Temptations of a Shepherd: Hiding from God

Darrin Patrick » Church Church Leadership Church Planting

This post is adapted from Darrin Patrick's book Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission, available now. One of the greatest temptations for pastors is to use ministry to hide from and avoid God. It is easy to hide behind your sermons by expecting everyone in the church but yourself to repent and respond. It is easy to avoid dependence on God, depending instead on the buzz that is created with charts, graphs, whiteboards, and visioneering. But shepherding, counseling, and care ministry are also easy ways to do ministry and resist God. The dangers facing Christ's under-shepherds are numerous. Some are from without, but many are from within. You can do the right thing for the wrong reasons. You can be a really good shepherd and a really bad Christian.

Shepherding to Hide From Your Own Sins

Many pastors use their shepherding ministry to hide from their own sins, deficiencies, and flaws. I first came on staff at a church when I was only 19. I was a youth pastor working under another pastor who had hired me, though I was way too young. I was really attracted to the possibility of being mentored and challenged in my character by someone in ministry. The mentoring and challenging did happen, but not the way I expected. This was back in the 1980s when many church pastors (and 19-year-old youth pastors) rocked a mullet, and many churches had only one phone line. One day, I picked up the phone, adjusted my mullet, and accidentally overheard a very inappropriate conversation that this pastor was having with a woman in the church. Turns out, the pastor was sexually involved with several women in the church. I remember the confrontational meeting I had with the pastor and the deacons of the church. Without hesitation, all of them said this pastor was there every time they were in the hospital, or had a need, or had a sick child. They basically said because this pastor was such a good shepherd, they were going to overlook his sexual immorality. In that moment, I began to realize that some pastors use their shepherding ministry to atone for and justify their sins.

Shepherding to Cover Your Weaknesses

Another danger for pastors is to shepherd in order to cover their own weaknesses. I know a pastor who refuses to develop his preaching gift, but instead uses his shepherding gift to cover for his weakness in preaching. It is not just that he does not have a gift of preaching; he does not work at improving his preaching skills because he knows he can rely on his shepherding to keep his people happy. Happy, yes; growing, no. Happy, yes; on mission, no. Others may be tempted to avoid strong leadership of the entire flock by staying in the comfort zone of their shepherding role to individual sheep. Many people will avoid a life on mission with God if they are not challenged, and especially if they feel like their needs are being met by a shepherd. A good shepherd is prepared to lead as much through strong preaching and leadership as he is through tender care and counseling. In the next post we will examine two other temptations facing the shepherding man: Shepherding to conquer inner demons and shepherding to win acceptance.

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