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Practically Spiritual – The Science of Sheperding

Effective Pastor/shepherds aim for a spiritual outcome. This requires you to be practically spiritual. To do practical things that aim people toward the spiritual. God chooses His words well.

The Almighty did not accidentally use the word “shepherd” to describe pastoral care. The work of a shepherd, even as he helps people toward a positive spiritual life is above all practical. It is earthy.

Pastor/shepherding is part of the conversation regarding practical theology. This is a practical work. There is no “ivory tower” in pastoral ministry.

Pastor/Shepherding is a Different Sort of Work

It is not enough for a pastor to be someone’s “buddy.” The objectives of the work are life change, spiritual maturity, and eternal life. In heaven, the size of a pastor’s crowd at church won’t determine success. Hearing the master say, “well done,” to those the pastor led will be all that counts.

This need for a spiritual outcome challenges us. We tend to segregate the spiritual from the practical. It can’t be done. A person’s physical behavior affects their spiritual life. Daily decisions determine the spiritual outcome. (My first book Daily Things of Christian Living addresses 7 things the New Testament says to do “on a daily basis. A few copies of the first edition remain available.) A pastor/shepherd must lead people along a practical observable path. Consistency and sustainability are necessary parts of the process. If the path is followed, the spiritual growth will come. A good pastor/shepherd is not trying to “win friends.” He determines the practical steps that lead a person to a mature spiritual life.
One ineffective approach to pastor/shepherding was a preacher (I’d not call him a pastor. He exhibited no pastoral behavior.) who presented himself among his people as living on some “other-worldly” plain. The fellow would walk about muttering deep words. An occasional “Ooooo” expressed something no parishioner could understand. He had nothing pragmatic to offer. You could not be comfortable in his presence. It was a disaster. Of course, from that preacher’s perspective, the problem was the unspiritual flock. It wasn’t! The problem was a preacher who did not understand the practical realities of the work. A pastor/shepherd leads people to prayer, maturity in God’s word and good decisions.


Be practically spiritual

However, you go about it practical and spiritual will coexist in your ministry. The practical and spiritual are part of the same human existence. How does a pastor/shepherd bring people to spiritual development?

  1. Have a plan and a vision regarding what you want people to become. Examine the Bible on everything Jesus said about those who would be his disciples. There are three specific characteristics Jesus gave. These are all in Saint John.  I’ll let you find those. If those are known the pastor/shepherd then consistently teaches and trains people toward having the traits Jesus described.
  2. Validate the Bible as the “green pasture.” In normal times, sheep don’t come to a trough, they are led to a pasture. If all the people at gain from the Bible is what I teach or preach they are spiritually malnourished. It is my responsibility to lead them to “green pastures.” Encouraging Bible Reading Enriches Any Day is an option. A better approach is to ask people to read a complete paragraph of the Bible each day and examine that paragraph thoroughly.  My approach might be called Bible Research Enriches Any Decade. I’d prefer the flock, read a little and retain a lot than to read a lot and retain a little.
  3. Instill personal devotion and quiet time as an expected norm.  Personal devotion does not come naturally. At Calvary, we have worked a bit on a course of study for converts to train convert on personal devotion before addressing anything else. The working title for our project is “Good Ground.”
  4. A consistent sustainable corporate prayer program. The pastor/shepherd must establish a local church prayer program. A post from a time back offered some insight on “Establishing a Sustainable Prayer Program for a Church of any Size.”
  5. Lead people to practical service that uses their motivational gifts in a meaningful way. If the church is a body, then every member should be participating. No spectators! The goal sounds good.  Accomplishing the goal is not easy. It takes sustained repeated effort. I’ll write about having perpetual Fitly Framed classes, a church personnel director and volunteer banquets in the future.  Fitly Framed is my seven lesson series that helps find a person’s Romans 10 motivational gift. When things are going right, that gift is then put to work. It is available as an inexpensive ebook or on a CD. In either case, make as many copies as you want.

