I recently attended a conference for church leaders; it was a great time of fellowship with others in full-time ministry and a great opportunity to sit under the teaching of God’s Word. In one of the sessions the speaker touched on the well known passage where Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John 10. But his focus was not on the identity of Jesus, but instead the responsibility of the pastor in the passage.
His focus was on John 10:11-12…
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.”
He made particular reference to the difference between a ‘hired hand’ and a true shepherd. He explored that a little bit and ended with the comment “Lord, help us to never become only a hired hand but help us be shepherds”.
A shepherd is invested, really cares for and looks out for the flock. A shepherd will face attacks and warn off dangers as they protect and comfort the flock. That’s why pastors and church leaders should be on the forefront of calling out false teaching and of standing up for the truth. A real shepherd will not run in the face of troubles and trials but will stick it out and protect the sheep. A hired hand won’t; they will run away.
If you’ve spent anytime in Christian circles, this is nothing new. However, as I spoke with other pastors, listened to their stories and heard their struggles and difficulties I was struck by something; many flocks (churches) treat their shepherds (pastors*) like they are hired hands!
There are certain church traditions and cultures where what the pastor says goes and is acted upon completely unquestioned; that can be very dangerous. But there are also church traditions and cultures where the pastor is treated like a hired hand and looked on with suspicion and skepticism. I’d like to speak on the latter for a minute.
Churches need to stop treating their dedicated shepherds as hired hands! It’s hurtful, dismissive of the gifts of the pastor and it is unbiblical! This doesn’t mean that everything he says should go unquestioned and unchallenged, but if every little thing is being challenged then we need to ask why that is. Many pastors struggle in situations where their congregations and leadership teams seem to be watching over their shoulder and keeping an eye on them because they don’t trust the pastor to be the shepherd that Scripture calls him to be.
I spoke to many pastors who shared their stories of discouragement as they were pouring the whole being into serving churches, only to be met with suspicion and distrust. This happens all too often in churches today. There are tons of really great and gifted men serving in churches all over the world but who are being treated like they don’t belong. This may be because they’re from a different church background, because they don’t know the church history and culture or it may be because they weren’t the candidate that a particular person wanted to become pastor. Give them time, be gracious and let them serve and love the flock as they are gifted to!
Treating a shepherd like a hired hand with lead to frustration, discouragement and, over the long term, a desire to go somewhere else where they might be more appreciated. The reality is that no church is perfect and no pastor is perfect. But to not trust a pastor who has been called by a congregation for no serious reason is not helpful, for the church or the pastor.
Please, I beg you, stop treating pastors like they’re hired hands! All of the pastors I know have a sincere love for their flock, they have a deep desire to see them grow in their love for the Lord, His Word, the church and the lost. Those are not the desires of hired hands but they are the desires of men who are constantly wanting to point their people to Christ. That’s the kind of shepherd the church needs, and that’s the kind of shepherd that you should be encouraging, supporting and building up. Ministry is difficult enough without being treated as if you don’t care or belong; please don’t treat pastors like hired hands.
* The word shepherds is often used to describe the role of elders, but for the purpose of this blog I’d like to focus on the role of the pastor. However, this does not mean that elders are not subject to this same issue.