Shepherd or Rancher: What’s a Pastor to Be?

Church Growth guru C. Peter Wagner states in The Everychurch Guide to Growth:  “As I frequently say, the first two axioms to church growth are: (1) the pastor must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price, and (2) the people must want the church to grow and be willing to pay the price” (1998, p. 46). The price to be paid is how the congregation is to be structured, along with the responsibility of the pastor being distinctly shaped by one sole endeavor. He puts the role and function of a pastor, particularly in new church plants, in no uncertain terms:

Start the church as a rancher, not as a shepherd… It is hard for some to picture how they can start a brand new church and not shepherd all the people, but they can, as long as there is mutual agreement that this is the way it is done in our church. This mutual agreement requires three basic ingredients:  (1) the pastor does not visit the hospital, (2) the pastor does not call on church members in their homes, and (3) the pastor does no personal counseling” (p.63).

This is no small irony when the word “pastor” is simply the translation of the Greek word for “shepherd.” Not to mention the resurrected Jesus’ call for Peter to tend his lambs and feed his sheep. Nonetheless, this is consistently the approach established by the Church Growth paradigm, and adopted by some in the missional movement. In fact, in the district that I serve in, I was with one group of 30+ fellow Lutheran pastors where we were told, “Don’t worry about the saved people of your congregation, you are there for the unsaved!” Part of the rational for making such a claim comes in insisting that the congregation must raise up laymen to do pastoral care, even citing Acts 6, as Wagner does: “The Apostolic twelve made a decision to turn over the ministry of waiting on the widows to seven laymen.”(Wagner, p. 107).

However, Norman Nagel is rather helpful in clarifying that these seven were no laymen, but rather certainly “apostled” or ordained. As Nagel says, “Luke’s emphasis on the Word of God as the primary doer in the Acts of the Apostles may help explain why the Seven are not outside the ministry of the Word by their designation ‘to serve tables,’ any more than the Twelve had been, as is confirmed by what we are later told of Stephen and Philip. Having a Twelve and a Seven is not the final solution. Polity may vary. Constant are the words of the Lord and their delivery as He has mandated. In Acts 6 the number of ministers is augmented with specific allocation of tasks.”  “The Twelve and the Seven in Acts 6 and the Needy.” Concordia Journal, (April, 2005), 119.

Thus, there is simply a division of responsibility among those in the same office. Titles may vary, tasks may too, but the office is always the same. There is no new office or divvying up of the office into parts so that there is no arguing “which of us is the greatest.”

Kurt Marquart is also quick to object at the assertion that laity are to be raised up to do the work of pastoral care: “No! The Lord said not, ‘Organize My sheep into work-brigades, to do the real ministry themselves,’ but, ‘Feed My lambs, feed My sheep!’ The shepherds are there precisely to ‘do ministry for the sheep,’ that is, to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments to them.  The church is not a self-service buffet.  The shepherding Gospel ministry is there precisely to ‘reproduce’ and nourish the sheep.” (“Church Growth as Mission Paradigm” in Church and Ministry Today: Three Confessional Lutheran Essays, 2001, 84).

To be sure, the passion, the zeal, and the urgency to reach the lost are entirely desirable, needed, and exemplary. But, from a confessional Lutheran perspective, extreme caution is warranted when it means compromising the historic and biblical role of pastor and vocational priesthood (laity) in the greater mission of God.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully, honestly, and collegially, talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.


Rev. Woodford


4 responses to “Shepherd or Rancher: What’s a Pastor to Be?

  1. Very nice thoughts. Thank you for sharing. The three “not to do’s” you listed in the second paragraph are rather scary in my opinion.
    Quite frankly, I don’t understand why the people doing such jobs as organizing and administrating without feeding the sheep should be called pastors. Nor why such jobs require a seminary degree; an MBA would be more proper.
    I believe there are those who have the spiritual gift of administration. Perhaps those who wish to grow their churches should consider hiring such people from the laity and not demand their pastor be an expert in such things when he often has little training in that area. I wonder if there are any congregations who have such a set up. Do you know of any?

    • Hi Andy,

      Thanks for the thoughts. I have seen models for such sets ups, even wrote a job description and flow chart for one myself, as well as witnessed a few congregations who do try to utilize them. Often they come in the form of a business administrator or administrative director, who oversees a large amount of the “business” (i.e. fiscal oversight, structural, procedural, and operational) elements of the congregation. There are people who may have the gift or ability for administration or management, (through, as an aside, I am not sure what the “spiritual” gift of administration would look like or how it would be different than the ability of a Christian to manage and administrate the business operations of a congregation). Any way, this can have some benefits, particularly in larger congregational settings. But the challenge can also sometimes come in trying to help such large congregations keep focus on word and sacrament rather than the “programs” and “operations” of the church. It is a tough balance. But if the pastor is distinctly and acutely aware of what is needed, I think it could work.

      • Thanks for the thoughts. I think it would certainly take the right people and a clear vision to make such an agreement work well. When I spoke of the “spiritual” gift of administration, I was thinking of people who had a talent for placing the right people in the right positions, the ability to inspire others towards proper stewardship, and the gift of leadership in general. Examples (in Christian settings) such as the president of a university, the dean of a college, a principal, or superintendent come to mind. These people (as I see it) have the task of recognizing other people’s spiritual gifts (and non-spiritual gifts) and utilizing them as best they can for the purpose of their school or organization and the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps that is less of a spiritual gift and more of a worldly talent, but that’s what I was thinking of.
        Thanks again.

  2. Thanks for the rare civil discussion guys!

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