The Church Needs Shepherds, Not Coaches

Paul Lamey

The Church Needs Shepherds, Not Coaches

It took me a moment to realize that he was a pastor and not a coach for a sports team or some sort of motivational speaker/CEO type. I met Bill at a conference for pastors. He explained that he was a coach for his clients, seeking to guide them through their story. I probably had the confused dog look on my face, like when you ask your dog a question and he just cocks his head and advances a blank stare. I thought we were at a pastor’s conference and now this guy with a client base is waxing on about directing people in some vague story. I finally figured out that “coach” was his way of saying pastor and that the “story” he was directing was somehow a metaphor for life. Confusing? What about his “clients”? Those, he explained, are the members of the congregation.

Some pastors unwittingly eschew solid and timeless biblical terminology in favor of denuded jargon that can essentially mean anything or worse, nothing at all. I think even Fletch was on to something when he was asked, “What do you do for a living?” and he replied, “I’m a shepherd.” The Bible says that church leaders are shepherds (Acts 20:281 Peter 5:1-2; cf. John 21:16).[1] This not only describes what leaders are, it encapsulates their primary function amidst the church. More than merely being called pastors, church leaders are told to pastor/shepherd. In other words, pastor is not so much a designation as much as it is a job description that entails shepherding. The church needs shepherds not coaches.

Shepherds are still sheep

The dominant image-metaphor for leadership in Scripture is that of a shepherd. God often reveals Himself as a shepherd to His people (Genesis 48:15Numbers 27:15-20Psalms 23Psalms 77:20;Mark 6:34). In many ways this reflects the character of God. He guides, leads, nourishes, protects, and cares for His fold as a shepherd does his sheep. Therefore, shepherds in the church must remember that they are under-shepherds to the flock under the supreme headship of the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). The implications for this are significant. There is no room for brash leadership, harsh instruction, or manipulation. Leaders must also subject themselves to their own instructions and teaching. In so doing, shepherds must constantly point the flock to Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). Additionally, congregations must care for their shepherd-pastors as one of their own. A church that has a mutual affection for her leaders is a blessed union.

It must also be remembered that shepherds are part of the fold and not above it. In Acts 20:28, Paul tells the Ephesian elders that they are among the sheep. In 1 Peter 5:2, he reminds the elders of the church that they live in the midst of the flock (i.e., “among you”). Shepherd-elders and the sheep are to have a mutual accountability with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:121 Timothy 5:20Hebrews 13:17). So leaders are shepherds yet they are also sheep. The greatest example of this tension is exemplified in Christ who was at the same time the Chief Shepherd yet also the spotless Lamb who laid down his life for the sheep (Revelation 7:13-17Revelation 14:1-5). While a coach sits on the sideline and offers direction, a shepherd stands in the midst of the action and is part of the action himself. Shepherds should always smell like sheep


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