Shepherd or Hired Hand?

I’ve been reading a book titled, Be A Motivational Leader by LeRoy Eims. It’s a pretty good read. Often when I read books on leadership I find myself uninspired, or even discouraged as they speak of hiring staff, launching costly campaigns, and other things that small church with no staff, no budget, and few leaders only dream of doing. The examples in many of these books come from big churches, corporations, or large organizations with employees and it can be hard to connect sometimes. As a small church pastor, it’s the “few leaders in the church” struggle that gets me. Why do we not have more people either qualified, or at least willing, to take up leadership in the church? Fear. Fear of failure or fear of the unknown. I hit a paragraph in Mr. Eims’ book that struck me and caused me to ask myself, “Am I a shepherd, or a hired hand?”

In the chapter titled, Be A Caring Leader, on page 63, I found this little gem:

To help the flock grow, shepherds must know how to communicate the basic ingredients of spiritual growth and discipleship. Many pastors have a problem in this area. They may be great pulpiteers, but the thought of giving individual attention to a person and helping him or her grow is terrifying and mysterious. Why? Because no one ever led them through the basic steps. Much of what they learned in seminary was not geared for helping individuals. And many pastors have left the ministry for this very reason.”

I think back to my time in seminary, leading up to the point where I was called to serve our fellowship as pastor. My seminary experience was wonderful, but all the church growth classes focused on the corporate. It was about building a bigger church, not about fostering maturity in individuals. We had preaching classes and pastoral counseling classes, but nothing that addressed one on one discipleship. My relationship with my pastor, whom I succeeded, was good, but I never recall “being discipled.” I know it happened, but I don’t recall an intentional process and this may be where we are letting people down.

Jesus, our Good Shepherd, called his disciples by name. Even after a time, he took them aside and made it clear that they were going to be his disciples. The call was issued and the expectation set in the minds of each man. I think we lack that. Had my pastor said, specifically, “I am going to disciple you,” I probably would have caught on and more of those lessons would have stuck with me. As it is, I didn’t at the time understand how it worked or what, exactly, I was supposed to do. I think that we, as shepherds of our flocks, need to make sure that those entrusted to us know what we are doing, and what is expected. We cannot assume they know and understand what is going on, especially if they are young in the faith.

Jesus also warned his listeners about “the thief” who comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Most often we assume “the thief” is Satan, but that’s not the context of John 10:10. Here Jesus refers to “All who came before me,” meaning teachers and leaders, specifically the Pharisees and Sadducees who cared only for themselves. In this section, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, and others are either thieves, or hired hands. The hired hand, in a time of distress, runs away to save himself and cares nothing for the sheep. Often, because we are not confident in our ability to disciple individuals, we too will “run away” and hide in books, study, “meetings,” and other things as a form of self preservation or avoidance. We abandon the sheep and prove to be, not a shepherd called of God, but a hired hand who cares little for the sheep.

We, as pastors, must be guiding the sheep. We need to be discipling people. I heard once that the difference between a PhD and a DMin is that the PhD spends all his time with books where the Dmin spends their time primarily with people. We need to value the formation of people and the glory of God above our own job well done. As Jacob Marley lamented to Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, “Business?!? Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” So it is with us. If our church fellowship is to grow wide, it must first grow deep. If we want to see an increase in attendance, we must first work to increase trust, authentic fellowship, maturity, faithfulness, and holiness.

We cannot assume to only teach discipleship, we must also model it. A shepherd never just points the sheep in the right direction and then sends them off by themselves. He walks among them and leads them. His feet get the same dirt on them as theirs. For us, this means walking with people in prayer and Bible reading, as well as in depth Bible study. We must challenge one another in Scripture memory, but also in meditation — thinking on what the Scripture means and what it means for our daily living. These things are not difficult, but they take time. Determine to prayerfully choose two or three to disciple and lead.

Another challenge, however, has arisen in more modern times. It seems to me too that, not only do pastors keep themselves far too “busy” with the “drop of water” rather than the “comprehensive ocean of our business,” but that the expectation of others is that we are too busy for them. I cannot express my amazement at how often, when I suggest meeting with someone, or taking time for them in some way, I am met with, “Oh no, pastor, you’re so busy!” I’m sure this is inherent with the pace of our culture and that many of these are “busy” themselves and so they project that on us, but I am also saddened that there are many who have used the “I’m busy” card to run like a hireling in the shadow of a wolf. We need to work — even sacrifice — to change the culture of the church. This is the work to which we are called:  Transformation, and it begins with me. I know I need to make some changes and redirect my efforts to be a good (or at least better) shepherd to the people. What are some simple changes you can make in your schedule or priorities to be a more effective leader/follower?


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