Volume 15, Issue 2: Poimen
The New Guy, Pt. 1
God loves sheep, and having withheld claws and fangs from the fluffy little creatures, He compensates for
their defenselessness with a state-of-the-art relational radar. Sheep know to reject strangers and are uncommonly
attached to the fellow whose voice is so familiar. Usually this works to their advantage.
But there always seem to be exceptions. Consider, for instance, a period of transition. As the flock
contendedly munches green grass by still waters, perhaps their shepherd suddenly succumbs to the maw of the lion. Or
maybeless gloriouslytheir shepherd dumped the flock for a lucrative psychotherapy gig in Manhattan. Regardless of
the reasons, a changing of the guard is bound to happen sooner or later in every flock. Time sweeps all of us away like
a flood, and every shepherd eventually goes to his reward. But sheep need shepherds. So what about the new guy?
There is an awkward time when a new shepherd arrives on the job with formal, legitimate authoritybut
the flock neither knows his voice nor follows him. The poor fellow shows up on their relational radar as a bogie, and
the sheep run for it on their stubby little legs. He calls for them to follow, but they're having none of itthey continue
to be positively skittish until they learn to trust him. This is a vulnerable time for the flock. And though the
pastoral equivalent of a 67 car pile-up can happen at
any time during a man's ministry, this season when formal
authority outpaces informal authority is like an icy freeway with zero visibility. We must do what we can to shorten this
length of the road as much as possible.
That this danger exists is symptomatic of a bigger problem. Seminaries have largely taken the responsibility
upon themselves of training pastors, or rather, the church has given them this
responsibility.1 And because the training
isn't happening in local congregations as it ought, most churches have an unfortunate need to import leaders from
other congregations. These men, even if they
are qualified, still come to the flock as strangers who must work hard
at building trust, or capital.
Many pastors fail, not because they are leading in the wrong direction, but because they simply lack the capital
to lead in any direction. It could be stated still more strongly: many well-meaning pastors know precisely where the
Lord would have His flock pastured; they have the turf by the still waters staked out, the green grass happily
anticipates being eaten, and the shade trees continue to push their limbs up and out. All is waiting like a well-laid
feastthe sheep need only follow. But trust is wanting, and so green grass or no, those sheep are not going to budgeand a
few of the more ornery ones might take to gnawing on their well-meaning pastor's ankles if he keeps pushing.
Consider the Apostle Paul. Obviously qualified, and moreover, hand-picked by Christ for apostleship (Gal.
1:1), Paul's second letter to the Corinthians is nevertheless a cry for pastoral capital. He did not want
legitimacy,2 he wanted their
hearts. "O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted
by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also
be open" (2 Cor. 6:11_13).
Clearly, we are simply speaking of the nuts and bolts of building a reputation, and its effect on one's ability
to lead and feed God's people. "A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, Loving favor rather than
silver and gold" (Prov. 22:1). Ultimately, this "loving favor" is a gift from God, and yet He does not give it randomly
and purposelessly, but rewards faithfulness and the use of means.
So what are the means? Three questions help us get a handle on the topic. First, to what extent is the
man qualified? Second, and welded inextricably to the first question, to what extent is the man faithful in his
pastoral duties? And third, have the sheep had a large enough window of time to know experientially the answers to the
first two questions?
There is little need to add to the already massive corpus of literature on the qualifications for ministry. It is
self-evident that sheep will shy away from men who brandish rotisserie spits around them. It is good for scoundrels
to have a devil of a time earning trust. But given
qualified character, what else builds capital? First and foremost is a
love for the sheep. This love can be manifested in words (e.g. 2 Cor. 6:11-13; Phil. 1:6-8), but comes across much
more powerfully in mundane actions. An infants knows his mother loves him by the way she changes his diapers, holds
him to her breast for nourishment and sacrifices for him in countless other ways. If a mother analogy seems
inappropriate for an office that is exclusively restricted to males, let the reader understand that Paul considered himself both
nursing mother and exhorting father to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:7-10). Translated into shepherding, this is a man
who is aware of the state of individuals in the flock, and is out seeking, caring, healing, feeding as each sheep has
need (Zech. 11:16; cf. Ezek. 34). All this takes a tremendous amount of time, is often emotionally draining, and there
are occasions when all the fuss is for naught. But that you care to take time for God's people to help them with what
is significant to them all counts enormously when building trust.