The Scandal Of Shepherdless Flocks

Flock of sheep, New Zealand, PacificThey finished eating breakfast.

Jesus: Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these other things?

Simon Peter: Yes, Lord. You know that I love You.

Jesus: Take care of My lambs.

Jesus asked him a second time . . .

Jesus: Simon, son of John, do you love Me?

Simon Peter: Yes, Lord. You must surely know that I love You.

Jesus: Shepherd My sheep.

(for the third time) Simon, son of John, do you love Me?

Peter was hurt because He asked him the same question a third time, “Do you love Me?”

Simon Peter: Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.

Jesus: Look after My sheep.

John 21:15-17, The Voice

Strap in while I get my rant on.

Chaplain Mike introduced this week’s topic as scandals in the church. I know of scandals that make scandals look tame. As a literary agent I worked for a law firm that represented hundreds of ministries and churches across the country. I heard and read and participated in discussions about abuses of power, fraud, embezzlement, theft, rape, abortions, homosexuality — all done by men and women who were looked up to as leaders in the church. Even though I’ve been gone from there for three years now, I am still not at liberty to share the details of these with anyone, and really why would I want to? Why do I want to talk about what best belongs at the bottom of a trash bin? Besides, these are not the worst scandals to rock the Western church.

The greatest scandal that I see, one that has such far-reaching consequences that I wonder if the church will ever recover from it, is the desertion of the sheep by those called to be shepherds.

You will notice I don’t often use the word “pastor” on this blog, simply because so many of those we talk about here are not pastors. A pastor is a shepherd, and shepherds care for sheep. I use the term “leader” in reference to those in charge of a church. Shepherds focus on sheep entrusted to them; leaders focus on the structure of the organization that employees them. Shepherds walk behind their flocks to be sure that they stay together and no one gets lost; leaders walk out ahead, “casting the vision” so that all know who is in charge. Shepherds are filthy and dirty from caring for filthy, dirty sheep; leaders are dressed for success. Shepherds get very little recognition; leaders get book contracts.

Being a leader of a church, no matter what size the church, means to study demographics and business models. It means reading case studies and taking cues from the latest research published by business school teachers. Being a leader means setting goals and establishing benchmarks and, at the end of the day, mastering the latest business catchphrases, like “at the end of the day.”

Being a shepherd, meanwhile, involves visiting MaryLou in the hospital where she will want to talk with you about her medical history for the entire afternoon. It means meeting for breakfast with three men who resent even having to go to church, but do so to only please their wives. It means sitting bedside with a man whose wife is dying of cancer, and then taking the brunt of his anger as he accuses you and God of taking the one thing from him that mattered.

Leaders are professionals. Shepherds are laborers. Listen to what John Piper says about the danger of professionals taking over the church.

Brothers, we are not professionals! We are outcasts. We are aliens and exiles in the world. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we wait with eager expectation for the Lord. You cannot professionalize the love for His appearing without killing it. And it is being killed.  (Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper)

Church leaders have professionalized the love for Jesus’ appearing, and it is being killed. As are the flocks of sheep in desperate need of shepherds. Shepherds are not cool, are not hip, are not trendy. As soon as you try to create a formula for tending to the sheep, you have a corporate farm, and not a place where sheep are nurtured. Sheep need a lot of nurturing, for they are perhaps the neediest of all livestock. They can’t even rest without help. Phillip Keller, in his classic A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23, writes,

The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met. Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free from all fear. Because of the the social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger. A flock that is restless, discontented, always agitated and disturbed never does well.

So, whose responsibility is it to get the sheep in a place where they can rest if not the shepherd’s? Who is going to lead the sheep to green pastures? Who is going to repair the pastures so they remain green? Who is going to care for the sick and wounded sheep? Who is going to hunt after strays? Who is going to protect the sheep from enemies who prowl and growl like wolves? This is the job of the shepherd.

The great scandal facing the Western church today is the desertion of sheep by shepherds who would rather be hip and cool CEOs. The largest church in Tulsa—where I live—is led by a man who openly advertises that he never—and I mean never—meets with those in the congregation. Oh, he has built a very successful business. There is a youth building with lots of video games and a concession stand. There is a thriving Christian school. They have a western-themed camp and a train you can ride at Christmas time. This church leader oversees a very successful enterprise. On Sundays he comes out on stage, gives his motivational speech, and then goes back into the inner recesses of the building. He is surrounded by “ushers” who see that no one gets too close to him. He would tell you that he can not possibly care for the needs of so many who attend his church, so he turns that duty over to others. I call that desertion. I call that dereliction of  duty. Yes, I realize Moses was working himself to death before his father-in-law gave him some sage advice, but Moses knew a thing or two about sheep and sheepherding from his 40 years in the heat of the desert. I’ll wager he still stayed very close to the people whom God called his sheep.

I ran into a friend this week at a local Starbucks. He is now on the pastoral staff of a multi-site church that is about to open a new campus on the west side of Tulsa. He told me about demographic studies showing how many young families (i.e., those with disposable income) are within five miles of their new site. I know that he knows full well that many of these families are already attending a church, but will come running to the new kid in town just like they would to a new restaurant opening up. My friend used to be youth pastor at a small Methodist church with an aging congregation in a not-so-fashionable end of town. Yet when he was there he would talk about individual kids in his youth group and how he loved to see them grow in the Lord. Now he wears a trendy Mountain Hardware jacket emblazoned with his new church’s logo and talks of demographic surveys.

