Moving From Managers to Shepherds (May-Aug 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Lynn Anderson
May – August, 2004

It was a Kodak moment. Bill’s silver hair and frail figure evidenced his nearly eighty years, but his face glowed with obvious affection for Mike. Mike, twenty-something, tough, athletic—and months into a recovery program—stood beside Bill in the baptistery. As Bill spoke soft, clear words, Mike nodded slightly, and they locked eyes in a way that left the whole congregation feeling the special bond between the two men.

Age and huge social differences could have stood between the two men. Bill a retired CEO. Mike a product of the streets. But Bill had been doing what God called shepherds to do. Rather than merely sitting on a church board, managing an institution and calling shots he had been in the pasture with the sheep. At breakfasts together, they shared father-son communication like Mike had never known with his birth father—and where Mike had taken recovery’s fifth step ( “Admit to God and one other person the exact nature of your wrongs”). Quiet hours over open Bibles in soul-deep, life-shaping discussion built a bridge from Bill’s heart to Mike’s, and Jesus walked over. Mike says he wants to be like Bill. Over time, Mike had been loved to Jesus—and into Bill’s flock.

Bill and Mike dramatically illustrate two key principles:
First, the dominant Biblical metaphor for spiritual leadership is “shepherd and flock.” Stated another way: A spiritual leader is the kind of person that God-hungry people want to be like.

Second, this style of leadership connects powerfully in these postmodern times. Young persons today are persuaded most effectively through genuine relationships, in authentic community, with persons of real integrity. Postmodern people give little credence to yesterday’s “authority figures” but hungrily seek today’s “wisdom figures.” Oh yes, Jesus’ way of doing things is the most effective “ministry strategy” in our postmodern world.

But relational, shepherd-flock spiritual leadership is certainly not new. Look across the hills of sacred history. The dominant Biblical metaphor for spiritual leadership is “Shepherd and flock.” It is never “manager!” The metaphor was born in Heaven: God is our Shepherd (Psalm 23). Of course, everything that matters much flows out of the nature of God.

Eventually God referred to the human leaders of His people—the prophets, priests and kings of Old Testament times—as Shepherds of His flock (Psalm 78:70-71; Ezekiel 34).
Then came Jesus—“the good shepherd” (John 10).

Again, the human leaders of God’s people in New Testament times are called shepherds of the flock. The apostles, first (John 21:15-19). Later, elders of the church (Acts 20:28-31; 1 Peter 5:3-51).

Zoom in here and note carefully what the Bible says Shepherds do for flocks. The Bible says that elders do the following:

 

    • “Guard the flock, watch out for the flock, feed the flock—Acts 20:28-30.

 

  • “Equip the flock for ministry”—Ephesians 4:10-14.

 

 

  • “Care for the flock, direct the affairs of the flock (like a father cares for his children) and teach the flock.”—1 Timothy 3:5ff

 

 

  • “Encourage the flock, refute falsehood.”—Titus 1:9-10

 

 

  • “Pray for the flock, anoint the sick.”—James 5:14

 

 

  • “Serve the flock, lead the flock, be an example to the Flock.”— 1 Peter 5:1-5

 

 

  • Finally, they “keep watch over the flock” (lose sleep like a night sentry)—Hebrews 13:17

 

This is how the Bible describes what shepherds do for flocks. Shepherding as people-work. It is mostly about relationships.

Now, by way of contrast, notice what the Bible does not say shepherds do for flocks (yet it is where many modern church leaders spend the preponderance of their “shepherding” time!):

 

    • Manage buildings, budgets, personnel and programs

 

  • Boss people around

 

 

  • Think for other people

 

 

  • Call the shots and make the decisions

 

 

  • Legislate in matters of opinion

 

 

  • Grease the squeaky wheels

 

 
These are days of growing disenchanted with institutional religion—even among sincere believers! Many committed younger Christians find little attraction toward corporate church structures—and even less interest in maintaining them. A seminary professor told me that his brightest and most sincere seminarians, though feeling called to ministry, show little interest in the traditional roles of church leaders. Maybe this is at least in part because they believe that traditional church leadership is not necessarily Jesus’ plan for spiritual leadership.

And there is good news! Younger believers and un-churched postmoderns are showing incredible interest in the very kinds of things the Bible says shepherds are to be for their flocks: mentors of personal integrity, in authentic community and in genuine relationships.

And further, the good news is that more and more church leaders—elders and ministers—want to do this. They want out of the boardroom and into the pasture. And many, while aware that the shift from managing board to shepherds’ circles is a journey that may take a decade—it is a journey they are eager to make. They know too that, while a thousand-mile journey begins with one step, that step must be taken or the journey will never be made. Across the country church leaders identify the following first steps along that journey— and are eagerly stepping out.

