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Saturday, May 06, 2006

Shepherd and Sheep: Are They Relevant?

In the current issue of Leadership journal, there is an interview with megachurch pastor, Andy Stanley, who happens also to be the son of well-known radio preacher Dr. Charles Stanley.

I wonder if it's just a coincidence that he talks about pastors as shepherds since tomorrow is Good Shepherd Sunday in our lectionary (John 10).

Here is the pertinent quote:

Should we stop talking about pastors as "shepherds"?

Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, "Pastor, you're the shepherd of the flock," no. I never seen (sic) a flock. I've never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it's not culturally relevant any more.
The rest of the interview is him describing the office of the ministry purely in business terms. According to him, the old pastor as shepherd model is outdated, culturally irrelavant, and should be supplanted. So if Jesus were around today, he wouldn't have said, "I am the good shepherd," but what? I am the good CEO? I am the good administrator? And whereas he told Peter to "feed my lambs," today he'd say what? Build my team? Grow my organization?

Incidentally, this reminds me of the C.S. Lewis quote from his Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer where he says that Christ told Peter to "feed my sheep," not "experiment on my rats" or "teach my dogs new tricks."

If you erase the image of shepherd from the biblical teaching on the pastoral ministry and substitute it with purely business related motifs, you come up with a quite different animal. And it alters the nature and office of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd.

Two thoughts:

  • Pay attention to what kind of books your pastor reads. If he does not read, encourage him to do so. The congregation should expect their pastors to be bookish and scholarly. Not nerdy or geeky or socially inept. Nor neglecting his other duties. But as St. Paul stated, "apt to teach." When your pastor spends an afternoon reading and mulling over a text of theology, he is not relaxing. He is not wasting time. He is working. Studying is working. But what does he read? Check his bookshelves, if you can. My point is this. Andy Stanley said that the only books he reads are "business and history." History, I get. And business, OK. But that is it? What about books of doctrine, biblical studies, apologetics, church history, current events, etc.? What about fine works of literature, old and new?

  • Pay attention to your pastor's vocabulary. When he speaks, is it the language of business/management that you hear primarily? Or the lingo of the behavioral sciences? Or is it biblical and theological?

  • I'm not saying that using vocabulary from other disciplines is necessarily bad or wrong. And I'm definitely not in favor of archaic haughty church-speak that no one understands. In the balance, it is a fact that God's Church has its own vocabulary and ways of defining things. We must not be shy about that. But at the same time that we speak God's Word accurately and faithfully, we can learn to do so in a down-to-earth manner. Just as you are what you eat, to a great extent you are what you read. And how we speak - especially when it comes to God, His Christ and the salvation of sinners - truly shapes and determines (not merely reflects) how we think.

    Sphere: Related Content


Jan M said...

After reading your blog I went to "Pastor" Andy Stanley's North Point Community Church site. I can see that he does use the business model. VERY people driven-we have what you need-have we got the right target group for you, my friend! Why on earth would a Pastor or Shepherd of the flock be needed there? Focus groups are what is needed! Christ hardly mentioned-as usual...very sad...A very fill MY NEED place!!!

Dave Norris said...

If we stop referring to shepherds does that mean that we also have to cease speaking out against wolves that stalk the flock?

c. l. miller said...

Interestingly enough on this very topic, Rev. Willian Weedon has a good article about the Shepherd image in the May 2006 (the most recent) edition of the Lutheran Witness.

Kurt Wall said...

And this is surprising, given what we know of megachurches? Sad, yes. Disappointing, yes. Alarming, absolutely. Surprising, nope. At the local level, I have a hard time grasping how a congregation of 15,000 is about anything but the organization's needs.

Frank said...

My vicar's sermon this week focused on the fact that even though we as a society are so technologicaly advanced, we are still able to understand that we are sheep and our Lord is our shepherd. It's a shame that anyone would try and explain that imagery away.

organshoes said...

Mega-churches are hardly the sole devils.
Even small church bodies work in business language, and all sorts of secular talk, and operate under secular paradigms.
I've heard entire sermons (not *yet* in a Lutheran church) that were peptalks kicking off new Madison Avenue-style campaigns. The focus was entirely upon the church body itself, as if spreading God's word depended upon that body spreading itself--its physical structure and its influence, and the 'good news' of its sophistication and relevance.

~Mark said...

It's disappointing to hear that from Andy Stanley. On a related (no pun intended; you'll see.) note, as much as I benefit from the ministry of his father, Charles Stanley, I've heard the same complaint about the church he shepherds.

As churches become more corporate, they lose touch with the people within them, and invariable become like a business. Workers running around concerned not with pleasing God but afraid of displeasing the senior pastor, committees making decisions far out of their realm of authority, communications breakdown, squabbles over position and so on.

These things can happen in a well run, Biblically modeled (Shepherded) church too, but it's got to happen in a business model church because when you run a car like an airplane, you've GOT to crash over the cliff.

There can't be any other result.

Swern said...

Hey Jan M, I went out to North Point's website, and right there on the front page the first thing I saw was, "The mission of North Point is to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ." What more would you have wanted in terms of mentioning Christ?

Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

Swern, I have not looked at the website so maybe there's more to it. But the bit you quote could be said by any Mormon or Jehovah's Witness. It could be said by many cultists, pagans and heathens. There needs to be a bit more than that to qualify as a Christian statement.

It is not enough for a church to use the word "Jesus" a lot. Billy Hybels had a Muslim Imam come and speak at his church at a conference and the fellow said, "We Muslims love Jesus more than you Christians do."

The point is what is the content of their confession? Even in the NT, Jesus is already asking "who do men say I am?" You see, people were talking a lot about Jesus. But most of what they were saying was wrong.

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