Ezekiel had a dire warning for those who abandoned their flocks for their own gain.

The word of the Eternal came to me with a message for Israel’s leaders.

Eternal One: Son of man, preach against Israel’s shepherds! Speak directly to the shepherds and tell them this is what the Eternal Lord has to say: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel whose only concern is to protect and nourish themselves! Isn’t a shepherd’s job to look after the sheep? Yet you exploit them in every way. You devour their fat, make soft clothes and blankets out of their wool, and slaughter the best sheep for your table. Meanwhile you don’t take care of the sheep at all. You have not sought to nurse the weak. You have not gone out to tend to the sick. You have not bandaged the injured. You don’t bring back the strays or look for the lost. You have led them with neglect, ruled them with harshness, shepherded them with cruelty! They had no real shepherd, so they have scattered; the entire flock was prey for wild beasts. My sheep drifted aimlessly through all the mountains and up and down every hill. My flock was scattered all over the world, scattered like the stars in the night sky,and not a single shepherd went looking for them.”

Now pay attention, shepherds, to My word: As surely as I, the Eternal Lord, live, because My sheep are without a shepherd, because they have become prey for all the wild beasts to feed upon, because my shepherds have not gone in search of My sheep but have only looked out for themselves and not watched after and cared for My flock; I encourage you, shepherds, to listen to the word of the Eternal.

Those self-centered shepherds are My enemies! As far as I am concerned, they are no longer shepherds. They will not help themselves to My sheep any longer. I will recover My flock from those corrupt shepherds. I will snatch My sheep from their mouths! My sheep will no longer provide milk, clothing, or meat to them. I will personally go out searching for My sheep. I will find them wherever they are, and I will look after them.

Ezekiel 34:1-11, The Voice

Do you hear what the Lord is saying? The Chief Shepherd has come to check on his flocks and finds them in disarray. They are not cared for. More than that, they are being used for the personal gain of the false shepherds. Now the Chief Shepherd is coming in judgment, and those shepherds who have not cared for the sheep are directly in his sights.

If this does not cause great fear among all those who have been given charge of sheep, it is only because they are the greatest of all fools.

Want another picture of what is in store for those who leave the sheep they are to care for?

Watch out, worthless shepherd who abandons the flock!
You will be made defenseless.
May the sword strike his right arm
and pierce his right eye!
May his arm hang limp at his side so he has no strength,
and may his right eye be forever blinded so he can’t shoot an arrow!

Zechariah 11: 17, The Voice

I have been told not to lump all church leaders together. I’ve been told there are still plenty of shepherds out there. Ok. I know there are some who do care, who labor outside of the spotlight and thus go unnoticed. And I know not everyone who attends a leadership conference or reads a John Maxwell book on leadership has abandoned his flock. But so many have. So, so many have given up on the day-to-day care of the sheep in order to build their own brand and image.

Jesus gives a test for how to tell if someone is a true shepherd, and it holds true to this day.

The hired hand is not like the shepherd caring for His own sheep. When a wolf attacks, snatching and scattering the sheep, he runs for his life, leaving them defenseless.

John 10: 12, The Voice

When the enemy comes in, where is the man in charge? Is he standing in the breach, daring the wolf to come one step closer? Or is he huddled with his advisers, trying to find a legal loophole out of the matter?

If you think I am overstating my case and that this is not really such a scandal after all, I will say that, if anything, I am understating my case. The church is rotting from the inside-out from a lack of shepherds, leaders be damned. The sheep are scattered and are falling prey to predators, to disease, to hunger and thirst.

My cry is to church leaders is this. Put down your GQ magazine and pick up your Bible. Step out of the newest trendy coffee shop and go to visit the sick and dying. Forget writing a book or making that TV appearance and begin to get to know your flock by name. To be a shepherd is hard, dirty, thankless, anonymous work. It is also the highest calling God can offer. After all, Jesus is our shepherd. How can we be better than he?



90 thoughts on “The Scandal Of Shepherdless Flocks

  1. I guess it’s a personal preference. For me, hopes dashed is worse than an opportunity to take things elsewhere. Repeated broken promises over long periods of time just make me cynical.


  2. I’m in the heart of Dorset and live with sheep. Only five at the moment but sheep are sheep. I don’t work with them at all but I have noticed that when a human they don’t know comes up to them, that person gets all their attention but they’re wary – until they see something familiar like a bucket (with feed in it) and then they’ll come right up to them. I’m sure there’s a theological message in there somewhere…


  3. The problem with professionalism in the church is simple. The church talks about shepherding being a calling rather than a profession but in practice we treat it as a job and that makes it inherently confusing. If you aren’t professionals why do you have professional titles, why do we insist you go to a vocational school and why do we pay you to do what the rest of us are expected to do for free? You can’t have it both ways and the professional clergy model is as far from the example of the leaders we see in the New Testament as you can get.

    Quit paying people to serve in the church, quit focusing on a Sunday religious ritual, quit worrying about who is in charge. No elder/group of elders can do all of the ministry required in a local gathering but we keep subcontracting the work of ministry to professionals who perform for us on Sunday and do little to equip us to minister. We have been doing the same thing the same basic way for 1700+ years and getting the same results and I am quite sure that if there had been blogs for those 1700 years (and people weren’t getting burned at the stake for asking the wrong questions) we would be hearing the same laments that we keep reading about today. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I think that might fall under the category of “insanity”.


