By Richard Hayes, District Representative, Southwest
Musings On Shepherding from a Small Town Pastor
For just a few moments I want to muse on the apostle Peter’s counsel to church elders in First Peter 5:2-3. “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” (ESV) I want to reflect on these verses in the context of the pastoral/teaching elder. In short, I want to apply Peter’s counsel to those of us who serve Jesus as a small town pastor, who may be the only truly qualified elder within a church body.
Focus with me on the very first part of verse 2: “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you”. As a rural or small town pastor, we shepherd God’s people. Why make such an obvious statement? In my new-found freedom and calling to visit many churches, I detect a trend in pastoral leadership. This possibly could have an appropriate application in a very large church, but isn’t so practical in a smaller church. The trend is not so new; I remember reading proponents of it many years ago. It must still be a popular teaching in some seminaries. The model in question is called the “Rancher” model.
At the offset, I might add, Peter’s counsel is to shepherd the flock, not be a rancher. We are dealing with sheep, not cattle. While there may be some congruencies in how one handles them, each requires their own style and method of handling. Handle them wrong and you will quickly know it.
Village Missionary Joe Levesque shares this insight:
“A rancher whistles and everybody lines up. A rancher brands and corrals. I have that tendency when forgetting to shepherd. ‘Gather, feed, inoculate, put out.’ I rarely see a rancher walking among cattle, but working above them. A shepherd works in his flock’s midst. He might get knocked over by an unruly few but the task is still at hand.”The difference between the shepherding model and the ranching model is simply this: The shepherd has hands-on, intimate contact with each of his sheep. The rancher focuses on his core group and on his leaders who, in turn, have contact with the sheep. You could see how this ranching model might be useful in a very large church.
A Reason for Concern
Here’s my concern. Ellen and I visited a church which was a church plant of a larger church. The church plant had been in existence for one year and met in a public-school cafeteria. The small town pastor of the thriving church of 35 people never introduced himself, welcomed people, or for that matter had any contact intimate or otherwise with the audience, except for when he preached. The pastor had no intimate contact with his sheep. I suspect that if we went back to that church a year from now we would find that this church plant had closed. In fact, I have witnessed this trend of pastoral ranching in several churches of various sizes.
Well, enough of my stories and musings. My concern for now is this: We are shepherds of God’s people. He as the Chief Shepherd has entrusted them to our care. Shepherding requires intimate contact. The sheep need to know the Shepherd loves them and cares about them. A good under-shepherd knows his sheep by name, visits their homes, and knows their hearts and struggles. Each of us should focus on shepherding the flock that God, in His sovereignty and grace, has entrusted to our care. I know you have a shepherd’s heart, so remember to love the people as you accurately and effectively preach, teach and minister the Word.
Another Consideration for the Small Town Pastor
One more aspect of shepherding the flock that the Chief Shepherd has entrusted to our care is this: consider the fodder/food we feed to our sheep. We all know we feed our sheep spiritual food, the Word of God.
I want to take that a step farther into the selection of the materials we use to teach the Word of God. Consider for just a moment the many resources that are available for use in our local churches. There was a time when one would evaluate such materials based upon the publisher or even the credentials of the author, and/or the theological position of both. The curriculum and publishing scene has changed dramatically over the years, but one thing that has not changed is the need for the small town pastor to exercise Godly discernment in the selection process.
I want to encourage each of us to consider carefully what we allow to be utilized in our churches. There are some basic questions to ask about materials before they are implemented:
- Who composed the curriculum?
- What are their credentials or areas of expertise to write on this subject or study? (Here’s a thought about credentials. People without credentials are usually quick to claim you do not need credentials. I do not recall ever hearing a person with the appropriate credentials ever saying that attaining the appropriate credentials were a waste of time and not necessary.)
- Who has published the material, or where is it available on the internet? (Of course, we all know, just because it is on the internet or comes up in a google search, does not mean we can trust it.)
- Is it worth what it would cost to provide a copy for each one in my class or study?
Of course, just because a resource is free does not make it worthy of being used if it failed one of the above questions/tests. Again, Godly discernment is required.
A final consideration might be the theological perspective of the author and how that might be received in your individual church.
Additional questions can be asked, but these are the basics. Here is a general principle to follow: Choose the very best material available. Why would you feed your sheep anything less than the very best? Then, trust the Lord to provide for the material He leads you to select. I trust you will find these musing and guidelines helpful as you prepare the next meal for your sheep.
Here is a possible resource if you plan to teach on Biblical Interpretation, Hermeneutics or Exegesis anytime soon. It is in a workbook format and could be a good resource for your church with your guidance: Grasping God’s Word, 3rd Edition, by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays ©2012, Zondervan. ISBN: 978-0-310-49259-7.