Leading From Within The Herd

Soon after I posted my thoughts on being “Trail Broke” (i.e. leading by example), I ran across a post by David Fitch that posed some of the same questions yet with a slightly different spin.

In his post, David, who, BTW, is a bi-vocational pastor and seminary professor, asked the question of what is the job of a pastor:

a.) lead everyone individually into the Christian life that I [the pastor] am already living? or
b.) to lead everyone into joining in life with God and His Mission wherever that might lead?

As the post developed it became clear that to David that the first option lend itself to a pastor who thinks that they have already achieved the “perfect life” and can now “give it to someone else.” In other words, it a leadership model that assumes that the leader is “ahead” of the everyone else on journey and is simply showing them all the way forward.

The second option, which David heavily promotes, is a leadership model that places the pastor “among” the people as someone who is journeying together with them “into the depths of life with God and His Mission.” The beauty of this model is that it frees the pastor for having to be perfect or having to have figured out everything beforehand. Instead they are just another Jesus follower who is growing with everyone else through interactions with the greater body of Christ.

Needless to say most of us when presented with the above choices would gravitate towards the second options as it defiantly sounds better than the first. Yet, I would have to say that I have seen and been around pastors who, whether or not they admit it, lead based upon the model of the first option. In fact if you look up the twenty most used qualifiers for successful Christian leadership in America you would get a list of words that reflect the essence of this leadership model hidden in ‘Christianese” language.

However, I must also admit that I’m uncomfortable with David’s second leadership model as I don’t think it fully recognizes the difference between a pastor and a non-pastor. Or to say it differently, I believe that those who are called by God to serve in the role of a pastor/teacher are held at a higher level of accountable than those who are not.

This is NOT to say, mind you, that a pastor is morally higher or closer to Jesus than someone who is not a pastor. By no means, for we were all dead in our darkness and it is only by the grace of Jesus that any of us can enter the Throne Room of God. All followers of Jesus, pastor and non-pastors alike, are called by Jesus to do seven things: declare that the Kingdom of God is near/here, love God with everything they are, love their neighbors as themselves, heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse the leaper, and raise the dead (Mt 10:7-8, 22:37-39, 28:18-20; Lk 9:1-2, 10:9, 10:27). In these things, as well as in their spiritual and character growth the pastor and the non-pastor are the same, as David points out in his post.

Yet beyond all of this there is still a difference between a pastor and a non-pastor as the pastor will be “judged more strictly” (James 3:1) as one who teaches and guides a group of Jesus followers in the way of the Faith. In Luke 12:48 Jesus tells His followers that the one to whom much as been given, “much will be demanded.” And while this particular verse applies to all followers whom Jesus is guiding, it double applies to pastors as they have been “entrusted with much.” I say all of this not to boost my position or ego for quite frankly the above distinction frighten me. I would rather be a no-body in the Faith with very little required of me so that no-one would care or get hurt if I failed…but alas my King in all His wisdom has asked me to walk this path and walk it I will with everything within me.

No, the purpose of this some-what-long blog post is to clarify my earlier thoughts on being trail broke as a leadership model. When I talk about the pastor being the lead donkey and leading by example, I am not saying that they have it all together as in David’s first option. Nor am I saying that the pastor is simply just another member of the local church, abet one who teaches, as it the second options seems to promote. Instead I am promoting a third leadership model that recognizes the distinctions of a pastor while retaining the notion that all believers, pastors and non-pastors alike, are all on a journey with Jesus.

In returning to my analogy of a sheep drive, the pastor is not the shepherd leading the flock nor are they one of the sheep in the flock. Instead they are the lead donkey who, while part of the herd, has been tasked by the Shepherd to walk the trail in front of the herd due to their past experience of being trail broke in following the Shepherd. Accordingly the sheep will follow the lead donkey as one of their own, walking beside, behind and, in some cases, in front of it/them. If for some reason the lead donkey strays from the path, the sheep dogs, whom I see as either the prophets within the flock or the Holy Spirit (most likely both), will help bring correction to their path and bring them and the flock back onto the trail.

I may be unusual in this, but I also see the need for a leadership model that allows the pastor the freedom to once again become one of the sheep without shame or guilt. All too often the ‘church’ as an organization puts a pressure on a person to be a pastor/leader for life when God wants to take that person on a new adventure following a different trail than the one He has for the herd. When this happens, I believe the flock (aka the local church fellowship) must allow the pastor to lay down their position as lead donkey and become the person God wants them to be while understanding that God will provide a new lead donkey from within the fellowship to spur them on toward the next phase of their journey.

This is a leadership model based upon leading not from ahead or among, but from within the herd/fellowship/church. A slight nuance that, I feel, makes a lot of huge difference in how one pastors, leads, and functions as a member of the Body of Jesus.

What do you all think? Is this a nuance worth mentioning or is it simply wordplay that has no value in practical life?

2 thoughts on “Leading From Within The Herd”

  1. Great thoughts, yet again, Josh. We have a local pastors book club in SC & our latest book (Alan Hirsch) was about discipleship. I had a really hard time listening to some of the pastors because it sounded to me as if they were trying to do what only God is called to do: Motivate, dictate call, call, reward, discipline. No doubt we have responsibilities as pastors, & these things might be included, but to what degree?

    Are you going to the scholars? Have you ever read Jean Vanier?

    You are very refreshing to me (& others I’m sure),

    1. I am with you Sean! Too often we as followers of Jesus try to take upon ourselves things that only God can do. We are simply called to do what Jesus did and to listen to the Father for everything we do and say. Sometimes this means challenging people to get out of their comfort zones or calling them back to the Center of Jesus the King. But within all of this, we have to remember that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict people and bring them closer to Jesus. This requires a TON of trust in Jesus as it is hard to give up control or not to push/force people too much…..yet in the end, I think it brings better and greater fruit. =)

      Sadly enough I am not going to be able to attend the SVS conference this year as it is at the same time as our area Spring retreat. Since I have failed to attend an area function yet (our area consists of NW Idaho, Wyoming and Montana with all meetings being hosted in Montana) and since our area is soon to become a full region, I figured it would be better to attend that one versus the SVS. Sigh…as it this years SVS looks to be a good one… =(

      As far as Jean Vanier, sorry I can’t say that I have read anything by him nor did I know about him before this… =?

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