I’m Feeling A Little Sheepish

kinnon —  August 14, 2009 — 3 Comments

I’m not the biggest fan of megachurches. Anyone who’s read this humble collection of ones and zeros illuminating pixels on your screen knows that. My position is based on personal experience as, a senior leader in two different megachurches – one in Canada and one in the U.S. (Director of Communications in both churches, effectively), a consultant with many others and having direct experience with leaders of megachurches in Canada, the U.S. and Africa.

100sheep One of the key words too often used by megachurch leaders to describe those in the pews is “sheep.” And they, of course, are the shepherd(s). They claim the term as scriptural (it is) but practice eisegesis in its interpretation rather than exegesis. Certain mega-ego pastors have done videos complaining about sheep stealing – from their eisegetical position, of course.

Sheep lack intelligence (I’m being charitable), are obstinate and don’t smell particularly good. Shepherds know the lay of the land – where the best grazing is, where the fewest predators are, where they can best guard and care for their flock. And, they know their sheep.

Jesus, when he speaks of himself as the good shepherd in John 10, says the shepherd knows the name of his sheep and they know the shepherd’s voice. There is an intimacy that exists between the shepherd and the sheep – they live together. An average shepherd when Jesus spoke these words, was responsible for around 100 sheep. Yes, these shepherds would often combine their flocks with those of other shepherds – yet they still knew their own sheep – they were still responsible for their 100.

Too many pastors (pastor being the latin word for shepherd), create a profound distancing between sheep and shepherd. Sheep are stupid, must be lead, need constant discipline and, apparently, are the property of the shepherd. These hireling shepherds sound an awful lot like the shepherds the Lord describes in Ezekiel 34.

I cover a lot of this in a post from last year, So You Wanna Be A Shepherd. Let me get to the trigger for this morning’s post, JD Greear’s MegaPastors and Adultery. It’s a post on effective accountability from within the local church. JD says this,

It has become very popular among quickly-growing churches to have no real, internal board of elders to whom the pastor is accountable. A board of that type is seen as cumbersome… the perception is that lay elders can’t understand some of the questions of professional ministry, and so being submitted to them would impede our ability to lead the church. Does IBM have an unprofessional board of directors ok’ing all their decisions? Furthermore, lay elders can’t really hold the pastor morally accountable (as they’ll not be knowledgable enough or courageous enough to challenge the pastor), and if they do, they’ll probably do it in wrong times and in wrong ways… I’ve heard it said that “sheep aren’t supposed to shepherd the shepherd.” And if the other elders are staff members, then the senior pastor can control them anyway. Thus, the senior pastor should report to a group of other pastors, around the country, who serve like an advisory board of directors. (emphasis added)

I think of a certain youngish senior pastor (from my perspective at least) who pastors in a heavily caffeinated left coast city, who created a super-elders level of three at his church – he being one of the three, reducing the elders board to being yes-men. When two of those elders attempted to stand up to him – they were fired – though the senior pastor really wished he could have ‘punched their lights out, first’. Remember, “questions are rebellion.” I pray for this young pastor regularly.

JD says this later in the post,

God never intended any of us to live alone. Deep friendships with people you live and work and go to church with is a part of discipleship. The shepherd is still a sheep.

I’ve heard the “board of directors” system defended, in each case, by saying, “But look how efficiently the overseeing board dealt with the problem!” Great. Seriously, that is no small matter. But I would much rather have a less-experienced board have to NEVER deal with the situation in the first place. (The situation being another senior pastor caught in adultery.) I’d rather them NOT have to pick up the shattered pieces of my family and ministry at all then to pick it up with dazzling effectiveness. (emphasis in the original)

Far too many senior pastors are the untouchable rock stars of their church (and sometimes their denominations or networks). Which is an issue in and of itself. The Apostle Paul says, I must decrease and He must increase. The rock star pastor seeks the adulation of the masses gathered to hear his dulcet tones bring forth “the word of god” – and I am intentional in the use of the lower case “g”. This post, that is still up, illuminates the rock star ethos (from a tech startup position),

I would love to think I am the best of the best, but I know I am not. I learned one of the most important lessons about hiring very early in my career. I was told that I should always look to hire people smarter than me, give them the tools they need to succeed, support them, and get out of the way. Nothing about that said hire rock stars.

Team building and company achievement isn’t about the cult of personality. It’s a very rare company where they can make the claim that their CEO is the recipe for success. There’s a survivorship bias at work here, because I can all but guarantee there are readers right now saying “what about Steve Jobs?” What about him? What about Ken Lay from Enron? What about Sanjay Kumar from Computer Associates? What about Bernie Madoff? These were all “rock stars” and things at their companies went horribly, horribly wrong. I guess when people go to jail, people forget that these leaders were once lionized as rock stars. The public can be so fickle.

Too many Senior Shepherds want to view themselves as the Steve Jobs of their “organization.” They see themselves as the primary builder of that “organization.” (What about, “unless God builds the house, man labours in vain”?) They use business language to describe their CEO-style leadership – but too often in the church it is a form of leadership style more in line with Al “Chainsaw” Dunlap than with what Jim Collins calls a Level 5 leader. (And even many of the examples he used in Good to Great failed to live up to the distinction in the long run.)

Let me end this missive by saying, “I am a sheep.” So are you. No matter what title you’ve given yourself – silly hat or otherwise.

And this video just seemed appropriate to the discussion.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

3 responses to I’m Feeling A Little Sheepish

  1. Great thoughts, Bill. The older post was helpful, too. When a pastor starts slinging terms like “sheep stealing” or “self-feeding”, the gig is up; it devalues (in my mind) their self-claimed call to the ministry.

    What’s refreshing is being part of a new church plant where the pastor knows that people think of him as a demigod (as good Baptists do), and he shows up ready to debase himself to their level, encourage them to have the balls to stand up to him and his ideas, and puts people in position to teach that aren’t quite his style.

    That’s real shepherding. Making disciples who can help shepherd others.

  2. The funny thing with the Steve Jobs example was how it’s weakness was utterly demonstrated once the stories that Jobs had cancer started coming out – look at Apple stock around that time. This is all so reminiscent of iMonk’s post on DeYoung where he mentions how protestants pushing the institutional church as the sine qua non of the Christian faith sound so Roman Catholic. In this case you have deference to a pastor only accountable to a diocese a group of other pastors outside the church – an extra-congregational denominational hierarchy.

    With regard to your left-coast pastor, let’s call him Dark Mriscoll, I hear he gets told off by John Piper and apparently listens to Piper, but really no one not a level of a Piper (i.e.: a Reformed church superstar) can say anything which this chap takes to heart.

  3. My favorite line –

    “I am a sheep.” So are you. No matter what title you’ve given yourself – silly hat or otherwise.

    Good post Bill.


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