Assertion: In Scripture, the dominant model for spiritual leadership is that of shepherd and flock.
Question: Are you ready to get physically involved as we examine this model further? If so, get out your pen and be ready to write down some names.
Now, imagine that you are confronting a real “biggie” and you desperately need council. Maybe temptation has taken you under for the third time. You have just done the worst sin of your life—again. Then again. And you don’t even know how to confess it, let alone extricate yourself.
Or maybe you face a major decision: marriage, business, career.
Or possibly a parenting challenge is pushing you beyond desperation. Or your marriage is in deep trouble.
Maybe your business is going down the tubes. Or the doctor has just said you have a life-threatening illness.
Or your faith is on the rocks. Or . . . ?
Whatever the crisis may be, you are in desperate need of safe, wise, and loving counsel.
Where would you turn for help? Who are those special persons you are most likely to turn to when your back hits the wall? Do you have a specific name and face in mind? Now, are you ready for the exercise? Okay, jot down the names of the first three persons to whom you might turn. Do it now.
Now stop and ponder this: Why did these particular persons come to mind? I have kept mental notes across the years on reasons people have given for selecting their specific names. Maybe some of their reasons match yours.
- I know __________ well and I already have some sort of relationship with him or her.
- I see __________ as experienced and competent enough to give wise counsel.
- __________ is available. I can always find him or her.
- __________ is approachable. I find it comfortable to open up with him or her.
- __________ is hospitable, expresses love to me in several ways, and often leaves opportunities for conversation.
- I have watched __________ make sound spiritual decisions in his or her own life.
- __________ loves God and knows God’s word.
- __________ is respected by the people I most admire.
Now, ponder this revealing question: Are any of those persons on your list elders in your church? If not, this reveals something deeply disturbing! Why did no elders come to mind? Of course some names may be friends or a spouse or a teacher or coach and so on. But is there no elder to whom you would feel drawn in such trying circumstances?
Maybe you think that the church leaders you know just don’t want to be bothered—that they seem more interested in organizational and institutional “church business” than in your spiritual issues—or in you as a person. Possibly your church views itself as a corporation (arguably the most common distortion in today’s churches) and its circle of elders may resemble a board of directors expected to “manage the church.” They may even have been chosen because of sharp human leadership qualities: executive expertise, business acumen, and the administrative skills that “get things done.” Or possibly you have not found them to be hospitable. You have never been in their homes, nor they in yours.
Have you felt that church leaders of your acquaintance have little depth in the word of God? Or you see no trail of blessing in their wake. Even their own family relationships don’t impress you. Or do you sometimes feel your church leaders are out of touch with reality, more inclined to pontificate on what ought to be than to help you deal with what is? Or maybe you simply do not know them that well; you have no meaningful relationship with any of them. They don’t seem to have shepherding hearts.
More likely, however, you may have discovered that there are far more shepherds in your world than the official leaders of your church. If so—that is the way things should be . . . partially. Some of those shepherds may look a bit like my three friends: shepherd, mentor, and equipper.
Watch this space. Next time I want to introduce you to all three of these friends, and how they might fit in your world.
Lynn Anderson is the founder of Hope Network Ministries, which has been coaching, mentoring, and equipping Christian leaders since 1996. His 58 years in ministry include 11 years of church planting in his native Canada. He also served for 19 years as Senior Minister at Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, and 5 years as Senior Minister at Preston Road in Dallas. In addition to personally coaching hundreds of church leaders, Lynn has taught graduate ministry courses as an adjunct professor at Abilene Christian University and Pepperdine University. He has also authored numerous books, including “They Smell Like Sheep” and “Talking Back to God.” Lynn and his wife Carolyn live in San Antonio, Texas. They have four children, 10 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.