1. Regularly or frequently behave in a particular way or have a certain characteristic:
2. Care for or look after; give one's attention to. In a recent “blog post conversation”
Christianity Today editor Mark Galli and I have been discussing the role of pastor as “chaplain” or “leader” or some kind of combination of both. Mark leans toward chaplain, I insist that we need more leaders in a changing world.
If we were sitting together in a coffee shop, I’d engage him more on some particulars, but mostly we agree on most of the most important things--not the least of which is that the scriptures and the early church is the primary source to which we need to look for guidance.
From following the comments on my blog, FB pages, the CT blog and Internet Monk blog, it is clear that Mark struck one very important nerve that all pastors (whichever model we employ), need to hear: The people we pastor expect us to care about them.
While we may disagree on the particular ways and priority of that care, there is a clear concern by all of us that the “tendency” of pastors is moving away from “tending” the flock. And frankly, for those of us who believe that our role is more about cultivate communities of faith that move more and more into the mission of the Kingdom, this word is even more important for us.
This is especially true of those (like me) who see the need for pastors to function as leaders of a missional communities. For most people, "leader" conjures up images of distant autocrats (even if good and benevolent). Even more, those who embrace the call of leadership are quickly distrusted as ambitious, self-serving and at best, treat their people as mere “pawns” to lead into spiritual battle.
Everybody wants to be connected to a leader who really, tangible and if at all possible personally cares about them.
Mark writes in his most recent response to me: “I think there is a reason the early church, when it thought about what it meant to be a church, put the emphasis on worship, catechesis, and the presbyter/overseer as shepherd and teacher of the flock, not the general of an army.”
While I completely agree that in whatever model we use of pastor our primary tasks are leading in worship, catechesis and teaching, what is interesting to me is how often the metaphor of “shepherd” is used as a rebuttal to the idea of “leader”.
In the Old Testament particularly, shepherds are the biblical metaphor for Israel’s leaders.
Then Moses said to the LORD, “O LORD, you are the God who gives breath to all creatures. Please appoint a new man as leader for the community. Give them someone who will guide them wherever they go and will lead them into battle, so the community of the LORD will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” Numbers 27:15-17
This theme continues in the Prophets: Not with a denunciation of “leadership” but instead with a passionate admonition that those who lead be good, fair and especially caring leaders-- leaders after “God’s own heart” (Ezekiel 34, Jeremiah 3); leaders who put the well-being of the people before their own; leaders who are trustworthy and who indeed love the people they serve.
Jesus is, of course, the quintessential Shepherd and Paul demonstrates the depth of this kind of care when he uses an even more intimate metaphor.
But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:7–8)
For Paul, love for the "flock" is expressed by pastors not only through care, but also through teaching and equipping, like parents who “train up” their children in the way they should go:
And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory. 1 Thessalonians 2:11–12
Indeed, for Jesus (Mark 10:42-45) and Paul (Ephesians 4:11-13) all Christian leadership (and pastoral leadership in particular), is highly relational with pastors (and others) “equipping the saints” by serving as “ligaments” that connect and strengthen the body (See this series of posts I wrote called “Ligament Lessons”).
But to be sure, for pastors called to "shepherd the flock" (1 Peter 5:2)—just as it was for Christ--that love is for a larger purpose: That the people of God would fulfill the mission of God to the glory of God.
Shepherds don’t just ‘tend’ the sheep, protecting (primarily by teaching), and caring for them, but they also “lead” them. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, didn’t just heal people because he cared about them (though he clearly did!) but also to reveal the presence of the reign of God, to demonstrate the nature of the Kingdom that he had come to inaugurate and to recruit and train followers in that particular manner that they should carry on his mission.
Previously I have written about the competing values that most pastors have to manage and the complexity of our task today. We are to lead and equip the people of God into the mission of God and to care for each person with the love of tangible embrace of Christ. We are called to offer both love for people just where they are and to call and equip them to be part of the Kingdom mission of Jesus in the world all around them.
From a number of comments on the blog posts, it is clear to me that--while I still see a need for a different kind of pastoral leadership in a changing world, one thing has not changed at all:
People need to experience the love of God as they are led into the mission of God.
And if they do not feel loved, they will likely not let anyone lead them anywhere.