Among Jesus’ last commandments to the Apostle Peter prior to his ascension was to feed his sheep and to tend his sheep (John 21). Have you ever thought deeply about what these commandments mean and how they practically apply to the way pastors and elders are to serve in the church today? I have found The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Z. Witmer very helpful in thinking through and practically applying shepherding practices to the churches in which I have served as an elder. This book is helpful and practical for not just pastors, but especially the lay elders, who frequently end up in a purely advisory role in leadership.
The book begins by examining the concept of shepherding from the scriptures. It explains the following ideas:
- God is the ultimate shepherd of his people.
- Old Testament leaders such as Moses and David functioned (and failed) as shepherds of God’s flock.
- God spoke through prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel on the subject of shepherding.
- Jesus Christ is the perfect model of a shepherd that we today are to work under.
Then the author focuses on what a shepherd does, both in tending to the needs of a whole congregation, and also caring for particular sheep in the flock. Elders are challenged to know which sheep God has called us to oversee and at the same time, develop personal contact with individual sheep. We are to feed them with the whole counsel of God publicly and nurture them through discipling relationships. We are also to protect the sheep from false doctrines and keep them from wandering away from their relationship with Christ.
The last portion of the book focuses on the implementation of biblical shepherding in a congregation. What does one need to focus on in the context of his particular congregation? How does the leadership develop a plan for an effective shepherding ministry that involves the pastors, elders and deacons? Our church leadership has especially found helpful the practice for pastors and elders to hold each other accountable in fulfilling their personal shepherding responsibilities to the flock and each other.
I recommend this book for all those who are in pastoral ministry—either as full time elders or as lay elders—to help evaluate how they are doing with the help of God’s Word. It would also be very enlightening for all men who are considering and praying about pastoral ministry by giving them a more realistic picture of the work that they are aspiring to.