Can the Sheep Save Their Shepherds?

BY T. F. TENNEY–District Superintendant

I ran across this article in a recent periodical. While I don’t necessarily endorse or support all of the organizations or ministries
mentioned herein, I certainly concur with the writers concept. He seems to be pretty much “on target. ” The writer, Lyn Cryderman, is an associate publisher with Zondervan Publishing House.

“At one of the early Promise Keepers’ rallies, founder Bill McCartney played a hunch. Without knowing what the reaction would be, the renowned football coach invited all pastors in the arena to join him in front of the podium. Slowly at first, then in steady streams, a sampling of America’s ministers ‘went forward’ in a scene reminiscent of a Billy Graham crusade.

“What happened next took everyone by surprise. Beginning first with enthusiastic applause, soon everyone was on his feet, stomping and cheering in support of the pastors who stood somewhat embarrassed, yet clearly moved by the spontaneous outpouring.

“Just as Promise Keepers has uncovered a huge movement of men desiring to draw closer to God, it has also tapped into a strong felt need of both laity and clergy: a revival of commitment to America’s forgotten shepherds. We say forgotten because of the focus of evangelicalism in recent years has shifted away from the local church pastor to high-profile leaders whose large churches, books, and media ministries have set the agendas for local church ministries. One of the downsides of this shift from local to national leadership is that it has inadvertently devalued the role of most local church pastors.

“‘Fully half of the pastors in my district have expressed a desire to leave the ministry,’ noted one denominational leader in the Midwest recently. The fact that he asked to remain anonymous underscores the problem. ‘We have this idea that the pastor never gets discouraged.’ Why do today’s pastors feel so downtrodden, especially when we probably have the most highly educated and professional corps of ministers in evangelicalism’s history?

“First, there are the new demands on the pastor brought on by the increasingly complex problems experienced by individual church members. Few churches have multiple staffs to share the burdens, plus many church members expect their pastor to walk personally with them through troubled waters of every variety.

“Then, there has been an erosion of esteem. Just a few years ago, people paid deep respect to ‘men of the cloth.’ A recent Barna Research report revealed that fewer than 10 percent of the 700 adults surveyed said that clergy performance was excellent. Today, the news media do not shy away from scandal in the pulpit, be it financial, sexual, or otherwise. Also, public perceptions have been colored by the reality that several highly visible church leaders have veered onto political battlefields.

“For their part, pastors themselves have commented that the trend toward ‘megachurches’ places enormous expectations on them to ‘preach like Chuck Swindoll’ or manage a mini-denomination as does the Willow Creek Community Church. ‘I attend those pastors’ conferences at the large churches and get lots of new, creative ideas for ministry,’ noted the pastor of a church in suburban Atlanta. ‘But when I get back home, I realize there’s no way I’m going to convince my congregation to pay for a part-time assistant to help me implement those good ideas.’

“Promise Keepers has discovered that a simple act of appreciation does wonders both for pastor and lay people, and they now pay tribute to pastors at each of their gatherings. More such initiatives are needed, and much of the responsibility lies with the sheep, not the shepherd.

“Lay leaders need to make sure their pastors receive adequate compensation, opportunities for professional development, sufficient time away from the pulpit, and additional staffing as the workload grows more complicated.

“Individuals can help by honoring a pastor’s office hours, being more generous with praise than criticism, and giving the pastor the same respect they give to other professionals. Shepherding a body of believers is too important and too big a job to leave to the pastor alone. Everyone who is part of a local church has a vital role to play in nurturing the shepherd who was called to lead and feed them.”