Two Ways to View Our Shepherding Role

The image of shepherd helps us define our calling as pastors. Jesus is the Great Shepherd, but in His physical absence He has assigned us pastors to the task of shepherding a local flock of His. Images of sheep and a shepherd have always prompted my personal reflection on this amazing calling He’s placed upon me. I find myself probing the shepherd imagery even more in recent months since moving to rural Mexico where we have neighbors who shepherd a flock of a couple of hundred sheep. Whenever they lead them to greener pastures, if I’m aware of the flock’s movement, I’m there with my camera. Observing the flock and the shepherd neighbors has brought to mind two different ways we can see our role in pastoring a local flock of His.

The Younger Sibling Shepherd

ShepherdBrothersSmallI’ve noticed that often there are two shepherd boys taking care of the sheep, an older brother and a younger brother. I’m sure the older brother is in charge and that the younger brother is obedient to him and learns from him.

We sometimes identify Jesus as our “big brother” and that makes us the little brother or sister. As a pastor we can see ourselves as the younger brother shepherd or little sister shepherd. As we shepherd the flock we can know that our big brother shepherd is not far away and has His watchful eye on both us and the sheep He’s put under our care. He is there, always, always giving us His help and direction.

The Shepherd’s Dog

ShepherdDogSmallThe neighbors have a couple of sheep dogs, one is a German Shepherd mix, I’m not sure about the other. The dogs take their verbal orders from the shepherd (I’ve heard it many times). The dogs run and round up the stray sheep. They stand guard. Our own two Saint Bernard dogs have approached the sheep and the sheepdogs and have learned the hard way that this was not a wise move! The shepherd’s dogs guide and also protect the flock of their master, the shepherd.

I often made the comment during my years of pastoral ministry that I was the Lord’s sheepdog! It comes across to me as a self-deprecating title, but an accurate one, helping me to stay a bit more humble (I hope) and more useful to Him. The Lord is the Good Shepherd of the small flock He assigned to me, and I was but His sheepdog, seeking to obey His commands as to where to take the sheep and, yes, feeling protective of them.

Two Images to Hold in Mind and Heart

Images are powerful, and the images of the younger sibling to the big brother shepherd and of the sheepdog serving the master who is shepherd have helped me better grasp my role as a pastor. After all, there’s nothing I want more than to please the Good Shepherd!

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A Ministry of Minutia

weekly-calendarI’m at the church alone. The phone rings. I answer it. “Mayfair-Plymouth Church,” I say. The voice on the other end says, “This is Matilda. Would you do me a favor? I can’t find my cake carrier. I think I might have left it in the church kitchen. Could you go down and check to see if it’s there?” The details are fictional, but the scene is reminiscent of many through my years of ministry. Sometimes my ministry seems to be a ministry of minutia.

Just how much and how often should I allow the small details of the life of the church to distract me from bigger and more important ministry obligations or opportunities? Do I quickly change that burned out light bulb or make a note to tell the custodian? I know where the new ones are kept. It would take about as much time for me to write the note as it would to change the bulb. Do I ask the head of the committee responsible for the outdated poster in the hallway to take it down, making it a teachable moment that the committee should keep on top of things, or do I just take the thing off the wall myself? Do I spend the time to do maintenance on the computer in my office (defragging, updating virus software, etc.) or do I track down the techy in our church and ask him to do it, whenever he can get around to it? Yes, God is in the details, but does He want to drag me into them too?

It’s not that I think I’m too high and mighty for such pedestrian tasks. I do them around my home all the time. It’s just that I want to make the most of my time when involved in ministry. I want to delegate when I should, but also do the small task at hand when it seems appropriate.

I had some communication with a mega church pastor via e-mail. I sent and received my own e-mail, but his came via his personal secretary. I’d like to have said to him, “Have your people contact my people,” but when it comes to e-mail management “my people” is me! And that’s OK. I understand there’s going to be a difference between what a mega church pastor does and what he delegates and what I do and what I delegate. I need to remember this when most of the models of how to do ministry come from the well-known mega church pastors.

Jesus didn’t do all His ministry Himself. He sent out the twelve to preach. He even sent them off to buy food. Jesus was great at delegating. On the other hand, Jesus prepared a fish breakfast for His disciples one morning along the lakeshore while they were out on the lake fishing, and that was after He was raised from the dead and in His glorified body. Jesus was great at doing the details. I, too, need to delight in both delegating and in the details. Balance, I suppose, is what I’m aiming to achieve, balance between delegating and doing the details.

The Burden and Blessing of Pastoring

sheepbrushOf all the professions, it seems to me that the profession of being a pastor carries with it a unique burden, the burden of a unique love. It’s not that people of other professions don’t love the people they serve, they should. Everyone should love everyone in their sphere of influence. It’s just that we pastors are to love the people we shepherd as the Great Shepherd loves them. This strikes me as a unique and challenging call to love.

Lawyers, doctors, counselors, and other professionals have appointments, usually of an hour or less, with their clients or patients. Not so with pastors. Our parishioners may make an appointment to see us, but they also expect us to be available 24/7, nor do they want to feel they’re limited to an hour of our time. And we don’t bill them!

Most other professions see their clients or patients in rather narrow parameters of the professional setting. The pastoral setting is wide and expansive; we tend our flock without fences, and we find our sleep to be light at the entrance to the sheepfold. Our life with them includes worship, study, fellowship, serving together, working together in leadership, and sharing potlucks.