  4. I’m not so sure. I was alone and near-suicidal at the time I asked for help, with no one else to turn to, and a promise, no matter how thin, would’ve been more to hang onto than the flat-out rejection. :-/


  5. Jeff, after sleeping on this one, I’ve come to another conclusion. Celebrity wannabe pastors are not solely to blame here. The church hasn’t merely fallen victim to exploiting masterminds while helplessly standing by. They have chosen these men to lead them. That’s right: The “churches” these “pastors” “lead” are full to overflowing, because people actually want what they are selling. Meanwhile, genuine servants of the Word engaged in real ministry work are constantly having people they have invested their blood, sweat, and tears into running of to the shiny new multiplex down the street that’s got a slicker presentation.

    The other part of the blame is the theology: If laity, after sitting under a pastor’s teaching for years, cannot tell the difference in message between him and flashy mega-celeb-motivational speaker down the street, then they may be just living out what they have been taught when they jump ship. Good Christ-centered preaching and robust doctrinal catechesis, believe it or not, can actually equip laity to see through this kind of charade, and if pastors refuse to give this to them, they shouldn’t be surprised when the big box store puts their mom-and-pop hole in the wall out of business. It just may be that the bigger church is offering a better version of the smaller church.


  6. I agree. Some pastors do need to be cut a bit of slack. I’ve seen many get hen-pecked to death by laity that could not be satisfied if Jesus or even Rick Warren himself were their pastor. But then there are the shameless: those who boast about their isolation from the laity. And there are those who aren’t as isolated in smaller churches, but are completely out of touch with the needs of their congregation because they’re too tunnel-visioned on somebody else’s model of success. This literrally strangles the life out of a congregation, and I have little pity for that Pastor when he faces a coup. It usually doesn’t come without repeated, loud warnings which are deliberately ignored.


  7. sarahmorgan wrote:

    “…and they inform you that they’ve chosen not to help you.”

    This is actually preferable to “we promise to do x, y, and z” and never calling back.


  8. “Ovine agribusinessmen build fences of doctrine and maintain them with weekly sermons, rather than actually providing real care for the flock.” I like the way the metaphor is expanding. Are megachurches CAFOs?


  9. Eagle, That’s a great story. Nice to think about Montana territory in the old days…I’m in CN ‘intermodal’ near the toronto airport. Got some good stories about the cn/cp fight if you’d want them. ‘dp power’ is the big thing now; putting a third engine two-thirds of the way down, so you can make trains longer and heavier. the brampton to prince rupert train is often over 13 000 feet. That line, especially the edmonton to prince rupert stretch is just a money factory, the means of burying us all in cheap made in china junk: guangdong to shanghai to prince rupert and onto a cn train going anywhere. because of the curvature of the earth, using cn’s prince rupert terminal instead of say, oakland, cuts almost two days off getting something here from shanghai.


  10. Maybe they are but I doubt it. We do have some leaders in the UK who would fit your descriptions. I think the key thing to recall about proper pastors is that they generally go unnoticed except within their appreciative communities – that’s probably why you won’t know about many of them – they are not people who show off or boast. The men and women I trained alongside were certainly not going into ministry with the attitudes you describe but the reality of doing the job can change anyone. It will interesting to see what they are like – all of us in fact – in about 10 years time.


  11. From the sense of the NT, especially Acts and the Epistles, is there really a distinction between “pastor” and “leader”? Did not Jesus say, “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ?

    When a congregation get so large that the “leaders” don’t or can’t serve all in personal manner would it not follow that the group is too large or the “leaders” too few?



  12. I’ve batted around these issues all of my adult life. What have I learned or settled upon?

    1. The “church” is NOT the means by which God gets his work (“evangelism”, “redeeming the culture”, what ever) done in the world, rather, a congregation is the fruit of what God is doing among people.

    2. The church, especially a local congregation, is a “sacrament” in this present world of the Kingdom of Heaven. It isn’t necessary for a church to be “successful”, but it is incumbent for a church to be FAITHFUL.

    So, if my suppositions are accurate, then what role, if any, does size play?



  13. You quote John Piper? The one that just went to speak at SGM Louisville for Mahaney? The one who flew to Geneva to pronounce himself the new John Calvin for our time? The one who loves Mark Driscoll’s theology? The one who won’t allow women to read scripture aloud in church because it is teaching men? The one who speaks at tons of conferences every year?

    I think he is a professional who speaks a good game.

    Truthfully, the sheep need to look to Christ instead of man.


  14. The missing piece of the puzzle here is that Jesus served his followers and told them to do the same.

    As I look around, I see that the reality of life is that people need spiritual leaders to encourage and uphold them. Someone who will model the Christian life and show others how to do the same.


  15. It’s not quite so black and white. We’re not talking about all clergy here, because obviously many take advantage of their position, but genuine shepherds. Congregations are just as much a mixed bag. You have some that will labor alongside the clergy with equal dedication, and others who see it as their life’s calling to ensure their pastors looses his mental sanity. I have no reason to think that all of the above deserve an equal say in the matters of the church. The scriptural pattern is entrusting greater responsibility to proven, faithful leaders of character, not equal authority to every single person who managed to get their name on the membership roster.


  16. Well, that’s interesting…

    “Discipleship within the parish” also looks different in an EO setting; not so much techniques of any kind, but simply seeking to gain humility and love. There are plenty of Orthodox examples of that. Sure am curious what that priest thought he could find at Catalyst that’s not available to him already.



