Why does your church need leadership?
I realize this may sound too fundamental of a question, but for the sake of a short conversation, have you ever paused and wondered why churches need leadership.
More specifically, what do church leaders do?
The Bible on Church Leadership
We can find a few references to spiritual leadership in our Bible.
1 Timothy 3:1-7 – This passage provides a list of qualifications for overseers (also known as bishops or pastors) and deacons in the church.
Acts 20:28 – In this verse, the apostle Paul exhorts the church elders in Ephesus to “keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Hebrews 13:17 – This verse instructs the church members to “obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
1 Peter 5:1-4 – In this passage, Peter encourages the church’s elders to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.”
Titus 1:5-9 – This passage provides instructions for appointing elders in the church and lists the qualifications they must meet.
So biblically, we find qualifications (Timothy and Titus) and comparisons (primarily to shepherds and flocks). This is helpful and instructive to a point. If you are a pastor, though, you and I know there’s more to the role.
Or at least some metaphorical unpacking to do.
What’s the Deal With the “Shepherd” Metaphor?
In the first century, shepherds were generally viewed as low-status workers who spent most of their time out in the fields tending to their flocks. Perhaps this is enough of an answer for us church leaders!
But there is more. Shepherds were often seen as uneducated, rough around the edges, and socially isolated from the rest of society. All said, shepherding was not a highly respected occupation, as it was physically demanding and involved working with animals that were not considered clean or pure according to Jewish religious law. Shepherds were often poor and marginalized, and their work was seen as a last resort for those who could not find other forms of employment.
Honestly, I can’t think of a better professional metaphor!
There are some exceptions to this view of shepherds. For example, in the Bible, King David was a shepherd before he became a king and was often praised for his skills. Additionally, in some areas, shepherds were highly valued for their ability to provide food and resources for their communities.
If the sheep could speak, I imagine they’d be grateful for their shepherd. All except the few disgruntled sheep who transferred by letter from another flock where they were also persistently unhappy.
But I digress…
How to “Shepherd” Your Church (and Community) Flock
The authors of scripture used the “shepherding” metaphor consistently for a reason. Most obviously, everyone in the first century was intimately familiar with the shepherd and sheep relationship. Less obvious, at least to modern readers, is the purpose of a shepherd.
We can learn a lot about church leadership by understanding how shepherds lead their flock.
Shepherds use their knowledge of the terrain and their experience with their flock to guide them to safe grazing areas and water sources. They may use their voice or staff to direct the sheep and keep them together.
As pastors, we are called to do the same for our congregation. We must know the cultural terrain to best guide our congregations in and through it, not around it. We also allow our flock to flourish and multiply by understanding their world, our community, and how the Gospel fits within both today.
NOTE: Dealing with culture is a never-ending challenge. Culture isn’t the enemy, but it can be a missed opportunity. If you’re interested in learning more about culture and church engagement, check out this Course or Masterclass Experience.
Shepherds protect their flock from predators, thieves, and other dangers. They may use dogs or other animals to help guard the sheep and be on the lookout for any signs of trouble.
It’s safe to say our world is full of dangers, but not from overt predators such as wolves and thieves. Church leaders protect their flocks today by instructing them in God’s ways and highlighting the enemy’s subtle predator-like behaviors. This must always be done in love and understanding, however.
It’s important to remember that Satan is the enemy, not the tools used by Satan. Culture is not our enemy. Neither is money, travel sports, laziness, or spiritual malaise. Our job as church leaders is to protect our people by helping them see the enemy for what he is and fight against him in spirit and truth.
Shepherds ensure that their flock has enough food and water to sustain them. They may also provide medical care to sick or injured sheep and help with the birthing process for new lambs.
What do church leaders provide their flock? We offer spiritual food through preaching, small groups, and church engagement. It’s the role of church leadership to create and inspire spiritual sustenance for believers, moving them over time from spiritual milk to solid food. This also means we move them from spiritual dependence to self-feeding.
Church leaders must create and implement a discipleship pathway that allows people to progress as a Christ followers.
I believe practical preaching is a key to spiritual growth. I work with churches on preaching principles that drive application and transformation. I offer a Course and Masterclass Experience on this topic.
Shepherds develop a close relationship with their flock and can identify individual sheep based on their appearance and behavior. They learn to understand the needs and tendencies of the flock as a whole and can anticipate their movements and reactions.
This may be more plausible in a small or normal-sized church, but one church leader can’t know everyone in larger churches. But that doesn’t mean everyone can’t be known.
The church I last led had 35,000 people on our active roster and 6,000 – 8,000 attending Sunday services. I know that being known matters, so we developed systems and structures to scale knowability. Growing churches must shepherd the current flock while creating a scalable structure for new sheep to engage. This can happen if the burden of leadership is spread across the organization.
Practically, we do this by delegating leadership and responsibilities. As a senior or lead pastor, there are things that you should do. There are things that only you can do, positionally and in skill set. But there are multiple other leadership requirements that others can do with you and for you.
I’ve previously written a lot about delegation: The Five Steps of Effective Delegation or take my leadership course, where I spend an entire module on delegation.
You don’t need to know everyone. You do need a system that allows everyone to be known.
As far as I can tell, leadership is the glaring gap in the church today. Strong church leadership addresses and engages the theological debates, cultural complexities, and organizational realities. If you want to lead a great church, the first step is to become a great church leader.
I pray that God will help you lead as a shepherd. Your flock desperately needs it.
Until next time,
NEW CHURCH FUNDING MASTERCLASSES BEGINS MAY 4!
In this masterclass, we will focus on the categories of givers that currently exist in your church and how to best systematically inspire them forward in their generosity journey.
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