Thinking Theologically – The Science of Shepherding

 Thinking Theologically about Pastor/shepherds

I’ve been reading some of what others have written about pastoring. I’ve also seen quite a few different flocks. Some seem to approach pastor/shepherding without giving attention to the Bible.  In such an approach, the filter of pastor/shepherd behavior becomes something other than the Bible. That is not acceptable. None of us should attempt to defend the indefensible.

Indefensible Behaviors

Let me give two examples of common but indefensible behavior by a pastor/shepherd.

  • Example #1:  a pastor/shepherd has a difficulty with someone. The difficulty is then addressed from the pulpit or in conversation with other people. Jesus taught, that this is not proper Biblical procedure. To have a problem with someone and not go to that one person is indefensible!
  • Example #2:  in counsel, a pastor/shepherd learns of a particular couple’s marital difficulties. Later that day the pastor/shepherd tells someone, “Join me in praying for Tom and Joan. I’m not sure they are going to make it.” Such innuendo is gossiping. Gossip is indefensible!

Dozens of equally indefensible happenings could have been mentioned. It is unfortunate that the Chief Shepherd’s flock has to tolerate such. As a pastor/shepherd, I should know better. I can do better! No similar behavior toward the flock or toward individual sheep can be found in the Bible.

The Bible needs to be our guide as to how we behave. Pastor/shepherd is a call of God. It is wiser to approach the behavior from a “God perspective” A better theology of pastor/shepherding is needed.

We use terms drawn from His Bible. Yet, the approach taken is often inconsistent with what His Bible has to say on the topic of pastoral ministry.

BAD pastoral theology – in dealing with the sheep!

How have we got to the place of accepting “bad behavior” as acceptable?

Let me paint with a broad brush. You can expand the concepts of bad theology to fit your knowledge and observations. Examples of bad pastoral theology are seen where there is: 

  • Lording rather than leading and serving! Pastor/shepherds are not “lords over God’s heritage.” One modern commentator/translator warned leaders, “Don’t be a little tin god.” “Tin god” leaders have image as the primary measure. Substance is surrendered to style! A “tin god” pastor/shepherd is above the people. My elders suggested I drive a car that fit the level of the average person within our congregation. This was to be the case even if something better could be afforded. The late G.A. Mangun was bishop to a church of 3,000. At the time of his death, he still drove a mid-range Ford. He served and led. Bro. Mangun did not “lord.” 
  • Divas who won’t dirty their hands. The median size church of any sort is around 80. Such churches involve manual labor. Pastor/shepherds in those churches (and all I pastored up to 300+) meant I was there for workdays. I’ve no skill, but my organizing ability and encouragement made a difference. Pastor/shepherds get their hands dirty.
  • No sense of accountability for what matters to the chief shepherd. A fellow once told me, “I have run off four families. If I can run off three more I’ll have been a success.” Unfortunately, he seemed to have no specific strategy to replace those families. It was appalling. People may have needed to leave. I was simply disgusted that the fellow would brag about it. Some necessary life experiences a wise man keeps to himself. Or perhaps he discusses them with his own pastor. Such heartbreaking happenings are not for common conversation. The parable of the “ninety and nine” in Luke 15 shows a shepherd counting his flock. A count provides accountability.
  • Having the sheep depend on the shepherd for too many things. Every sheep cannot always be beside the shepherd. A pastor/shepherd teaches people to read the Bible in a way to gain benefit. Equip the flock to pray. Prepare people to make good decisions. A Messianic complex result in a pastor/shepherd counseling over the inane. Let your people learn to eat. A sheep feeding itself is natural!

Bad Pastoral Theology Within the Pastor/Shepherd

A poor understanding of “what” shepherds do results in poor pastoral care. A poor understanding of “how” shepherds behave results in poor pastoral care. Not understanding of “why” a shepherd acts as he does results in bad pastoral care.  What, how and why are three keywords that affect all life outcomes.  If a person cannot give a good Bible reason as to “why” they act in a certain way, there “what they do” and “how they do it” will usually be inconsequential.