  17. Ahhh, now we’re getting to the crux of the issue. You said that people will want to hear a speaker who’s a dynamic communicator. I think that’s one of the core problems and to me, it backs up Jeff’s larger point in this article.

    Going to a church to hear a “dynamic communicator” is not what any of us need, and it’s one of the driving factors behind the consumer model of “church.” As Jeff said, what we really need are good shepherds, not simply gifted communicators. In 1 Tim and Titus, in the listing of requirements for overseer, dynamic communicator is not included in the list.


  18. JeffD: of all your rants, in fact of ALL the IMONK rants, this theme (not just your individual post) is King Rant, in my book. I’m weary of lesser fights, at least as I see them, but I going to *%&$%&^$ bust something up over this one (metaphorically speaking….. of course). This rant cannot be oversaid, or overplayed: this one gets at the core nature of the KING and HIS Kingdom. This is a sickness that breeds many other sniffles and sneezes.

    Keep banging on that cow-bell, dude……. yeah, MORE COW-BELL…….


  19. So, clergy are self-sacrificing sages, but somebody in the congregation is a “Joe Schmoe” with “ulterior motives”? I have no doubt that they are “invested” (an amusing double-entendre, if not triple), but maybe this is part of the problem.


  20. This is a good point, but what kind of work can produce enough income to support a family and also offer enough time off to minister to a congregation?


  21. While not a full out train nerd, I live in a train city (Fort Worth, TX) and have a lot of appreciation for how rail built my hometown even though I often have to straighten the pictures on the wall due to the trains (BNSF & UP) that run about 50 yard from my back door.


  22. “….and my observation is that most of the demand among mega goers to meet with the pastor is some kind of ego-stroking. They don’t need help necessarily, they want to feel important and celebritized….”

    Interesting observation. My experience has been that this goes both ways. Members of the congregation want to be ego-stroked by the celebrity pastor, and the wanna-be celebrity pastor needs to be ego-stroked by the congregation. If you don’t do the expected ego-stroking, they basically don’t want you at that church (or in that pulpit). It’s a recipe for serious church dysfunction.


  23. Or the IFB/SGM/CC types where only the Founding Pastor/Head Apostle gets to say who can be on the elder board.


  24. “Coolness test” applies only to End Time Speculation (“Since we don’t know the details, our speculations should at least be Cool” — SciFi Catholic).

    But this speaker sounds like if he were planting a high school ministry, he’d go after only the Quarterbacks and Cheerleaders. Only the Cool(TM) are welcome here; the rest of us can all go to Hell. Christ is god of only the Cool Crowd, nobody else.

    I know I wouldn’t be welcome at such a Church of the Cool/Cosmic High School. Neither would anyone I know.


  25. I suspect Evangelical converts would be more likely to have fled this sort of thing for what they found in EO rather than dragging it in through the narthex with them. But there are probably exceptions.

    Just like all the suburban parents fleeing the Big Bad City for the exurbs. (Fictional type example: Kyle’s Mom from South Park, according to the movie’s opening aria.) They demand everything be just like they’re used to, and before they know it they’re complaining “I moved here to get away from all that!”


  26. Metropolitan Philip of the Antiochian Archdiocese was on record — way back in the mid-1990s — demanding that his priests NOT take the church-growth-movement bait.

    I suspect Evangelical converts would be more likely to have fled this sort of thing for what they found in EO rather than dragging it in through the narthex with them. But there are probably exceptions.


  27. No, I’m not assuming the pastor is a CEO, or anything like it, even. My dad is a pastor, and that church has a board of elders that is elected by the congregation, and there are just things that come up that have to be dealt with. A lot of it can be delegated, but a lot of it has to be taken care of by the pastor because no one else will do it.

    I feel like your description of a true elder-led church might be something of a fantasy in America. Most people even if they are elected to the position of an elder in a church are not going to take that much responsibility for a church. Church members figure that they’re paying the pastor, therefore, at the end of the day, he’s responsible for making things run smoothly. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong, but that’s the way it is. This is just how Americans by in large think.


  28. I don’t believe the priest converted from Evangelicalism. If he did, it would have been quite a while ago, as he has been there for almost 20 years now. I think the reason they went to the conference had less to do with church growth and more to do with discipleship within the parish. Although, I will say, this particular parish is more focused on outreach and evangelism than I’ve seen in other ones.


  29. I understand where you are coming from, but people have always been appreciate of a good communicator. And just because they really want to hear a certain person does not mean that person is not directing them to Jesus. If fact, it may be partly that person’s preaching that is inspiring them to follow Jesus.


  30. A really excellent conversation. Just a few points. First, I have extensive experience in the mega world, and my observation is that most of the demand among mega goers to meet with the pastor is some kind of ego-stroking. They don’t need help necessarily, they want to feel important and celebritized. Pastors could preempt this easily by being uncool. Be an actual shepherd, and this kind of demand goes away. Last I checked, shepherds weren’t glamorous. The problem, of course, is that without this, the fickle flock goes away. They want celeb. This is the contradiction that many have noted in the Piper quote. While he may not endorse CEO leaadership, and while he may make time for actual people in his church (I can neither confirm nor deny either), he still has intentionally branded his church and ministry, and does the whole celeb thing. And if he quit, a whole bunch of folks would drift away. There is a reason megas are mega. We as Americans crave it, and will pay for it. Monetarily and spiritually.


