Below are the slides I'm using as a summary for this sermon.
This is a summary sermon of my three-part series on church leadership. During the previous weeks I preached about godly church leadership through the categories of stewardship, shepherding, and serving. My main idea was simple: You know godly church leaders by their fruit; they are the ones who are already managing well, guiding and teaching, and serving.
Below are the slides I'm using as a summary for this sermon.
[Note: This is the second of a three-part series on church leadership. Over the next three weeks we'll be studying godly church leadership through the categories of stewardship, shepherding, and serving. The leading idea I'll be pursuing is that of the "downward slope" of leadership. This contrasts with a more worldly view of leadership whereby the leader becomes more prestigious and has people looking up to--and even serving--him or her. In the church, leadership slopes downward because godly leaders lose more of themselves for the sake of others.]
Update (9/20/2010): Sermon MP3 -- Good Shepherding (Luke 15)
Godly shepherds are relationally focused on the spiritual growth of their sheep.
In the gospels, Jesus spends a lot of time with the Pharisees. The Pharisees are the religious denomination within Judaism that spends the most amount of time, energy, and effort seeking to understand and apply the law. For the most part, despite how the Pharisees are presented in the gospels, their intent was good. They recognized the law as given by God for their own good and that the highest goal of one's life was to conform to the law. In doing so, one would conform to God's vision for them and their people.
But sadly, as good intentions sometimes go, their desire to see others conform to the law led them to methods of control where they would exhibit a lack of compassion for others. This is why Jesus was often in conflict with the Pharisees. He preached and focused on God's grace and went to those most in need of God's grace. These were the very people the Pharisees likely would have ignored in favor of "fine-tuning" those who were already "close" to the ideal.
The Pharisees, then, as well as the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders--those whose responsibility was teaching and leading the people to knowledge of God--failed as shepherds. The main reason for their failure, at least according to how Jesus presents it in Luke, is due to their failure to work with those most needing their help. Instead, they often served themselves by keeping to their groups where they could tightly control behavior (Luke 14:12-14).
Therefore, in a context of discipleship (Luke 14:25-34), where Jesus spells out the criteria of discipleship--carrying a cross, counting the cost, and preserving faith through action--he teaches three parables that describe what true shepherding is (Luke 15).
The three parables in Luke 15 are against the Pharisees. The problem is highlighted at the beginning of the chapter when, in response to those who were gathering to hear Jesus teach (tax collectors and sinners), the Pharisees grumbled that Jesus "welcomes sinners and eats with them" (15:2). The problem, as they perceived it, was that Jesus associated with the wrong people. So Jesus tries to correct their view--and teach them that they need to shepherd those who most need shepherding--by telling three parables that revolve around the idea that it is a bigger deal in heaven when one sinner repents than when ninety-nine self-righteous people sit around and compare notes (15:7, 10, 32).
The first parable teaches that good shepherds take risks to shepherd those most in need. The shepherd who lost one sheep left the other ninety-nine by themselves and went off in search of the one. He took a financial risk in doing so, but the one was precious enough for him to do so. Here, the Pharisees are indicted--they would leave the one who wandered away for the sake of "protecting" the ninety-nine left behind. After all, they can't be responsible for every person who won't accept their teaching.
This attitude has been a long-standing problem in the Judeo-Christian heritage. Because we tend to be more comfortable around people who are most like us, we can unintentionally neglect others who need help. In worse cases, we look down on people who are not like us, those who need real, spiritual help. We blame them for their condition instead of looking to serve them.
For example, suppose a church member struggles with some aspect of the church, or some person within the church, and decides to quit the church. Many people, tragically, would write that person off, perhaps even criticizing them. A good shepherd will risk all to go visit that person, serve them, and try to bring them back even though he may be criticized himself for reaching out to someone who is looked down upon.
In the second parable, Jesus teaches that good shepherds care enough about people to spend energy focusing on just one person. His parable is about a woman who has ten silver coins but loses one. Rather than viewing herself as still being ahead with nine, she lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches carefully until she finds it--then throws a party over finding one coin! Again, the Pharisees are indicted--they would rather focus on the nine remaining and the let the one go.
But good shepherds go after one missing person. They know what they have in the first place so they know when one goes missing. And they do not write off the one that goes missing; they spend their time, energy, and effort to find that lost one.
In the third parable, Jesus teaches that good shepherds care more for the needs of those who need help than the selfish whims of those seeking to be served. The parable of the "lost son" (or the "older brother" or the "loving father") is perhaps the hardest-hitting parable of the three. This parable indicts the Pharisees in a way the other two didn't. In this parable, a son who once was a "good son" leaves home and squanders his inheritance, only to return home empty-handed. The older brother must have been pleased to see his brother slinking back onto the family estate. But his joy turned to anger when he saw his father run out to greet the lost son! Later, his father rebukes him for not celebrating the return of his brother, who had wandered off.
Good shepherds are not concerned with the selfish whims of people who are in the game for themselves. Sometimes, churches can become made up of selfish members who organize the church around their needs and desires. When someone creates a program to reach out to a different (i.e., "wrong") people-group, especially if that means changes for them, these people become angry and complain. The Pharisees did not like how Jesus associated with the "wrong" type of people when he should have been supporting them.
These three ideas about shepherding coalesce around one main point: good shepherds are relationally focused on the spiritual growth of others. This plays out in two different ways in Luke 15. First, Jesus teaches that it is always proper and appropriate to shepherd those most in need of shepherding. For him, that was the "tax collectors and sinners," those members of the community that most needed to hear the message of the kingdom of God. At other times, it was sick and lame people who needed attention from Jesus, more "undesirables" that were overlooked by society. In our situation, it might be poor people that we reach out to, without judging them for "not being wise with their money." It could prisoners that are reached out to, without regard for what they did in the past.
