The Minister as Shepherd

Jefferson, Charles. The Minister as Shepherd: The Privileges and Responsibilities of Pastoral Leadership. Fort Washington: CLC Publications, 2006. 141 pp.

CharlesJefferson_bookCharles Jefferson has written a wonderful book on the nature of the minister’s role and the shepherding model set forth by Scripture. The fundamental question that Jefferson tends to follow is; what is the role of the pastor? Interestingly, many in Christian circles would answer that question in a variety of ways. Perhaps, this is largely because we are more influenced by culture and society than we are the teachings of Scripture. A Christian worldview begins with sound biblical teaching. Pastoral leaders are to model the Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. This model is found only in Scripture. Jefferson discusses the term shepherd and how the metaphor of a shepherd is used in Scripture to refer to the caring of His people. This review will summarize Jefferson’s book, The Minister as Shepherd, and provide some practical application for one serving in pastoral ministry.

            Summary: “The Shepherd Idea in Scripture and History” is the title of the first chapter. Jefferson discusses various titles used to refer to pastors such as; bishop, presbyter, preacher, priest, clergyman, rector, parson, and minister. But, Jefferson argues that none of these titles capture the essence of the pastor like the title of shepherd. He says, “Of all the titles which have been chosen for the envoys of the Son of God, that of shepherd is the most popular, the most beautiful, and the most ample,” (p. 7, italics mine). The basis of his argument comes from Scripture in that pastors are to be like Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd (p. 11). Jefferson goes on to say, “Jesus never called Himself a priest, or a preacher, or a rector, or a clergyman, or a bishop, or an elder, but He liked to think of Himself as a shepherd,” (pp. 11, 13). Jefferson points out, “If the aim of our life is to be Christlike, then we must be like a shepherd.” What does it mean to be like a shepherd?

Scripture uses the shepherd metaphor to sufficiently answer the preceding question. Jefferson highlights the characteristics of a shepherd and how it should resonate in the life of a minister. Historically, the keeper of sheep was a prominent theme in Hebrew history (p. 11). It was a common sight to see a shepherd tending his flock on the mountainside. But, there was a problem. Shepherds were not favored in society. They were known for failing to feed their flock, failing to safely lead them, and failing to save them from danger (p. 12). But, One would come who would faithfully fulfill the role of shepherd. He would be known as the Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would lay down His life for His sheep (cf. John 10:11). Shepherding is a heart-matter of sympathy, humility, prayer, and self-sacrifice (p. 19).

“The Shepherd’s Work” is the title of the second chapter. Jefferson discusses seven kinds of work from a biblical and historical perspective. First, the minister as shepherd is like a watchman constantly searching for possible danger and enemies (p. 35). He must be alert and ready because the enemy is always nearby. Second, the minister as shepherd is a guard against potential threats to the flock, (p. 38). Sheep are defenseless and in constant need of protection. Third, the minister as shepherd is to be a guide who carefully leads the flock (cf. Ps. 23), (p. 40). Fourth, the minister as shepherd is to be a physician in caring for the spiritual and physical well-being of the sheep, (p. 43). Fifth, the minister as shepherd is a savior in that he seeks to rescue those who are straying from the fold and those who are lost, (p. 46). Sixth, the minister as shepherd is to feed the flock with the Word of God. Jefferson says, “He does not feed his people is considered to be among the most damning of accusations which can be brought against the pastor of a church,” (p. 51, italics mine). Seventh, the minister as shepherd is to love the flock even to the point of laying down his own life for their sake, (p. 55).

“The Shepherd’s Opportunity” is the title of the third chapter. Jefferson discusses the blessed privileges of serving God’s people. There are many who argue that the day of the pastor-shepherd is past, but Jefferson says, “The age of the shepherd has just arrived. Never has he been so much needed as now. Never before have there been so many important things for him to do,” (p. 59). Jefferson builds a convincing argument that society is not looking for another brilliant communicator, but someone with conviction who actually lives what he believes. Society is looking for someone who values human life and genuinely cares and loves others. Jesus told His disciples that they would be known as His followers by their love (cf. John 17:26).

“The Shepherd’s Temptations” is the title of the fourth chapter. Jefferson issues a word of caution to those serving in ministry against two specific temptations; covetousness and ambition. “Christian history makes it clear that these are the cardinal sins which ever lie like crouching beasts at the shepherd’s door,” (p. 85). The constant temptation of success and prosperity looms over the shoulder of every leader. While these are not unworthy desires, they can be destructive against the heart of the shepherd. Several passages of Scripture that every minister should constantly commit to study and meditation include; Matthew 18, Matthew 23, and John 13.

The fifth and final chapter is entitled “The Shepherd’s Reward.” Jefferson closes his book by offering words of encouragement that serve as rewards for the minister to press on and persevere in the faith. The first reward is that he is to be loved by his people. “If love is the best thing in the world, then the faithful pastor gets more of the earth’s richest treasure than any other man,” (p. 113). The second reward is that he receives gratification from helping others, (p. 116). The third reward is greater power in the pulpit that comes from being a positive influence in the lives of people, (p. 117-18). Finally, “Everlasting fellowship with Jesus Christ and unending participation in His glory,” is the most fulfilling reward, (p. 140). While ministry is constantly challenging, there is nothing greater than the Father rewarding His faithful servants. The ultimate reward is the enjoyment of His presence forever.

Shepherding begins in the heart. This is one of the greatest truths that I have taken from Jefferson’s book, The Minister as Shepherd. The pastor cannot effectively minister to his flock if the condition of his heart is not softened with love, humility, and self-sacrifice. These attributes flow out of a heart that is submitted to the Father. Conversely, a heart that is proud and fueled by covetousness and misguided ambition will fail the sheep every time. When a pastor is more concerned about the disparity of his salary and that of a fellow pastor, there is danger looming. When a pastor is more concerned about the size of the growing church up the street than he is the spiritual apathy within his own congregation, there is danger looming. An effective watchman, guard, guide, physician, savior, and feeder of the sheep, is presupposed upon one who sacrificially loves the sheep. A pastor cannot be effective apart from loving his people.

Shepherding requires feeding. It is sobering to ponder the truth that I am called to feed the flock that God has entrusted to my care. Considering the shepherd metaphor, sheep are unable to feed and water themselves. They require constant supervision and care. The truth is that the flock can only be fed in one way – the teaching of the Word of God. How I handle God’s Word is going to determine the spiritual depth of my people. Therefore, I must be committed to faithful exposition of Scripture that honors Christ and honors His Word. But, just as Jefferson issues a word of caution in this area, I must also take note. Spending the necessary time in the study must be balanced with being involved in the lives of people. “The pastor must live with the people, think with their mind, feel with their heart, see with their eyes, hear with their ears, suffer with their spirit,” (p. 67). This requires time; it requires sacrifice.

I agree with Warren Wiersbe’s comments on the back cover, “This book is one of perhaps a dozen in my library that I try to read again each year. It does my heart good!” It will be a common practice from time to time throughout my ministry to pull this book from the shelf and read a chapter or two. The truths are simple, but amazingly profound. We have a Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, and He has commissioned ministers to shepherd His flock. What a daunting responsibility, yet a blessed privilege.

Book Review by: Brett W. Marlowe

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