Having had the privilege of being raised in a family dedicated to Christ and His Church, I often heard the word “under-shepherd” as a reference to the pastor. The meaning of the word required minimal explanation. We knew Christ as the great shepherd of the sheep and viewed the pastor as the one responsible for shepherding, in his name and on his behalf, the congregation of which I was a part.
Now as a pastor search consultant, I assist congregations as they write position descriptions for their under-shepherds. Interestingly, I have not been part of writing one that mirrors the ministry of the Great Shepherd of the Sheep.
Surely there are similarities between the two. Most congregations hope for an under-shepherd or pastor who will, like Jesus, establish and maintain a dynamic relationship with God the Father, preach and teach the Gospel, provide spiritual direction and pastoral care for the sheep, and reach out into the community.
But they differ in, at least, three ways. Today most congregations expect their pastors to provide some form of organizational leadership and institutional management. Jesus did not do much, if any, of that. Nor did he need to as the charismatic founder of a movement. That function would be left to those that followed him.
Most congregations also expect that the under-shepherd will hangout with the healthy sheep of the pasture: visit homes, attend pot-luck dinners, support fund-raisers. Jesus was more of an on-call kind of shepherd (a spiritual EMT) who tended to the wayward, the guilt-ridden, and those sick unto death. When Jesus visited a home, for example, someone was dead or dying, spiritually or physically.
Finally, and most-importantly, Jesus devoted much of his time and energy to training his successors, the Twelve Apostles. Even a surface level reading of the Gospels reveals a significant commitment of time to this task. In contrast, up to this point in my work, I have not witnessed a position description for a pastor that requires the pastor to recruit and train a core group of any number of individuals to be under-shepherds–not even one!
Why is this? I am sure we could come up with a list of reasons including the inward-focusing tendencies of most congregations, the fickleness of sheep complaining of favoritism, as well as the aforementioned expectations of congregants upon their under-shepherds which consume the time required for the task of training successors.
The more important issue at this date, however, concerns the results of such an approach to the role of under-shepherd. What happens when the role of the pastor is limited to servicing the sheep, both personally and corporately? What happens when the pastor is not responsible for calling out young men and women from the congregation for training as under-shepherds?
A recent conversation with a pastor answers those questions. He essentially asked, “Where have all the pastors gone?” I wish that were an isolated question but every report I hear, whether it be from members of local congregations, pastors, seminaries, and denominational officials, confirms that we are now experiencing such a shortage of competent Christlike pastors. Might the reason for this be that pastors have failed to raise up pastors?
To be clear, it is not that the church lacks competent and Christlike men and women. Local congregations include many individuals who could serve well as under-shepherds. But the reality is that most of them are busy at work in the world as fisherman or accountants or teachers or newscasters or whatever because they have not been called out. Neither their local churches or their pastors seem to have sensed a responsibility to raise up the next generation of under-shepherds. It is as if they assume some other church or pastor will do so or that the Lord will mysteriously do so without their help.
So I wonder: Is it time for the position description of under-shepherds to mirror that of the Great Shepherd? Think about it. What would happen if each congregation expected the pastor to raise up the next generation of pastors? What would happen if each pastor prioritized raising up his or her successor?
Well, we know what happened when Jesus did it. While one of the twelve tapped out, the remaining Eleven did all right.