Pastors: Shepherds or Entrepreneurs?

As a pastor, I’m very interested in discussing the role of my calling. If I don’t understand the role of the pastor, there is no way to know if I’m successful or not.

I recently came across a blog post by Carey Nieuhof on this topic. First, I need to say that I like Carey. As a fellow Canadian, I appreciate his ministry. I listen to his Leadership Podcast and his Canadian Church Leaders Podcast. I also regularly share links from his blog on my Weekend Leadership Roundup. Carey has much to teach Christian leaders, in Canada and around the world.

But that doesn’t mean that I always agree with him.

The blog post that I’m referring to is called Why We Need More Entrepreneurial Church Leaders, Not More Shepherds. Here is a sample of what he says:

If the church is going to reverse some trends and maximize potential, we need more entrepreneurial pastors, not more shepherds.

I actually quite disagree with Carey. I will attempt to present my position in such a way that I don’t attack Carey but present another side.

Pastor means shepherd

One of the problems with saying that pastors need to give up the shepherd model is that the word pastor literally means shepherd. On the staff page at the Connexus Church website, Carey (and two others) are listed as having the job title pastor. Being a pastor who does not shepherd is as bizarre as describing a shepherd who does not take care of sheep. Why bother keeping the word pastor? Many of the other staff are called directors, that may be a more appropriate term if shepherding is rejected.

I do need to make clear that Carey is not saying shepherding is wrong. Rather he would like to see volunteers doing the shepherding and the pastoral staff more involved in entrepreneurial activities. I agree that it is good to have laypeople active in care ministries. In my church, we have our congregation divided among approximately ten care team leaders. They are able to provide more frequent contact with the congregation than I can. But I still am involved in pastoral care and I do hospital and nursing home visits, as well as some home visits.

I also agree that the old model of the pastor visiting every person in the congregation a couple times a year doesn’t work any more. I even find that aside from some seniors, many people don’t want a pastoral visit unless there is a crisis. Visitation is only one part of the work of the pastor, but it is an important part.

I don’t see how you can call yourself a pastor and not be a shepherd.

What should a shepherd do?

A shepherd cares for sheep in many ways. It is not just about visitation. I see preaching as a part of the shepherding ministry.

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:15-16)

In this passage, Peter is told both to care for and feed the sheep. Feeding congregations from the Word is an important part of the shepherding ministry. I have also argued elsewhere that apologetics is an essential shepherding activity for pastors.

Carey describes shepherds in this way:

The church today is flooded with leaders who fit the shepherd model, caring for people who are already assembled, managing what’s been built and helping to meet people’s needs.

Carey does not suggest that this activity is bad, but that it should not be the focus of leaders. So what should leaders be doing?

What does an apostle do?

Carey instead sees pastors and other church leaders as needing to be entrepreneurs. Obviously. that term is not found in the Bible and so he turns to the role of the apostle. Carey describes an apostle in this way:

An apostle launches dozens, hundreds or thousands of new communities of Christ-followers.

Is this how the New Testament defines an apostle? Not really. I have come across the connection of an apostle to a spiritual entrepreneur before and I don’t buy it. Is this the kind of ministry that is attributed to the apostles Peter or John? Even an apostle like Barnabas, who traveled with Paul for the first part of his ministry, doesn’t exactly fit the role of an entrepreneur. Indirectly Barnabas was involved in the launching of new communities of followers of Jesus, but it was through his evangelism rather than other entrepreneurial activities.

What Carey (and many others) are doing is looking at Paul’s ministry and using that as a definition of apostolic ministry. We forget that there were many others apostles and most of them looked nothing like Paul. In fact, Paul often defends his apostleship at the beginning of his letters because who he was and what he was doing was so different from what they expected of an apostle.

I find it particularly interesting that Paul’s final letters are called the pastoral epistles. That label doesn’t necessarily argue my point but look at the content of those letters. As Paul is approaching the end of his ministry and life, he gives his final words to young leaders Timothy and Titus. This is some of the most compact and concise leadership teaching in Paul’s letters. When you look at what he calls them to do, it is to excel in shepherding activity including teaching of the Word and defending correct doctrine, I don’t see the call of being an entrepreneur anywhere.

Is there a role for entrepreneurs?

Some people are gifted as entrepreneurs. They are creative and understand systems and can start successful businesses and organizations with little effort. We do need such people in the church. I am not one of those pastors who refuse to learn from the business world. We need fresh ideas and we need people who will take risks. Entrepreneurs should be welcomed and embraced and set free to work in their gifts. But I don’t see entrepreneurs as being the key to the effectiveness of the church.

We need better shepherds.

I would agree with Carey that church leaders have not always been trained to be effective in ministry. Some institutions train pastors as if it was still the 1950s. But I don’t believe it is a shift to entrepreneurs that we need. What we need are pastors who are better able to shepherd their people. Shepherding does not mean that a pastor needs to spend twenty-five hours of the week on visitation. It does mean that they are feeding their sheep through preaching, teaching, mentoring and other forms of equipping.

This may mean that we have more churches of two hundred and less mega churches. Without slamming big churches, I don’t think this is a bad thing. Ultimately, what we should be looking for is not bigger or smaller churches but rather healthy churches. I believe this will require better trained shepherds more than more innovative entrepreneurs.

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