These are the sorts of practical things that work to develop people to mature spirituality.

Contrasting Bad Behavior

In most cases the contrast between the “grind it out” practical work mentioned above and ineffective pastor/shepherding is the result of one of two things:

  • An honest misunderstanding of what a pastor/shepherd does.
  • The self-interest of a pastor/shepherd.

Either is dangerous and unproductive. Either way a person tries to arrive at a hoped for outcome while following the wrong practical steps. In some cases, such decisions may make life easier for the pastor/shepherd, but such will not grow the Chief Shepherd’s flock. Some examples of “God work” done without a solid theological premise:

A desire to control.

John said, “Diotrophes loveth to have the pre-eminence . . ..” Diotrophes was likely fearful. Someone else’s anointing or calling might make his own seem less important. Diotrophes chose to close the door to the Apostle John’s influence. The word “preeminence” means “to be fond of being first.”  Diotrephes was not just concerned about worldly influence on those he led. Diotrophes wanted no Apostolic influence if he could not control it. “It was not smoke if it did not come from Diotrophes stack.” Sound familiar? Pastor/shepherds who take this fear-based approach, not only control they also limit. Your flock will become weak and inbred.


What’s good for me is good for God.

This is a modern mantra. Too many want an easy job. God hasn’t called pastor/shepherds to ease. He has called you to earthy labor among His sheep. “What’s good for me is what’s good for God,” results in all the tithe funds flowing into a church going to a pastor/shepherd’s personal coffers. This happens even as the church cannot afford a part-time secretary to answer the phone.

At first glance, “What’s good for me is good for good,” seems to be a “Win-win” concept. Actually, pastor/shepherding does not guarantee any earthly wins! God never promised that serving Him would result in success or a full-time pastorate. “What’s good for me is good for God,” is actually a prosperity doctrine. “What’s good for me is good for God,” does not survive a Bible smell test. Don’t believe me? Read the last portion of Hebrews 11. People of faith do not always experience a positive outcome on this earth. A better mindset for those who are pastor/shepherds is John the Baptist. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” In ministry decisions what is best for Christ’s kingdom – even beyond our local church should be the guiding principle!  It also guides us to do the necessary practical work that grows the flock.

Where should we find our practical behavior regarding the sheep?

  • The behavior of the Lord Jesus Christ gives much to consider. He is the Great Shepherd. Ultimately, He will grade my effectiveness as a pastor/shepherd.
  • David’s comments about shepherds, shepherding and sheep. We will explore some of these as we look at “The Benefits Package for the Flock.”
  • Old Testament prophets often spoke to how a shepherd should act. Much of this is in indictments against Israel’s leadership. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah have much to say about the negative behavior of leaders. Each uses the word “shepherd” in their indictments. Unfortunately, the same behavior can exist today. I doubt the Lord is any more pleased with it now than He was then.

A pastor who fails in his developing people should recognize that the failure can be the result of an erroneous understanding of what a pastor is to do. The work is practical as we guide people into the spiritual. Where there is no practical roadmap spiritual maturity seldom happens.  If this is your situation set out to acquire the wisdom and skills needed to correctly pastor/shepherd.

Think About Your Why!

If we cannot find the basis for our pastor/shepherd behavior in “the Book” we should likely examine the book for some other approach. We can retrain ourselves to be more effective.

As I worked through this the “The Why Factor” was much on my mind. To a degree, it was on my mind because I’m doing an FB Live Webinar on “Why, What and How” on April 25. It is at 7 PM CST at Carlton Coon Sr. on Facebook.  It is also always with me, because as a person hoping to lead and develop people, “Why” is never far from my mind. “Why” is important. “Why” is the motive for behavior.

As a pastor, can you explain “why” you did or did not do a particular thing? Using the Bible, can your “why” be accurately validated? Can you answer “why” without there being a personal benefit to the decision made or action taken? Remember, in all things of Jesus’ work:  What’s good for me is not always what is good for God.


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