  31. Trains are great.

    When I was 10 years old I lived a short distance a place where Canada’s 2 national railways had track side by side.
    Mile long freight trains would carry grain, cars and who knows what else in either direction.

    And when they roared by my bed would rock back and forth and put me to sleep.

    I still love trains!


  32. Sermon series give a great place to start a book! If the ‘audience’ response is good and there are a lot of request for CD/DVD copies, time to put it in print! Just finished a series, final sermon I finally heard that it was based on a book of the bible. I am sure if I had looked a little closer in the ‘program’ I may have noticed a pattern week after week, but I can’t help but think the theme is picked and then the bible is applied. How many books of the bible are about ‘christian leadership’ anyhow?

    The more I observe our pastor (in a Saddleback styled church) I realize he is torn. He wants the ‘successful’ church, but the success hampers his desire to also be a shepard. Right now he is dealing with a small group of unhappy members that he has had close personal ties with in the past; the pain of his ‘failure’ caused him to ask an associate pastor to give that weeks sermon. Unfortunately this action just gives the unhappy more faults to find.

    No show and no mention of the changes in who was giving the sermon. Our head pastor sees this incident as a problem in his role as shepard. Trying to balance the signing of purchase agreements for buildings and also caring for individuals is a tough spot to be in and I can understand why some would choose one over the other.


  33. This reminds me of a piece in Christianity Today from a few years back where the author spoke at a conference and afterwards met another speaker who was planting a church for ‘cool’ people. They must have a ‘coolness’ test as part of their membership application. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.


  34. And by “true elder led” I mean a group of elders where the entire congregation gets to decide who’s on the board.

    I’m not discussing the Anglican/RCC/etc.. types of churches or ones where only the elder board gets to say who can be on the elder board.


  35. Unfortunately, there are business aspects to deal with in every congregation, and pastors have to deal with them. So I think having some knowledge about things like finance and that sort of thing is a necessary evil.

    But you are assuming the pastor is the CEO.

    A true elder led church would make sure they have that expertise on the board on hire people they trust. And not allow the pastor to think they are a CEO.


  36. My interest in trains? I’ll try and keep this short… My Dad’s family is from Butte, Montana and has a rich history in Montana going back to when it was a territory. When I was a kid growing up in California in the 1980’s my great uncle and my grandmother each spoke about how much they loved taking the train. My great uncle warmly told me about watching the Milwaukee Road’s Olympian Hiawatha back into Butte. My grandmother told me stories growing up about what a delight it was to ride the Northern Pacific out of Butte. She talked about the elegance of train travel, the meals in the dining car, and being tended to by a porter. My grandmother was not fond of flying and she missed the train. Hearing all that when I was growing up made a big impression on me, and I became a junkie. I rail fan CSX here in the DC area. I’ve driven hundreds of miles to go to museums, or attend Norfolk Southern’s 30 anniversary in Spencer, North Carolina last summer. (This was before I got ill….) History wise I am a member of the Milwaukee Road Historical Association, Northern Pacific Historical Society and Great Northern Historical Society. And I’m also involved in a local train club. So in short…trains are my crack. 😛 When I lived in Wisconsin I watched the Wisconsin Central in its final year of operation until it was taken over by Canadian National. I still don’t know if I can forgive you for that! 😉


  37. Then that communicator needs to look hard in the mirror and find our and change why the congregation is following him instead of Jesus.


  38. Phil,

    Makes me wonder if your deacon friend’s priest is a convert from Evangelicalism. Sometimes we converts have trouble gaining an EO understanding of things.

    I’ve read the ads for the Catalayst conferences; if were still Evangelical, I still wouldn’t go to one – too much triumphalism even in the ads.

    If I were that deacon, I would urge my priest to talk with the bishop about this, and if he didn’t, I would. “Growing the church” looks really different in an EO setting – much more like Jeff describes good shepherds. We have our share of “leaders,” but those few are acting in a manner that is not the EOrthodox way.



  39. I personally think it is genetic. All the train “nuts” I know are the off spring of train nuts. And it seems to be mostly a male thing only passed on through the male side of a family. 🙂


  40. Yes, but yours was one third the length, giving us valuable time to see who is doing what in spring training….



  41. “If the people of God won’t help you in your hour of need, why would you think that God Himself would help you? If leaders of a church reject you, how, through the fog of your life’s difficulty, are you supposed to work out that God won’t likewise reject you?”

    Sarah, I can so relate to what you said here. At my former church, I didn’t understand that they were actually a business that was interested only in numerical growth. I wondered why the leaders there were loathe to help or even reach out to my friends who were disabled. For a long time I felt that I must have been doing something wrong by helping them. And I could not get any leaders to help me help them. Later it hurt me so much to find out that they were considered the “weak and the weird”, and the leaders only wanted “sharp” people in their congregations.

    Jeff, I cried when I read your post because I have been through this for many years with my old church. I’m not sure I’ll ever completely recover from the wounds I received there until I get to heaven. One time, my husband actually rebuked a few church leaders with Ezekiel 34, and they could say nothing in their defense to him. He doesn’t know to this day how he managed to not get ostracized or rebuked in return.


  42. Yes, and I have appreciated that Andy S. quote since I first heard it. In fact, he was one I had in mind when making my comments above. He invests in a few, but cannot stop people from coming to his church to hear him preach, so being a shepherd in the traditional sense is not realistic.


