Becoming a Godly Shepherd

Darrin Patrick

Pastors, how can we grow in our shepherding skills and cultivate the kinds of compassion to which Christ calls us?

1. Identify what makes you uncomfortable around people who are hurting 

Interacting with the struggles of other people often reminds you of your own failings or hurts. Biblical counseling will address some of these wounds. Our ability to feel deep compassion is stunted when we have not dealt with our own wounds and received healing from the Lord.

I used to say, "Hospitals and I don't get along." My mom spent months in the hospital when she was dying of terminal cancer. It took eight years and an intense chaplaincy class to face my pain and receive God's healing. As we receive healing and compassion from the Lord, we are liberated to extend the same to those around us.

2. Become a better listener

Most people, at least at the beginning of their crisis, tragedy, or pain, need your ear more than your mouth. You don't always need an answer, but you always need to listen. James's admonishment to be the first to listen and last to speak is more than good advice; it is God-commanded (James 1:19). Through listening, the Spirit prepares your heart to speak the truth and softens the heart of the hearer to receive the truth. Trust the Spirit to do the healing. 

3. Consider your personality

Some people are wired by God to be excellent shepherds. Others, not so much. A big factor is where a pastor falls on the extroversion/introversion scale. If you are highly introverted, the problem might be the volume of people you are trying to shepherd. You must know your limits and bring others along to help. If you are highly extroverted, you may be able to shepherd a large amount of people—but if you’re not careful and you shepherd too many people, you hurt your ministry in two ways:

  • You tie people to you, feeding your ego and keeping others from using their shepherding gifts.
  • You can’t go deep with any of them and end up putting a band-aid on what may be a gaping wound. 

4. Repent of idolatry 

When a minister’s focus is on himself, it cannot be on the people under his care. Many pastors do not have compassion for others because they counsel to gain approval from people, or use them to further their own ministry goals. Like all idolatry, this is highly offensive to God and destructive to others. Before, during, and after you meet with people, ask God to reveal any improper motives that you have in the counseling process.

To shepherd well, you must apply the gospel you preach to your own heart.

5. Look to the cross

Consider what Christ has done with his unending love for you in hanging on the cross. Remember the thorns on his brow, the stripes on his back, the spikes in his wrists and feet, the splinters from the rough wood up his back, the derision of the crowds, the desertion of his closest friends, the shame of the cross, the slow asphyxiating death, and, worst of all, the wrath of the Father. Consider the results of this love: saving you from an eternity in hell and giving you an eternity in his presence. To shepherd well, you must apply the gospel you preach to your own heart. 

The more you understand what Christ, your Shepherd, has done for you, the more you will be formed into a godly and compassionate shepherd for others.

This post is adapted from Darrin Patrick's book Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission, available now.

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