  • Repeating an ineffective model. Following someone else’s behavior works if what that pastor did resulted in a healthy flock. (Keep in mind a healthy flock always has lambs! Without that caveat, some might define a healthy flock to be a group of people easy to pastor. All flocks have times of difficulty. Some sheep are easier to lead than others. The job being easy does not mean a person is doing a good job.) On the other hand, doing what someone else did that is ineffective is not smart. Within yourself examine your mentor/model’s effectiveness or lack thereof. If necessary, bring other mentors into your life. Learn from their behavior.
  • Seeking to be a “rancher,” when God only calls shepherds. I’m not comfortable with, “The Lord is my rancher . . ..” I still want the Lord to be my shepherd. In modern agriculture, the rancher is generally disconnected from the livestock. The rancher’s office has more significance than the flock or field. The shepherd’s priority is the flock.
  • It’s the pastor’s “tithe,” is bad theology. It isn’t the pastor’s tithe! The tithe is the Lord’s (Leviticus 27:30). The pastor/shepherd having oversight of the tithe fits Bible-based theology. In normal cases, (and there are exceptions) a shepherd/pastor personally using the tithe of 30 or 35 families is a poor strategy. A pastor/shepherd should find a level of income that fits the church body. Use the rest to bring in evangelists, trainers, and to hire staff. Any church can gain from a secretary, outreach workers, etc. funded by the tithe. Virtual Assistants who help me with some necessary work of Calvary are paid from the Lord’s tithe. (In my case, bi-vocational work is also helping pay our personal bills.) Investing some of the tithes into the efforts of others will help grow the Lord’s flock!
  • Bible teaching is not an emphasis. Scholar Kenneth Wuest connects pastor to teacher in the Ephesians list of ministries. Wuest says pastor cannot be separated from teacher. A pastor is always a teacher. This concept is important and overlooked. You cannot grow people with a steady diet of inspiration. They need instruction.  Borrowing from the athletic world. Good pep rallies don’t make a winning team. Practice, coaching, and training make for a winning team. If you want people to pray – don’t “pep rally” them to prayer; teach them to pray! If you want people to be evangelistic – don’t “pep rally” them to outreach; teach them to evangelize.

There are other poor approaches to pastoral care. Any one of those will limit the growth of the Lord’s flock. All are tragic. There are positive models available. Generally, these effective models are seen in a healthy church growing through conversions and disciple-making. Much good information in the Bible directs us about being the sort of pastor God wants.

There are plenty of bad examples out there. A time back, my blog, The Four Worst Things I’ve Seen in Church produced a significant response.  Read the blog and the comments to learn of tragic things that happened among God’s people. 

Pastor/Shepherd a Better Way

In many instances, a better way is to do the opposite of a “bad” thing. I described some non-Biblical theology about pastor/shepherding is above. We can do better for the Chief Shepherd! We must do better. The flock is what matters. Upcoming blogs on The Science of Shepherding will include several topics. Feel free to suggest other topics you would like addressed. I’d also welcome some guest blogs about the work of pastor/shepherd. This topic is thought-provoking and challenging.

Having better pastor/shepherds will result in better flocks. Having better pastor/shepherds will result in more people going to heaven. We need to do this! Please take the time to forward a link to a friend who may enjoy the discussion. I would particularly like to influence the fellow arriving at his first pastorate. He or she may be planting a church or assuming a pastorate. 

In your comments would you consider posting something you learned about pastoral care?  Particularly share something you wish you had known earlier, and why.

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4 Thoughts on Thinking Theologically – The Science of Shepherding

  1. Great article. I’m looking forward to seeing more on this. I’m pastoring my first church at the moment, and I’ve been the pastor for 18 months. One great piece of advice I got from Bro Hodges before I started was “Love people”. As pastor, I now try and reach and touch as many people as I can – from the little kids, all the way to our elder saints. I think it helps me remember to shepherd and not ranch. I particularly love visiting the kids in Sunday School.

    Something I wish I had learned earlier? I’m still learning every day…

    Reply
    • Pastor Gration,

      So good to hear from you. I’ve often thought of how I wished there had been a “first pastorate” course available when I started pastoring. It would likely have helped me. Bro. Hodges was correct. Kneeling to talk to children connects to them. You are right about the learning every day. The only way to succeed is to be a “life-long learner.” I”m assuming you are in socal – what location?

      Reply
      • Actually no sir – I’m in Cairns, Australia. Bro Hodges came to Australia a couple of times over the last few years, and I had the privilege of spending some time with him.

        Reply

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