Pastors As Shepherds

shepherd1.jpgIn Jeremiah 3 unfaithful Israel is encouraged to return to her lord, who promises to provide her with “shepherds after my own heart, who will shepherd you with knowledge and understanding.”

To be a pastor is (by definition) to be a shepherd.

Thus, throughout Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible, Timothy Laniak explores the shepherd/leader/king metaphor as it threads its way throughout the testaments, from Moses with the flock of God in the wilderness, to Revelation and its depiction of the slain lamb and ruling shepherd. It is an extremely detailed study and is written for the academician or for the fairly well-trained pastor/elder, and therefore is probably not a book most lay people will read. Nevertheless, some of the most salient (and sometimes surprising) points are worth noting. Some key quotes:

“Shepherding has a figurative meaning in certain contemporary religious settings where it has been ‘applied’ in reductionistic ways. …Many denominations use the language of ‘pastoral care’ exclusively to refer to ministry among the sick and needy. Such associations have their relative merits, but they are not anchored in or controlled by the cultural realities and texts of the biblical world. In contrast to such restricted and distorted images, the Bible promotes robust, comprehensive shepherd leadership, characterized as much by the judicious use of authority as by sympathetic expressions of compassion” (21).

“Good shepherding is expressed by decisions and behaviors that benefit the ‘flock,’ often at great personal cost. It calls for the benevolent use of authority. …The shepherd image is especially useful in holding in tension these essential features of leadership. Authority without compassion leads to harsh authoritarianism. Compassion without authority leads to social chaos.” (247).

Laniak’s observations on the use of the shepherd metaphor in the book of Ezekiel, in particular, were fascinating, and reminded me a lot of churches and pastors that preach the so-called “prosperity gospel”:

“Bad or ‘false’ shepherds are those who use their position to serve their own needs. They forget whose flock they serve. …To be a shepherd is to be both responsible for the flock and responsible to the Owner. …Those who are called to leadership in the covenant community are called to take care of those whom God calls ‘my sheep'” (248).

“Human rule is a derivative extension of divine rule. Our theology of leadership is informed by this breathtaking choice of God to grant royal prerogatives to his creatures. To be made in his image is to rule with him and for him. Reigning with him is the destiny of all those who follow the Lamb in the book of Revelation” (248).

This is an excellent book and strongly recommended reading for pastors and elders, who ought to be well-acquainted with Scripture’s portrayal of the shepherd-leader. Everyone else can probably skip it, but should buy it for their pastor and ask him to read it! (You can tell him I said he should.)

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2 thoughts on “Pastors As Shepherds”

  1. Do you think it would be a good read for men that want to lead within their own home more effectively? Just throwin’ it out there.

  2. Bryan,

    In light of Eph. 4:11-16 do you think we are lacking essential offices in the church? In other words, along with pastors, should churches seek apostles, prophets and evangelists?

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