Second, Jesus teaches that it is always wrong and inappropriate to ignore and write off people who don't act the way we think they should. This was his message to the Pharisees, seen most clearly in his comments about the "older brother." Let's be clear--we do not shepherd anyone if we have no contact with them, if we leave them to fend for themselves and continue to wander away. Instead, we need to overcome our differences, our own sense of the rules and what's right, and perhaps even our own prejudices, and reach out to those in need. This is what good shepherding is.
Again, we can look around us and see this type of shepherding in action. It may not be prominent, but it's there. As you look for spiritual leaders, look for those who meet these criteria for shepherding. You'll know a good shepherd when you see one.
Update (9/7/2010): Sermon MP3 -- What Good Church Leadership Is
This is an audio version of the following post.
Good church leadership (shepherding) is godly, flock-focused, and selfless.
Church leadership is often a sticky subject. For those who have experienced toxic leadership, this topic brings feelings of fear and concern. Those who have been blessed by solid, godly leadership welcome these discussions. Sometimes, churches that are stuck in a rut think that more study about this topic will bring them out of their rut, while churches that experience good shepherding know that it is the action, not the information, that creates a good shepherd.
By "shepherding," I simply mean that biblical image used to describe church leaders in many different texts (John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; 5:2, 4; Acts 20:28; and Ezekiel 34). Shepherds work with sheep. They protect sheep; they guide sheep; they comfort and nurture sheep. Jesus describes all these qualities, relates them to himself, and calls himself the "good shepherd." Shepherding is a good image for Christian leaders--it calls us to be among our people, serving, guiding, and loving them.
But in Ezekiel a much different perspective on shepherding is presented. In fact, though writing in the ancient world, Ezekiel describes a stunningly contemporary lesson on bad and good shepherding. As a prophet, Ezekiel wrote during Israel's Babylonian exile. In this time of dislocation and distress, the people needed strong leadership to remind them they belonged to God and God was delivering them. Sadly, they didn't receive it.
What they received instead was terrible, self-serving, and ungodly leadership. These "shepherds" served themselves at their flock's expense. Rather than leading people to a greater knowledge of and obedience to God, they led people to serve them (the shepherds).
These false shepherds used their leadership to benefit themselves (Ezekiel 34:2-3). They took care of themselves, took the best food for themselves, and clothed themselves with the finest articles of clothing.
They neglected the health and safety of their flock (Ezekiel 34:4). They were harsh and brutal leaders. It was likely their way or the highway. And for those who left, whether intentionally or unintentionally (by wandering off), they were left to stray. The people began wandering far from God and were not tended to by these leaders who were too busy tending to themselves to even notice.
They oversaw the ruin of the flock and scattered it through their lack of leadership (Ezekiel 34:5-6). This destructive tendency in leadership results in blaming others and ruining them. Churches have been destroyed by leaders who have led only to enrich themselves.
Their lack of leadership became so bad that God finally stepped in. God revealed himself to be the good and true shepherd. He is our example and the one who truly leads us. When good shepherds are good, it is because they are shepherding just like God did.
First, God stated that he was against bad shepherds and would remove them (Ezekiel 34:10). No longer would God allow the false shepherds to feed off of God's own sheep. He was holding the false shepherds accountable, which means, for God, they were being held under judgment.
Second, God determined that he himself would shepherd his people (Ezekiel 34:11-16). Through God's shepherding, we see what real and godly shepherding is. God will search for and find his sheep (34:11-12, 16). This involved cleaning up the mess of the false shepherds. God also says he will feed his sheep (34:13-15). God will provide what his sheep need and he will nurture them. God will take care of those sheep who are sick and weak (34:16) . He will give special attention to them to heal them. Finally, God will feed justice to his flock (34:16). Part of this justice involves eliminating those who took advantage of this bad situation to benefit themselves.
What does this mean for church leadership and shepherding today? Well, it's this simple: Good shepherds shepherd the flock just like God did. They imitate God.
Good shepherds search and find sheep. They are committed to evangelistic outreach. They accomplish this through hospitality. They warmly welcome guests to the worship service; they have church members and their non-churched friends over to their homes. They go after church members who have wandered away, calling on them instead of blaming them.
Good shepherds feed their sheep. They teach their church members through public instruction, through small group discussions, in one-on-one conversations over coffee, and by their example. They model the life of Christ before others. They pay attention to the spiritual growth of their sheep and mentor them into stronger faith.
Good shepherds take care of the sick and weak. They visit. They know which church members are shut-in, which are in the hospital, which are in nursing homes, which have special needs. They even know this information about the families of church members. And when they visit, they serve and meet needs.
Good shepherds feed justice to their flock. They look out for those who might deceive their flock or who are around just to enrich themselves. And they care about justice--they are involved in outreach to the community on behalf of the poor, the widows, and the orphans, those most in need of the justice of God.
Good shepherds are good not because of the actions they take for themselves. They are good because they shepherd like God. Look around you at your own spiritual leaders. Who meets these criteria? Who shepherds like God? Follow them and their leadership, because if you do, you, too, will become more like God.
1. Which of the criticisms God levels against the bad shepherds did you find most disgusting? Why?
2. What is the result of bad shepherding? How do you know it?
3. In which specific ways is God's shepherding different than that of the bad shepherds?
4. Is it possible for us to shepherd like God did? Does he expect that from us?
5. Which of these acts of shepherding do you find most useful? Why?