnerable heart. More than offering technical service, a book list or a few websites, the shepherd offers a congregation their heart. There is great risk in this, yet the True Shepherd Jesus, offered his heart and life.
As I have written these words conviction has been strong, I have so much growth and transformation to go through. The greatest challenge is found in having a vulnerable heart. I can give a list of "reasons" why this would not be a good idea, in the end they are all excuses. Being the pastor as shepherd is not easy work, especially for those of us who have been pastor as technician, yet it is the call. This is not a call to be a preserver of the status quo and never challenge the flock. This is not a call to simply watch the days go by. The call to be a pastor as shepherd is the call to make our hearts available to the flock knowing some will treat it like common fodder and trample it. While others will join their hearts with yours as together we all follow the Great Shepherd who is leading us to the heart of the God, for the full, abundant and complete life which the shepherd has offered.

1 comment:

Noryb Sdleif said...

Thank you for this message! I've been studying the role of the pastor as a shepherd too! This is really thought provoking...

Bf