Shepherds. Not something we see every day in the U.S. And something I think many of us are confused about.
I’m told that, a couple thousand years ago, shepherds would likely have been teenage or even preteen boys (or girls, at least these days). Not the guys I imagined as the shepherds at the birth of Jesus. Then again, I don’t suppose I’ve imagined too much, because manger scenes don’t encourage scripturally sound imagination. They pretty much tell you everything outright, and some of it is off-base.
What about shepherds in churches of our era? I like using the term “shepherd” to describe an elder/pastor every now & then, but it’s probably not all that apt a description of what church leaders do. Another blogger has stated here that, in the first century, “The widespread awareness of [the shepherding] profession “made motifs of sheep and shepherding apt descriptions of human and divine roles and relationships.” But today, ability to herd senseless sheep is not frequently seen on the job qualifications list for elder, pastor, preacher, etc., and the imagery of shepherding isn’t one that most of us “get.” Most often, I’ve been fortunate to be in churches in which the elders do show signs that they understand something about spiritual care over & above fiscal needs, but still, the elders tend to be financial managers and oligarchs more than poimeins (Gk.). This is a status quo not only to be decried, but to be altered.
On our campus, I recently spied an advertisement for “A Service for God’s Shepherds.” Nevermind that I couldn’t figure out whether it was to be held from 11A-12P or from 11P-12A. Besides the time, I was just confused about what this “service” was all about. The two-sentence description used the word “time” three times: “dedicated time for . . . a time of conversation . . . time of prayer and worship.” So was this a time for the College, or a time for talk about spiritual shepherding, or a time of prayer and worship related to shepherding — or worship by the shepherds? I was confused, but I didn’t try to attend either at 11A or 11P, because of pressing responsibilities. Perhaps a bad decision on my part. But onward….
The scripture reference on the flyer was 1 Thess. 5:12-13, and while this passage does relate to spiritual leadership, the Greek word for shepherd is not used here, so the connection was stretched a tad bit. If this whole thing was to be about “praying for your church’s head guy,” because he is the one who “has charge over you in the Lord,” I’d be pretty surprised, and not a little disappointed. The translation of προισταμενους seems to be at issue–i.e., whether it implies oversight and hierarchy or the kind of leadership that influences more than it dictates. I may be confused about this translation and this passage, but I don’t think I’m at all confused about the notion of spiritual leadership, as seen in the NT writings as a whole.
I’ve also been confused through the years about the term “worship pastor.” “Pastor,” by the by, relates to “pastoral,” which speaks of the outdoor, the pastures, the countryside. “Pastor” does not literally mean “person in charge of the church” or “person who talks at the congregation for a half-hour on Sundays.” Rather, the term connotes leading down natural paths to water, protecting from wolves, and such.
To say “I pastored a church” these days does not usually imply what it should, and this, in turn, leads to confusion among Christians and among many others who contact the Christian world. “Pastor” means “shepherd.” So, does a “worship pastor” shepherd the worship, or the worshippers? For what, or whom, does a person with this title care? I’ve gathered that worship pastors are seen as shepherds of the spirits of the worship team, and, to a lesser extent, of the whole congregation, but I’m still confused about this.
Pastoring / shepherding is something many of us may be involved in, to an extent, and it is good to ponder deeply the nature and impact of spiritual leadership. Shepherds may be confused about what it is they’re to be doing; sheep may be even more confused about what their shepherds are to be doing, or even about who they are! People’s church foundations (read: denominationally inserted presuppositions) may well lead us down a faulty path in considering what pastoring is, but close contact with biblical texts will lessen the confusion over time.
Oh, and about those shepherds at Jesus’ birth? I don’t think they were confused for very long. God made things known to them through the angels’ clear message, and they went to worship Jesus with an apparently clearheaded notion of who He was. Now there’s a shepherd’s example for us. O come, let us adore Him, too.