Shepherd’s Care: Shepherd

We’re exploring the shape of pastoral ministry as we find it in 1 Peter 5:1-11

The second dimension comes to us through the  phrase “tend the flock.”   Pastoral ministry means being a shepherd.

I realize that some today interpret that almost exclusively in an historical context, where shepherding was a dominant concept.  Some of those who do this go on to discount the feasibility and/or possibility of being a shepherd today.

My response to this is twofold.  First, I do not want to discount the differences between being a minister in the first century with being one in the twenty-first century.  The differences are many and some of the differences are substantial.  I believe that failure to acknowledge this only creates an artificial ideal—which quickly becomes a frustrating one.

But secondly, we are dealing with scripture.  The Bible does not play “fast and loose” with concepts.  To lay down the idea of being a shepherd to a flock must surely have some definitive aspects and transferable concepts.  I don’t want to stop the conversation before we examine what those might be.

I’m not suggesting that we simply make a list of “things shepherds did” and overlay them on ministry today.  That doesn’t quite seem to hit the mark either.

What I want to suggest, however, is that the concept of “shepherd” remains valid.  It describes the relational nature of ministry.  Without that, we can “over-professionalize” ministry today, becoming career-oriented “shopkeepers” (using Eugene Peterson’s term), with skills directed toward institutional maintenance (survival) more than to missional faithfulness.

Moreover, to understand myself as a “shepherd” (yes, I think the same challenges exist among professors, not just pastors) is to make such things as valuing, caring, and protecting part of the picture—not just “growth” and “effectiveness.”  In other words, it is to keep the personal dimension at the center, not the institutional dimension.

But having said this, I still know good pastors who struggle to remain shepherds.  The “push and pull” of contemporary ministry is overwhelmingly toward professionalism, careerism, and maintenance—so that, at the end of the day, there seems to be little time and energy left for the things more closely associated with being a shepherd.

I end today’s post with the conviction that we must not abandon the idea of being “shepherds” to those we serve, but I also end it with compassion as I realize that the ability to do that will not come without challenge—from our supervisors, our members, and maybe even ourselves.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to Shepherd’s Care: Shepherd

  1. Dr. Geneva Silvernail says:

    I like the idea of shepherding and the new covenant movement that seems to be bringing it back in focus. Anything carried to the extreme becomes painful to the church. I have seen intentional care becomes paternalism in missions. I have seen in some churches that the personality of the charsmatic leader became more important that the Shepherd whom we are to follow. I want to be Christlike and shepherd others in the way that He did with love–without manipulation–whether it be at work, at home, or in the church. Thanks Steve for the reminder.

  2. Tony Fotsch says:

    “Moreover, to understand myself as a “shepherd” (yes, I think the same challenges exist among professors, not just pastors) is to make such things as valuing, caring, and protecting part of the picture—not just “growth” and “effectiveness.” In other words, it is to keep the personal dimension at the center, not the institutional dimension.”

    To our “Pastor,” Dr. Harper: we at ATS will ever be indebted to the lives you and Jeannie lived as our “Pastor’s Pastor” while at seminary, and in these years since. The wisdom of Scripture, enlightened by this post, has been enlivened in you!

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