  43. That is the best plan. Still, the chief shepherd sets the tone for the entire staff. If he is all about brand and meeting felt needs and marketing and numbers, his staff won’t be any different. I understand entirely the need to delegate duties and responsibilities in a large church. (And there is nothing inherently wrong with large churches.) But I don’t see how that absolves the leader from some shepherding duties, if only to set an example for the under-shepherds.


  44. Your last sentence, Phil, supports what Piper says about the professionalization of the clergy. If a pastor did not depend on the church for his income, could he then render more care to his flock? A discussion we will need to have here at some point.


  45. I also disagree with the Piper quote because I believe Pastors ARE professionals. The question is, professional whats? They are not professional leaders or organizational developers, they are professional shepherds. They are vocationally committed to specific tasks, but unfortunately, these tasks are often the first thing to go when chasing after “success.”
    Don’t get me started on the “sermon series.” Those just grind my gears. Completely un-necessary, I don’t remember a single one I ever sat through, the only memory I have from them is getting angry sitting in the pews over how the most profound message in the world was getting crassly trivialized in the name of pragmatism.


  46. To quote Andy Stanley, he can “do for some what you can not do for all.” Just because you can’t be best friends with everybody in the congregation doesn’t mean you must isolate yourself from all. Stay plugged in and connected with whomever you can, on all levels of church leadership and laity. This is possible for any pastor who cares to do it.


  47. Somebody who pours out their life caring for a congregation, getting his hands dirty, honoring the needs of others over himself, laying down his life for them… If this person has not earned authority, who has? Should we just give a vote to every joe shmoe with his ulterior motives? Leaders with authority will trample others, but shepherds with authority have a shot at maintaining their own personal mental sanity. Those who do the work entrusted to them well deserve honor, imo, and to have a significantly more influential say in ecclesial matters, especially given how personally invested they are.


  48. The Catholic parishes are also way too large now for the priests to really have a lot of interaction with all the parishioners. This has to do with not enough priests, though, and the Diaconate should be able to handle these types of tasks (though how that differs from having a leader with a couple associate pastors, I’m not sure).


  49. I use the term “leader” in reference to those in charge of a church. Shepherds focus on sheep entrusted to them; leaders focus on the structure of the organization that employees them. Shepherds walk behind their flocks to be sure that they stay together and no one gets lost; leaders walk out ahead, “casting the vision” so that all know who is in charge. Shepherds are filthy and dirty from caring for filthy, dirty sheep; leaders are dressed for success. Shepherds get very little recognition; leaders get book contracts.

    I believe a little translation auf Deutsch might be appropriate here regarding “leader”.

    “Just like Fuehrerprinzip, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”


  50. I think these churches depend on the pastoral staff, and congregational leaders (especially small group leaders) to help with that shepherding.


  51. “when the church gets to 300 people, split 75 of them off into a new church plant.”

    In theory that sounds good, but in the case of dynamic communicators, people will want to hear that speaker. Most of the time your church plant will not have the same level of communicator. Therefore, do you just block the door and say no one else can come to this original church?

    This is one reason for the popularity of multi-sites. The crowds can gather at various locations and hear that same dynamic speaker.


  52. “The church is rotting from the inside-out from a lack of shepherds, leaders be damned. The sheep are scattered and are falling prey to predators, to disease, to hunger and thirst.”

    Jeff, I heard Michael a little bit in this post 🙂


  53. The American idea of a ‘successful church’ looks like a successful American corporation. Those pastors who do serve as shepherds do so over ‘failed’ churches. The ‘faithless shepherds’ didn’t create their positions; the misguided flock demands faithless shepherds.

    Very, very well said. Not only are the leaders misguided, these are precisely the TYPE of leaders that the flock is clamoring for….. “We want Saul, we want Saul….”


  54. It’s actually not even just Protestants now, either. I have a good friend who’s a deacon in an Eastern Orthodox church, and the priest took all the deacons to a Catalyst Conference a few months ago.

    I think the thing is there is a feeling of desperation among clergy that the people in their churches are largely uninvolved and aren’t invested in the church. So I tend to see pastors who try things with less cynicism and more with sympathy. It’s easy to criticize a church when your livelihood isn’t dependent on it.


  55. I have always thought that Piper quote was somewhat ironic. I actually agree with the quote (mostly), but I just don’t think Piper is one of the people who in one way or the other promotes the idea that pastors are to be these vision-casting people. Also, don’t me started on the fact that he starts the quote off by only mentioning “brothers”. Because of course, there are no women who have a genuine call to the ministry…

    In one sense I think we need to be careful that we don’t create a false dichotomy. Unfortunately, there are business aspects to deal with in every congregation, and pastors have to deal with them. So I think having some knowledge about things like finance and that sort of thing is a necessary evil. But, yeah, trying to make everything hip or cool gets old quickly. One of my pet peeves is that it seems every pastors feels the need to have “branded” sermon series now, and along with that they have their stupid PowerPoint slides with derivative graphics and catchy titles.


