Leading The Flock Or Just Tending The Flock?

shepherdWe pastors are to be under-shepherds for Jesus, the Great Shepherd. I think the sheep we’re called to tend often have a different idea of our job description from what we believe it to be.

Our flock wants us to tend to their needs: preach, marry, bury, and visit the sick and shut-in. In addition to these roles of the shepherd most pastors believe there’s also the role of leading the flock. I’ve watched shepherds do their job of shepherding and though the sheep may wander during grazing it’s the shepherd who leads them to where they’re to go. The sheep of our pasture often don’t get this.

I’ve been the pastor of the same church for over 37 years and I still sense people resisting my leadership on many an occasion. I suspect that in churches where there’s a history of pastoral change every few years the pastor can express very little true leadership. Do they see the pastoral role as plug ‘n play? Probably. It’s less about being a shepherd who leads the flock and more about being a chaplain to an institution.

“Behold, there go my people! I must hasten after them, for I am their leader!” 

My church’s constitution gives the pastor almost no authority, and I’m OK with that. After all, the best authority is that which is gained through influence and respect. This takes time, lots of time, a reason I’ve always believed in the benefit of long-term pastorates.

What to do? Perhaps you have some suggestions. I remind myself that Jesus Himself didn’t have the respect of everyone, not by a long ways. To some degree we’re all Rev. Rodney Dangerfields. Our God also reminds us that it is in weakness and humility that somehow, someway God is able to use us and expand His kingdom. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13)

In the end, we do what we can. And we remember we do our task of shepherding as best as we can because our calling is from our Great Shepherd and that it is not dependent on how His sheep act. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:2-4)

The Busy Pastor

A neighbor of our daughter and her family
in Mexico shepherding his flock

I have had to learn again and again that to be about my Heavenly Father’s business means I must not be too busy. My busyness and His business are often not the same work!

Eugene Peterson writes, “A sense of hurry in pastoral work disqualifies one for the work of conversation and prayer that develops relationships that meet personal needs. There are heavy demands put upon pastoral work, true; there is difficult work to be engaged in, yes. But the pastor must not be ‘busy.’… there must be a wide margin of leisure.”

Peterson then quotes Henri Nouwen. “Without the solitude of heart, our relationships with others easily become needy and greedy, sticky and clinging, dependent and sentimental, exploitative and parasitic, because without the solitude of heart we cannot experience the others as different from ourselves but only as people who can be used for the fulfillment of our own, often hidden, needs.” (Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, Eugene Peterson, pp. 61-62, Eerdmans, 1980)

I have had the opportunity on various occasions to watch a shepherd tend his flock of sheep. I don’t ever recall seeing shepherds rush about. They tend to walk slowly; mostly they just stand. Why, as the shepherd of God’s flock of people, do I feel prompted to always be rushing, giving the impression I must be somewhere else other than where I am? Lord, wherever you have me be today, help me to be all there for as long as you want.

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