1.Learn shepherding skills
Before attempting to shift structures, the leaders know they must actually be shepherding people. As one friend put it, “I am not going to let anyone make an elder out of me unless I already have a flock.” Get intentional—now—learning shepherding and equipping skills. (For training resources contact Hope Network Ministries: hopenet@ont.com.)

2. Delegate management to the deacons
Buildings, budgets, personnel and programs… Deacons are “spiritual leaders” too. The first deacons were to be spiritual men “full of the Holy Spirit and faith” (Acts 6). The qualities of deacons call for spiritual maturity (1 Tim. 3:8-13). And deacons are part of the leadership team (Phil. 1:1). The difference between deacons’ and elders’ work is not that elders’ work is spiritual and deacons’ is menial. Rather, the difference seems to be determined by giftedness. As Peter put it, some leaders have teaching gifts while others have serving gifts (I Pet. 4:10-11). But all these are spiritual gifts intended for the “good of the body.” It is not too wide of the mark then, to suggest that deacons are also mentors and equippers for ministry. The expression “deacon” in our Greek New Testament could be translated “servant leader” in English. In our context at least part of their role is to lead and equip those who care for buildings, budgets, personnel and programs.

So wise elders know that if they are to free up time for shepherding, they must methodically delegate managerial tasks to good deacons. To pass the baton from the shepherds to the servants, a shepherd must do this:

 

    • Spot servant leaders

 

  • Clarify specifically what they are delegating

 

 

  • Thoroughly train and equip those to whom it is delegated

 

 
Make sure you are willing to let go! Then assure them you will be available for counsel and guidance but promise not to take it back. And—keep your promise!

3. Turn “The Herd” into “Flocks”
Slicing the church up into the same number of chunks as there are elders does not turn those fragments into flocks. Shepherding by zones doesn’t work, either. Real flocks are made of folks who have relational affinity with their shepherd. Congregations get to this in several ways. Here are just two ways: first, some work through the church directory, a few names at each shepherds’ meeting. Each shepherd tells all he knows about family in the directory, thus clarifying what family belongs naturally in what shepherd’s flock. The families unknown to any of the shepherds are specifically assigned to an elder to assure that no person falls through the cracks, becoming sheep without a shepherd. Second, in some churches the shepherds ask the members of the congregation to state which shepherd they feel the most natural relationship with. Then they link shepherds up on that basis but spread the sheep as evenly as possible among the shepherds (for a helpful instrument here contact Jim Hackney).

4. Turn management meetings into shepherds’ circles
As the number of elders in a church expands, meetings can bog down into growth-stalling bureaucracy, taking the shepherds away from the sheep. Congregations have found helpful alternative approaches.
Some churches carve out of their elders an administrative trio (or duet or quartet) to manage the buildings, budgets, personnel and programs of the church.

Some rotate elders through this trio, with limited tenure in this role. Some delegate management to the staff. Others think it more biblical to delegate this management to capable deacons who, in concert with staff, touch base regularly with a small administrative trio of elders.

Some hire a full-time church administrator. Some use their own combination of the above. But, whichever approach is taken, it is terribly important that someone is minding the store. And equally important that elders spend more valuable shepherding time being shepherds—and less having meetings. Also, whatever meetings they do hold can then become Shepherds’ circles for prayer, encouragement, and Bible study.

5. Let leaders lead
What is everybody’s business is nobody’s business. So things go best when there is a designated leader keeping “all the wagons headed west.” However, by “leaders” we do not mean “bosses” or autocrats, nor merely charismatic personalities. And we definitely don’t mean a “one man show” detached from the rest of the leadership team. Rather, think quarterback. Or trail guide. Or player-coach. Envision a person who gathers up the values and passions of the body and points these in a doable direction. Think in terms of persons who trigger action and spell out plans and make sure things keep happening according to plan. In most cases, the minister is most naturally this leader, but not necessarily so. Whoever this person is, they should be visionary with clear leadership gifts—ideally a person with some training in leadership—and who has time to lead.

Above all the church must empower this person to lead! Otherwise, as Lyle Schaller says, “You destine your churches to grow no larger than a committee of amateurs can manage—part time.”

Yes, the journey from managers to shepherds may take a decade. Ah, but the benefits are so very much worth it. When shepherds shepherd good things happen: the flock gets better care. More leaders get equipped and empowered, so the overall ministry capacity of the church expands. Then, the shepherds find multiplied shoulders upon which to spread the burden. Thus weariness diminishes, and leaders find Joy. Plus—then God-hungry people in our postmodern world can find the integrity, community and wisdom figures for which they long—right here in the body of Christ.

Most important of all, Jesus’ style will be implemented and God’ designs will be honored among His people.New Wineskins

Lynn Anderson is an author, well-known speaker, and founder of the San Antonio based Hope Network Ministries, a ministry dedicated to coaching, mentoring and equipping church leaders. Lynn Anderson.org

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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