  56. I have been a pastor for 38 years. I read and re-read those passages about being a true shepherd, a person who really loves and cares for the people around me. And I need them to love and care for me. In my first pastorate, the person who called us reminded us that what the people in the congregation needed to know was that we really, really loved them. We are called to sacrifice for them, and not to ask them to make us great.
    Oh, yes, I was ambitious, I wanted public attention and fame. But God kept showing me that God cares for the one, that God cares if i am obedient, and God cares that I demonstrate God’s kindness and grace.
    I have former members who go to those mega-churches. But when the crisis comes, the death, the questions, they want a person, not the preacher they have never met, to be in their lives.
    We are NOT professionals. We are not too good to be friends with those in our churches. We don’t have answers to all the questions. No training or study can make us able for every circumstance. We are simply called out to share our gifts and help ourselves and our congregations know the presence of God.


  57. Slaughter some and sell the meat?

    No, seriously, what *would* a real shepherd do? Find another shepherd to help him, I guess.


  58. A good friend who is a pastor once said that he couldn’t ‘shepherd’ more than about 300 people attending. At that point he would become their CEO, not their pastor. His answer: when the church gets to 300 people, split 75 of them off into a new church plant.


  59. I couldn’t agree more but there is more (sorry). The other side is that most churches, even small, struggling, tradiational churches, are looking, not for a shepherd but a CEO who will ‘grow our church’. I remember a discussion of Richard Foster’s ‘The Challenge of the Disciplined Life’ in a seminary class a few years ago. After listening to all the would-be ministers (in their variety of ministries) full of idealism talk about devotion and service and spirituality, I couldn’t help but point out that this all sounds great and I couldn’t agree more, but you’ll never get a job. Churches aren’t looking for pastors, teachers, spiritual leaders (sorry) or shepherds – they are looking for a CEO with a bag of tricks to grow their church. As I interviewed for church positions (which I did in those days) I was amazed that most of those churches were more interested in the fact that I had started and run a successful business than they were in my seminary education or church experience (or my character, devotion, etc.). The American idea of a ‘successful church’ looks like a successful American corporation. Those pastors who do serve as shepherds do so over ‘failed’ churches. The ‘faithless shepherds’ didn’t create their positions; the misguided flock demands faithless shepherds.

    We really need to start over – re-educate (from biblical models) our (American) churches about what church IS and how it ministers (and even what ‘ministry’ is – to a lot of churches that Christmas train IS ministry!). My deepest fear is that the only way that will happen is with some sort of ‘great shaking’ that none of us will enjoy but might be the best thing for us.


  60. Oh my goodness…this is such a great article. I can’t tell you how many pastors I personally know who are doing exactly what you have laid out in this post, including the GQ magazine!! So sad…


  61. “It is not more bigness that should be our goal. We must attempt, rather, to bring people back to…the warmth of community…of individuals working together as a community, to better their lives and their children’s future.” (Robert F. Kennedy)

    My wife and I chose our current church before we even visited…Not because they had a dynamic pastor; In fact, the pastor is changed every few years by the denominational leadership. Nor did we choose this church because the leadership was forward-thinking, innovative, or aggressive in its outreach. We also did not choose because the church offers a plethora of programs designed by leadership to somehow make us “better”.

    Instead, we chose this church because we knew that it offered the warmth of community. That’s what we needed, and what we wanted our daughters to grow up in. I could be haughty and say, “We picked our church because they’re true to the Gospel…”, because they are…and maybe we picked for spiritually immature reasons. Bottom line is, though, when I read Acts 2, and when I read The Didache, I see more signs of The Church in this little rural church than I do in the hologram broadcast from an Atlanta “campus” that people are watching preach on Sunday mornings a few miles down the road.

    Acts 2:42-46 demonstrates the ultimate evangelism strategy…Live together in warm community, for the world to see. Acts 2:47 is proof that it works. You don’t need catchy phrases or a pastor who dresses in skinny jeans and Ed Hardy t-shirts to get the BITS (butts in the seats).


  62. If a minister/pastor is well-liked, especially his sermons/communication, and as a result the congregation grows to the size in which he is not longer able to shepherd on an individual to individual basis, what can he do?


  63. I often wonder whether the whole “sheep / shepherd” model hasn’t outlived its usefulness. Not only does it suggest that we are literally two different animals, it arguably mislocates authority in the clergy rather than in the congregation.


  64. I note with irony that your post about “shepherdless flocks” comes on the same day the pope’s abdication takes effect.


  65. Shepherds live with the sheep and care for them the way the sheep in Psalm 23 are provided for, with the goal of reaching the House of the Lord. Which, BTW, is not an after-death destination.

    Ovine agribusinessmen build fences of doctrine and maintain them with weekly sermons, rather than actually providing real care for the flock.


  66. This is true, but it is also true that many mainlines have been infected by the “church growth” movement and work hard to play at being Evangelical. Back in the late ’80s or early ’90s I was on my church’s council. The pastor gave each of us a book on how to grow a church. It involved dismantling the community we already had and building something else, which under no circumstances should look anything like a Lutheran church. My response is that if I wanted to go to a not-Lutheran church, I had ample opportunities. Who would it serve to convert an existing Lutheran church into a not-Lutheran church (in all but name, and the name should be suppressed as well)? I didn’t have the background then to recognize what was going on with this book. I am happy to say that nothing came of it, but many mainlines were offered the same bait and many took it.


  67. There is a beautiful song by Ricky Skaggs called “Seven Hillsides” that provides a picture of a true pastor. Youtube doesn’t have him doing it, but here at least is the song. May there be more pastors like him.


