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Volume 15, Issue 3: Poimen


Joost Nixon

Why are there so few men with both an untrammeled biblical vision, and an ability to lead God's people towards its realization? Why is there such an apparent dichotomy between the theory guys and those who consistently execute? Why are so many natural leaders lame exegetes? And why do so many 4.0's have the interpersonal skills of a sea cucumber?1

Whatever the answers, shepherds aren't given the luxury of being this lopsided. Not only must they know where green pastures are, but also how to get the sheep to follow them there. This latter duty is also the more difficult—but especially for freshly-minted pastors. Because these fellows frequently begin as strangers to their flocks,2 their benevolent ministrations are often rebuffed, "for a stranger they simply will not follow, but flee from him" (John 10:5). Each pastor must make the transition from "stranger" to "shepherd" in the mind of the flock. Unless they do so, attempts at leadership are frustrating and futile. But accomplishing this metamorphosis is long, slow, and involved.
Last issue this author spent 847 words merely saying that many ministries fail for want of pastoral capital. Having a mere 153 words left in his allotment, and being rather long-winded, he only managed to add that we obtain pastoral capital by slowly, consistently, and patiently loving God's people in practical, self-sacrificial ways. That, admittedly, is unhelpfully broad. So this issue, we return to the fray with an attempt at earthy practicality.
And sometimes, the "practical" is also the "patently obvious," and so here goes. In ministry, developing capital is dependent upon building trust, and to say it simply, God's people trust Jesus. He is their Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). His voice, even in rebuke—is still His voice. Thus, if you would lead Christ's sheep, you must speak with Christ's voice. Knowing His people will only follow Him, Christ still speaks to us—mysteriously and majestically—through the preacher (Rom. 10:14). The pulpit, then, is unimaginably powerful, and standing there is unspeakably weighty—no wonder Knox wept at the prospect. If you would lead faithfully, determine never to speculate in the pulpit, never to say anything Christ wouldn't say (1 Pet. 4:10), and never to remain mum when Christ would speak. Determine that you will never prostitute a text for the sake of some "great" sermon rattling around in your skull. Though it's unflattering, God's people don't care what we think—they want to hear from Christ. And as you carefully demonstrate, week in and week out, that the teaching is expressly exegetical, God's people will hear Christ's voice and follow.
But the sheep not only listen for Christ's voice corporately, but also privately. It always astonishes me when people tell me of their pastor who "doesn't do counseling." It's like a mechanic who "doesn't do engines" and maids that "don't do windows." What an astonishing admission of pastoral abdication! But though caring for sheep is at times necessarily smelly and mucky work—it is also joyful. If the young pastor expects the sterility of an operating room out in the pasture, he'd better opt for some other calling, because the sheep have a right to expect personal pastoral care. David's neglect of this kingly duty opened the door for Absalom to "steal the hearts of the men of Israel" (2 Sam. 15:6). And when they come to you for counsel—for they surely will—here again you must impartially represent Christ. Again, they did not come to hear Freud or Skinner, Minirth or Meier—they came to hear Christ. So as you counsel, just as when you preach, determine never to befoul wisdom with folly. "Dead flies putrefy the perfumer's ointment, and cause it to give off a foul odor; So does a little folly to one respected for wisdom and honor" (Ecc. 10:1). All a wise man need do is give rash or bizarre counsel once, and his reputation stinks. Conversely, if God's people know that you are consistently just, compassionate, and biblical—they will follow.
Speaking the Word to God's people takes up an enormous portion of our pastoral duties. The remainder, we could say, is taken up with imitating Christ in other ways (Eph. 5:1). Obviously, much of our capital comes from our qualifications for office (1 Tim. 3:1-7). But these being assumed, there are certain actions which flow out of those qualifications that build capital. First of these is giving. The pastorate is a place of great power, and consequently, great sacrifice. Many crave the power over the sheep, but few are willing to bleed for them. Authority without sacrifice ends in tyranny. Jesus, of course, is our greatest example. The One whose name is Most High humbled Himself even to the point of the cross. Paul too poured himself out as a drink offering for the Philippians (Phil. 2:17). Pastors can follow Paul as he follows Christ by sacrificing for the sheep. Practically, this means giving time unselfishly; giving an ear as saints voice troubles that may seem, to you, insignificant; giving effort in seeking them, binding them up, and at times, plying them with the business end of the Shepherd's crook. And in all this, being willing to suffer for Christ, and not for capital (2 Cor. 6:3-10).
As we should imitate Christ in His sacrifice, imitating Him also in His humility will do much eliminate the odor of "stranger" that assaults the olfactory senses of the sheep. Though Christ never sinned, He showed us tangibly how to deal with it when we do (John 13:1 ff). It is not inconsistent with the qualifications of an elder to admit you are wrong and take responsibility for your sin. And because wolves rarely apologize, it presents a stark contrast. But wolves can fake it—and Absalom did just that (2 Sam. 15:1-5). More on him next time.

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