Most clients and patients of other professions see it as a professional relationship while our parishioners see it more as a friendship. Frequently those in my church will say to me, “You’re not just my pastor, you’re my friend.” I appreciate the intended compliment but I wonder, just how many friends can I have and still be a good friend to each?

Doctors see a patient for a few minutes, trying to stay objective about the patient’s condition. As pastors we’re the physician’s assistant to the Great Physician and ours is a doctoring of the soul. It is no easy task given the fact that we ourselves are sin-sick and also under the care of the Great Physician. Wounded healers we are.

Lawyers sit across the desk, turning papers 180 degrees for the client to sign below paragraphs of unintelligible legalese. We pastors represent the Divine Lawgiver, taking God’s laws and principles and seeking to make them clear to our people while at the same time humbled by our own inability to abide by them ourselves.

Counselors maintain a professional relationship requiring definite relationship boundaries with those who share their deepest, darkest secrets. We who do pastoral counseling on behalf of the Mighty Counselor do so without such boundaries, going with them from the counseling session to a worship service, a board meeting, or a church picnic.

The profession of pastoring calls us to the burden of loving in a unique way, but it also provides unique blessings. We represent Christ. He is the Good Shepherd of the flock and we are His undershepherd. We are a mini-incarnation of the presence of Christ in the midst of His people, laughably inadequate and many times inept but put there by none other than Christ Himself. The task is daunting, but we have the promise of His presence and help. Ours is a yoked ministry; we join Him in the task of caring for His people and He will always make the task doable because of His ever present help. I often cling to His promise: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30) I’m still working on the “learn from me” part of that promise! I’m learning that His blessings come from embracing His burdens, that His blessings make the burdens less burdensome, and that there is His joy in it all!

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)

A Passion for Pastoring

The other night Diann and I watched one of the few TV shows we enjoy, Undercover Boss. The premise of the show is for the boss of a company to go undercover in his own company, disguised as a new hire. The explanation for the camera following him around is that it’s being taped for a reality show. The boss usually gains some new insights into the company and those who work for the company.  The conclusion of the show has the boss revealing his true identity and rewarding those with whom he worked while undercover who are doing a great job.

Last week’s show was about the boss of Rally’s and Checkers Hamburgers, Rick Silva. It was amazing to see how passionate he is about hamburgers! He was bubbling over with enthusiasm, describing how he wants to produce the best burger and the best service in the business. He’s intolerant of producing just average burgers and fries and of mediocre performance by his workers.

Rick Silva convicted me! If he’s so passionate about producing hamburgers, then how much more should I be passionate about leading a local franchise of the Kingdom of God where our task is to produce and grow disciples for Jesus! We as pastors are entrusted with delivering the best “product” in the world, the Gospel.  What could be more motivating?  Ouch!

The apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)  Yes, Paul, I need your words too!

As a local franchisee for the Kingdom of God I want to remember that my CEO is always “undercover” in my local franchise of His kingdom. Yes, His presence should be a sobering reminder for me to do my best, but also a great comfort and help knowing that He’s there to help me make happen what He wants to see done.

He’s given me a franchise to serve. I want to have the passion to see it thrive!  You too?

My Main Job at The Church

John Ortberg, pastor of Menlo Park Church in Menlo Park, California, wrote a good article in Leadership Magazine, Summer 2011. Here’s a brief reference in the article that struck a chord with me.

“Last fall I asked a friend, ‘What’s the main thing I need to be doing for our church to be a place where lives are being transformed?’ He said, ‘Your primary job is to experience deep contentment and joy and confidence in your everyday life with God.’

Now I have that on a sign that hangs above the door of my office. It reminds me, before I write sermons or lead meetings or do planning, that my main job at the church is to live in deep contentment, joy, and confidence in my everyday walk with God.”

Let’s Talk!

I read a promotion for an author’s material in which he said, “After 25 years in ministry, traveling to 32 countries, and preaching to folks in every conceivable setting and denomination…” He then proceeded to give some advice to preachers and a way to get some materials of his, some of which, to his credit, were free.

More book jacket info about the author than I can count touts how he/she has sold so many thousands of books. Other book jackets tell of how large a weekend attendance at worship the author has as a pastor.

I’m wondering what any of this has to do with giving credibility to what the author has to say. Do the number of miles traveled, the volume of books sold, or the size of an audience expand our understanding or deepen our faith? It’s possible, but it’s also possible that staying in one place, writing to one person at a time in an e-mail or letter, and sharing in a small group could expand our understanding and deepen our faith.

So what about the author of this blog, A Pastor’s Heart? You’re probably asking yourself, Who is this guy, Dave Claassen? I suspect you’ll Google my name. I’ll save you some time and tell you that I don’t get invited to travel great distances to speak. I’ve done some writing but I don’t have a best-selling book. I speak every weekend in my church but it’s not to thousands of people.

What credentials do I have for writing a blog called A Pastor’s Heart? My credentials are my calling to be a pastor and for having been given a heart for pastoring a flock of his people. My goal in this blog is not to impart some great wisdom and insight but to share the journey I’ve been on as a pastor in the one church I’ve served for 36 years. In other words, I’ll be sharing something of my spiritual pilgrimage.

If you’re a pastor then you have been given a heart for pastoring and you have the credentials to contribute to the dialogue in this gathering place I’ve named A Pastor’s Heart. I hope we hear from Rev. I. M. Average who’s serving The Third Church of Ordinary located in Timbuktu. I hope we hear from you too!

What’s on your heart and mind? Join the conversation!