Shepherds Need Shepherding
Peter exhorts his fellow elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Pet 5:2). The Lord in His perfect design for the church has provided leaders to shepherd the church. Pastors shepherd, lead, preach, teach, equip, counsel, oversee, and pray for the flock. Whether from behind a pulpit or on a couch in someone’s living room, pastors are called to open up God’s Word and point people to Jesus Christ. Paul’s pastoral heart exemplifies the pastor’s goal in ministry when he says “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).
While pastors are called to shepherd the church, a question arises about who will shepherd the shepherds. As many have said, the pastor who shepherds is also a sheep in need of shepherding. Even the most godly, seasoned pastor is still a work in progress, growing into Christ-likeness and in need of the church in his life. The pastor has the same needs as every other member of the church. Every Christian is called to a life of fellowship and discipleship. Believers need prayer, encouragement, admonishment, correction, and accountability. Pastors are no different. Pastors are not exempt from life in the body of Christ just because they oversee the church. Rather, a pastor should exemplify what faithfulness to the church looks like, not simply because he is the pastor, but because he is a mature Christian. Such faithfulness to the church acknowledges that while a pastor is called to shepherd the church, he is also in need of shepherding.
Now, it is easy to give token acknowledgement to this. Most of us in pastoral ministry would quickly agree that we are still sheep in need of shepherding. Yet when it comes to practical life, many pastors live on the proverbial pedestal. For a few, this might be done out of vain, arrogant thinking that one is above and beyond the needs of the rest of the body. But for many, it is a different form of pride that leaves one on a spiritual island. Most pastors don’t desire to be on a pedestal. Often they actually want to divert attention away from themselves. And while such desires are godly when kept within biblical parameters, the problem occurs when what appears as godly selflessness is actually a grave misunderstanding of God’s design and a prideful manifestation of self-reliance. Often the thinking goes like this: “I don’t want to burden others,” or “I can figure it out on my own.” Other times, a man does not want to admit weakness or struggle in his personal or pastoral life. There is also the temptation to think of seeking counsel as admitting some sort of failure or inability. While pastoral ministry carries unique burdens and requires wisdom and sensitivity when sharing, to think that one does not need shepherding, counsel, and accountability is foolish and dangerous, and it robs one of the blessings found in the church.
Paul himself modeled the need for pastoral shepherding in the testimony of his own life. He asked people to pray for his life and ministry (Eph 3:19; Col 4:3-4). He was appropriately transparent about his own struggles with sin and how he was working through them (Rom 7:14-25; 2 Cor 12:1-10; 1 Tim 1:12-11). He also intentionally instructed, exhorted and encouraged his fellow pastor, Timothy. Paul’s letters to Timothy not only addressed theological, ecclesiastical, and pastoral issues, but they also served to shepherd Timothy personally. Paul specifically addressed issues of Timothy’s character, exhorting him toward godliness (1 Tim 4:7-16; 1 Tim 6:11-16). Paul encouraged Timothy in areas where he was tempted to become discouraged (1 Tim 4:12; 2 Tim 1:6-7). He instructed him in areas of wisdom in how to biblically shepherd sensitive situations in the church (i.e. how to shepherd older men, older women, younger women, widows, etc.; see 1 Tim 5:1-16). Paul exhorted Timothy to pay attention to his doctrine (1 Tim 4:12; 2 Tim 2:15) and to stay faithful to his calling (2 Tim 2:6; 2 Tim 4:2). In other words, Paul shepherded a shepherd.
Pastors need this kind of shepherding. The man who thinks he does not need shepherding and accountability places himself in a dangerous place. Flying solo is dangerous for the church and for the individual. And while pastoral leadership carries unique burdens and trials, God never intended for any believer, including the pastor, to live on an island. This is one of the reasons God designed a plurality of elders to oversee the church. God designed elders to shepherd the church, and part of shepherding the church is shepherding each other. This is part of the beauty and wisdom of God’s design. I might be a shepherd, but I am also a sheep. My soul as a pastor has the same need as everyone else in my church and to think otherwise is pride. As pastors, we need fellowship, we need accountability, we need correction, we need encouragement, we need men shepherding our souls and presenting us perfect in Christ, and we need prayer! As shepherds we still need shepherding.
Pastor, who do you have in your life shepherding you? If you are married, your wife is certainly a most precious gift from the Lord for the care of your soul, but hopefully our desire for accountability goes much further than that. Do you have other men, whether inside the church or outside the church, who speak into your life? Do you make yourself accountable? Do you confess sin, asking for prayer and admonishment? Do you train the men you are discipling to disciple you? Do you seek out counsel? Do you allow others to bear your burdens and encourage you toward Christ-likeness? The church is a gift for the believer’s life. Every believer needs shepherding, including the shepherds themselves. As shepherds, may we enjoy the shepherding care of the Lord by allowing others to shepherd us.
Justin McKitterick is one of our seven TES campus pastors, having served as the Pastor-Teacher of Grace Community Church in Jacksonville, Florida since 2011.