From Sergeant to Shepherd: Learning a New & Different Leadership Style.
By Pastor Andy Arnold (Guest Blogger)
The Military Model: Leading for Immediate Results
The primary leadership model advocated in the majority of seminaries is analogous to shepherding a flock of sheep. Throughout seminary coursework, students are taught and encouraged to lead like shepherds. Although seminarians who were raised in church may easily recognize and adopt this leadership style, students who had leadership roles prior to seminary—especially veterans of the military—may view the shepherding model as a foreign concept.
I (Andy) served in the United States Army for almost seventeen years before transitioning to life as a seminary student and ministry as a pastor. In the military, soldiers are taught to get things done and get them done as quickly as possible. So, you quickly learn that being passive is unacceptable. In other words, you don’t wait for things to happen before making changes. Instead, you make the change, adapt, and overcome! The military model teaches soldiers to be assertive and aggressive when accomplishing an assignment. After years of being led this way, soldiers eventually adopt and lead with this same mentality. Successful military leaders are those who get the job done right and get it done right now.
The Shepherding Model: Learning a New Way to Lead
Ministry, however, requires a different type of leadership style. Pastoring, which is commonly referred to in Christian circles as shepherding, when compared to the military model is generally a slower-paced style of leadership. Attempting to apply a military style of leadership in my first pastoral context, I made a number of mistakes. In the midst of these missteps, God graciously reminded me that I was not leading as a shepherd. A wise friend said, “If you are leading and no one is following, you’re just out taking a walk.” In light of what I have learned through my first years in pastoral ministry, I want to share a few principles that will (hopefully) help other young pastors avoid the same leadership missteps.
Pastoral Leadership: Authority to Lead, not to Rule!
Throughout the Bible, leaders were given a degree of authority and they, more often than not, used it to carry out their God-given missions with integrity. However, they did not necessarily assert their authority in order to lead effectively. Many of the greatest leaders in biblical history, led like shepherds who demonstrated a love for their flocks by teaching them God’s Word and interceding for them before God (cf. Moses, Samuel, Jesus, Paul). Instead of demanding change, they led the people to change. Great leaders affect positive change through their teaching and examples. While Jesus is the greatest example of shepherd leadership, it may be helpful to first consider Moses’ example. After experiencing both frustration and exhaustion as a leader, Moses’ delegated some of his responsibilities to elders (Numbers 11). Although it took a great deal of frustration to bring him to this point, Moses learned a valuable leadership lesson. That is, shepherd-leaders don’t demand change, they strategically lead the people to embrace change. For Moses, this meant sharing the leadership load, which served as a precursor for a plurality of shepherds later adopted by both Paul and Peter (cf. Acts 19; 1 Peter 5).
Although leaders, such as Moses, had a great deal of authority, they were required to use it as shepherds and not as dictators. The reality is that people (especially a group of volunteers) don’t willingly and joyfully follow dictators. The may, however, follow grudgingly under severe distress. A dictatorial approach will cause the sheep to wander away from you as a pastor. Pastors who lead like a dictator should expect to eventually lose the flock.
Pastoral Leadership: A Long-Term Investment
The providential and sovereign work of God, from a human perspective, appears to unfold over long periods of time. One may even say, “God seems to work at a slow pace.” Of course, God isn’t bound by time; however, it does (anecdotally speaking) seem as if ministry unfolds much slower than the pace of other areas of life. Conversely, it may be that God is graciously moving ministry at a pace that enables pastors to follow Him as they lead the church. In churches, the ground must be plowed slowly and new seeds (ideas, vision, etc.) should be patiently planted. Like the farmer who works hard and waits for his crop to come in, a pastor must learn to be patient in order for his ideas and vision to take root. In my experience, when God changes people, He does so in a slow and patient manner. I believe we should approach the people we pastor in the same way: patiently working to see godly changes in their lives.
Of course, there are small insignificant things that can be changed, but even those changes must be done strategically. Big changes require both time and prayer. Never forget, Jesus was with His disciples for over three years, and, in many respects, they were still struggling to grasp the magnitude of His person, work, and teaching. The illustration that I always come back to is that of a pilot. If you were flying a plane and wanted to change its trajectory, you wouldn’t just yank back on the control. Instead, you would slowly and gradually pull back the steering controls thereby lifting the nose of the plane to pursue a higher destination.
Pastoral Leadership: Demonstrating not Dragging.
Military leaders give orders and soldiers follow them, often, without question. No matter what a soldier is instructed to do (so long as it is not immoral or unethical) they respond immediately. Military leaders must lead this way because they have to be prepared for combat situations wherein lives are on the line. If a soldier stopped, in the face of an enemy threat, to question a leader, he may lose his life or, worse, cost the lives of others.
As a shepherd of God’s flock, however, you must earn the trust and respect of the people, which will take time. Show the people that you are following the direction of the Lord and not simply flying by the seat of your pants by investing your time wisely. Visit the people in their homes. Spend time getting to know them and allowing them to get to know you. In doing so, you will demonstrate that you have been called to be their pastor and that you genuinely care for them and their families. As you spend time with the people, you can trust that God is working behind the scenes, changing hearts and preparing them for the plans He has for the church.
If you entered pastoral ministry because you thought it was going to be easy, you will quickly realize that you were wrong, and you should probably pursue a profession. Pastoring is not a profession, it is a calling. By calling, I mean that pastors are chosen by God to enter a life of sacrificial servant-leadership. If you are not called by God, you have (likely) entered ministry for the wrong reasons and it is more than likely that you will quit. So, always remember that the task and calling of the pastor are to live and lead in weakness, relying on the strength of the Chief Shepherd (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 5:4). When a pastor relies on his own strength, he will fail. However, when he depends upon the Holy Spirit to provide strength, God is glorified, and his ministry will accomplish God’s will.
Finally, the prayer life of the pastor is essential. It is vitally important that you are completely devoted to prayer as a means of communing with Christ. Your devotion to and dependence on Jesus will be both an encouragement and example to the people you are leading. By God’s grace, your commitment to Christ will provide them with an example to follow. That is, a life that trusts fully and completely in the power and providence of God.
Pastor Andy Arnold, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (2018), Calvary Baptist Church, Mena, Arkansas