  68. This is one of those posts where when the phrase “the church” is used, I can’t help but feel that it is mostly evangelical mega-churches to which reference is being made. The mainline churches, in which I live and move and have my being, have many pastors that meet the criteria you give above for true pastors. They aren’t perfect, by any means; they sometimes get caught up in the wrong side of church politics,and because the populations of their churches are in decline, some of them have reasonable concern about finding a workable and faithful model for church growth. But they are there for their flocks, visiting in the hospitals, teaching in the Sunday schools, praying with the afflicted, feeding the hungry. Please remember when you reference “the church” that the evangelical mega-churches do not comprise the entire church; and if numbers aren’t ultimately what’s important, as this blog has regularly asserted (and I agree), then just because there are more people in those mega-churches doesn’t make them the center of gravity for defining “the church.” Please remember the rest of us, small in number though we be; and please remember our pastors, who, however falteringly, really do try to lead by following.


  69. I liked this rant. My husband is a shepherd. He could be a snazzy leader type if he was in the right environment, but he chooses not to. We work in a city where there are seriously good speakers, theologians, Bible teachers – and we work together, in our patches to shepherd our flocks. It makes for a great mission environment and very little competitiveness between churches. So may I commend the south west of England for a great place to visit sheep and shepherds (both literally and metaphorically- it’s very rural here…)


  70. ‘I’ve been told there are still plenty of shepherds out there. Ok. I know there are some who do care, who labor outside of the spotlight and thus go unnoticed.’
    Precisely – but you should change that to ‘many’.


  71. I love Keller’s “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”.

    There’s nothing quite as spiritually awful as, after years of relative stability, suddenly being at a place in your life where you’ve metaphorically fallen down (maybe slipped, maybe pushed, maybe a consequence of an action you couldn’t control, doesn’t matter) and you can’t seem to get back on your feet, just like a “cast sheep”….you stifle your pride and acknowledge your current state of dependence and you ask for help from the leaders of your church…and they inform you that they’ve chosen not to help you. If the people of God won’t help you in your hour of need, why would you think that God Himself would help you? If leaders of a church reject you, how, through the fog of your life’s difficulty, are you supposed to work out that God won’t likewise reject you? If “corrupt shepherds” can give lip service to Christ while acting like their own gods and not be called out and tossed out by the church as a whole, how can one trust anyone calling themselves a pastor? If God is the only one who’s going to help you in your tribulation, and you’re told you have to find Him and His help on your own, what’s the point of being part of a church? If going to church and being a “Christian” seems to turn you into someone who doesn’t help other people, what’s the point of being Christian? These questions still trouble me years after my toxic church experience. I should add that the words of judgment in Scripture towards false shepherds make me tremble, because the “pastor” of that toxic church was recently afflicted with a life-threatening condition that subjected him to the judgmentalism of his congregation and affected his ability to speak.

    When I was a ministry leader, I took the role of shepherd/servant very seriously, recognizing that the people participating in my ministry were the ones God entrusted me to keep an closer eye on. I don’t see much of that in churches anymore, all I see are people going through life in their own mirror-walled mental spaces, caring only about themselves and their personal agendas and achievements — church leaders included. It is indeed a scandal. 😦


  72. Seriously…this is one of the reasons why I am drawn to the church I am checking out in NOVA. It’s not obsessed with growth, and its a medium congregation. They are not church planting constantly, and the pastor’s make time for the congregation. I’ve meet with two pastor’s and thrown hard stuff at them. Things like why does a loving God allow a 6 year old to be molested? Why is a God like that good? To discussing the problem of reformed theology and getting it out of my system. (I wish I could just take a “Spiritual ExLax” that’s designed to purge bad theology from my system) The congregation as I learned is around the corner from a cult that’s appearing more and more in the news, people flock there and are encouraged. When I heard that my respect started to go up. The Pastor has spoken on stage about dealing with his wife’s breast cancer and how they relate and grow close to people in the congregation suffering from cancer. They’ve handled themselves well in talking about difficult stuff in the OT (Ruth and the Moabites) and have been respectful about sex. This weekend they start talking about Genesis and Creation and I will listen carefully to what is said and weigh it. If it becomes the classic fundamentalist agenda driven by Ken Ham than that will be an issue for me. But I’ll see what happens this weekend.

    Aside from that I’m personally sick with how many pastors have sold them-self out to a business model. It’s just grow, grow, grow…and how BTW can a “pastor” (that’s in quotes for a reason) take care of people if he runs a mega church of 7,000 to 10,000? This was one of the reasons why I lost a lot of respect and am harsh on McLean Bible with Lon Solomon. Mark Batterson of National Community Church will meet with people and respond to emails. He did so with me so I have to give him credit.

    BTW…in closing I have to take issue with John Piper being used as a source. John Piper IS a professional demagogue. He’s very much consumed with being a leader and having to be in the spotlight. Two weeks ago he went down to Sovereign Grace Louisville and endorsed and supported CJ Mahaney. Currently Sovereign Grace is going through a growing class action lawsuit for covering up child abuse, engaging in such activities as forcing a 3 year old to forgive her molester, adult woman being stripped and spanked, and teaching people not to report crimes to the local civil authorities and covering them up. For Piper to stand next to and publicly support the cult leader of a shepherding cult is outrageous. Instead of caring for those who were hurt and calling another to task (especially after Rob Bell, etc..) John Piper just showed how corrupt he is. For a demagogue am I surprised? No at all… But John Piper is not a pastor in the way you describe what a pastor is.

    End rant….good post Jeff.


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