Jesus: Good Shepherd or CEO? An Exercise in the Perspicuity and Sufficiency of Scripture
The “theological innovation” Dr. Mohler decries is painfully obvious in situations such as the 2006 declaration by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. that different names– such as “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-Giving Womb”– must be given to the members of the Trinity (this is the situation that sets the context for Mohler’s article), but extreme examples such as the actions of the PCUSA only come about after a long series of small moves away from a full confidence that God has clearly and sufficiently communicated the truth that He means for us to have.
L: Should we stop talking about pastors as ‘shepherds’?
AS: Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, “Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,” no. I never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant any more. Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a facet of church ministry, but that’s not leadership.
L: Isn’t shepherd the biblical word for pastor?
AS: It’s the first century word. If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. He would point to something that we all know, and we’d say, “Oh yeah, I know what that is.” Jesus told Peter, the fisherman, to “feed my sheep,” but he didn’t say to the rest of them, “Go ye therefore into all the world and be shepherds and feed my sheep.” By the time of the book of Acts, the shepherd model is gone. It’s about establishing elders and deacons and their qualifications. Shepherding doesn’t seem to be the emphasis. Even when it was, it was cultural, an illustration of something. What we have to do is identify the principle, which is that the leader is responsible for the care of the people he’s been given. That I am to care for and equip the people in the organization to follow Jesus. But when we take the literal illustration and bring it into our culture, then people can make it anything they want because nobody knows much about it.
There are many points that could be made about Andy Stanley’s words in this interview, but I will focus upon two:
When the Apostle was addressing the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, he said,
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (NASB)
While studying for my under-graduate degree in history at Georgia State University, I was constantly confronted with how erroneous a view of history we often develop. The way people live today, with all of our technologies and innovations, is not as dissimilar from past urban societies as we sometimes think (though things do happen much faster in the 21st century). Somehow, it seems that we get the idea that half the population in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ and His apostles was composed of shepherds and that a person could not walk through the streets of a major city without bumping into a shepherds' convention. But Ephesus at the time of Paul was, “an important political, educational, and commercial center, ranking with Alexandria in Egypt, and Antioch of Pisidia, in southern Asia Minor” [from the 2006 MacArthur Study Bible, NASB, page 1770]. So the urban elders addressed by Paul would not necessarily have had any more first-hand experience of shepherds than an individual in New York City would have today. And the thought that Jesus chose the illustration of the shepherd and the sheep due to the experiences of His hearers is betrayed in the fact that neither Jesus nor any of His 12 apostles are said to have held the occupation of literally tending sheep. At the time of Jesus people would have held a great variety of jobs– much as people do today– and they would not necessarily have had any more experience with shepherding than the majority of people reading this blog, yet they could understand the simplicity of Jesus’ illustration. I’ve never been a shepherd, but I can understand what a shepherd is and what he does. And any small child or CEO can understand the illustration of a shepherd with the slightest bit of explanation. If the Holy Spirit chose to reveal Christ as a shepherd– and names church leaders as shepherds following Christ’s example– then it is our duty, not to change the word “shepherd” to our modern context, but to help our hearers adapt their thinking to the biblical context. It’s less ‘cool’, but it’s not that difficult, and it honors the life-giving Word of God.