Finding good books on effective shepherding is no easy task
Over the millennia, the resounding answer has been, “ethos trumps.” We remember nothing of the sermons from the minister of our youth, but vividly recall his presence at our baseball game or piano recital. Ethos trumps.
Lynn Anderson’s “They Smell Like Sheep, Vol. 2: Leading with the Heart of a Shepherd” is a tour-de-force in character study: of the author’s subject and self. The book is chock-full of Anderson-isms. We hear his grandchildren address him as “Pappy,” David’s mighty men paraphrased as “crack troops,” and listen to him interact with other authors, “Rings true for me, Mr. Huxley.”
There is a familiar sound to this readable volume — a must read for those who have known Anderson or had a diet of his teaching. This winsome man, however, is endearing for reasons beyond his familiar writing style.
Anderson’s work is confessional. He admits to seasons of irrelevance, distance from God and ineptitude, which help reveal his genuine character and give the book an authentic quality. Anderson believes in angels who are capable of surrounding us with protective care. He prays over motel rooms — to exile the evil one and protect future occupants. He raises his hands with open and honest expression before God, evoking more the image of Robert Duvall in “The Apostle” than a charismatic worshipper.
Anderson always embodies his sage advice, and has long been the Barnabas he calls his readers to become: inclusive, embracing and affirming. On every page, one hears Quintillion’s perfect orator — a good man speaking well.
The volume’s six sections and 20 chapters borrow heavily from evangelical sources (Swindoll, Lucado, Maxwell) and innumerable friends and contemporary colleagues spread across North America. Tangy vignettes abound from elders who were mentored by gracious couples and are, in turn, providing emotive and relational guidance for the next generation of leaders. Readers walk into the home of John T. and Evelyn Willis, for example, who host homesick students and visit the desperately ill. We are better for the trip, having allowed “real servants” like the Willises to mentor us.
Each chapter concludes with a series of practical questions and promptings, often provocative and stimulating, what Anderson calls, “Cardiovascular Workouts for Shepherds’ Hearts.” The book is a prize resource for further study, and a host of likely venues come to mind, including: elders’ weekly study sessions, leadership retreats, personal study, reflections for leadership couples, and dialogue for mentors and mentorees.
Anderson’s advice comes from experience and demands reflection. I find his brief guide for navigating one’s calling in daily ministry especially helpful. “I had to differentiate myself from the role that people expected me to play and instead decide: 1) what I do best. Then, 2) what matters most. Then, 3) what must be done first.” This is a process worth consideration and implementation.
Alas, the book is a sequel and provides no “theology of ministry.” For that kind of grounding and trajectory, one must begin elsewhere. But Anderson makes no claim for such a book. “They Smell Like Sheep, Vol. 2” deals instead in heartwarming tales amongst shepherds in the pastures of life and is thus a refreshing corrective for those of us shaped by a corporate board of leaders who worked from an alien business model and handed down decisions wrangled out in the church’s board room.
Thankfully, ethos trumps in this book. But this raises a larger question: Where do elders in Churches of Christ turn for theologically grounded and sage advice? What about the logos?
One might expect the perfect choice to be Jackson W. Carroll’s “God’s Potters: Pastoral Leadership and the Shaping of Congregations” (Eerdmans, 2006). This volume is the result of massive surveys, funded by Lilly, which provide grist for descriptive accounts of clergy social characteristics and leadership styles that lead to the important question: what are the primary marks of good and faithful ministry? But the book’s consuming questions, “Who are America’s clergy?” and “How are they doing?” define a work that is not about elders.
Once again, even the most aggressive elders are restricted to “overhearing” the best research, exclusively intended for audiences other than a Church of Christ eldership. Where is the theologically prescriptive and practically descriptive definitive text for elders?
One needs not search far for theological substance, which abounds in Timothy S. Laniak’s “Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible” (IVP Academic, 2006), an exhaustive examination of everything from socioeconomic challenges that faced ancient shepherds and biological makeup of the animals to careful exegesis of pertinent biblical texts.
This technical work aims for a non-technical audience, but its passive, academic, staccato prose slogs along, requiring either prior training or further translation.
It is a hefty manual, but one that will fail nine of 10 elders who are looking for a theological vision for the dilemmas they face. Laniak develops a full biblical theology of “shepherd,” but his concluding implications for contemporary pastoral ministry are slight reward for such slow reading and demand both resource and discipline to follow his carefully plotted trajectories.
Again, where is the theologically prescriptive and practically descriptive, definitive text for elders? Sadly, a lacuna confronts us at a time of crisis.
In the fall of 1985, I had lunch with C. Peter Wagner in his Fuller Seminary office — a conversation with the Church Growth guru at the peak of the Church Growth movement. I remember from the dialogue Wagner’s firm judgment that our “denomination” was not experiencing numerical growth and could not grow as long as we had a plurality of leaders in our local congregations.
“That system is a bottle neck and won’t work,” he claimed.
I countered, “But we do have congregations with elderships that are growing.”
Wagner shot back, “And each one of these churches has a minister at the top, the pastor who calls the shots.”
He had me. I went down the list and every “growing” congregation I could think of was being led by a minister — not an eldership — who perfectly fit the description of a classic “church growth pastor.”
Now, more than two decades later, with Wagner and his movement no longer grabbing the headlines, I’m hearing from our larger and suburban congregations the term “pastor” appropriated in ways one did not hear a generation ago — to designate the church’s preaching minister and not the local eldership.
This is an ironic evolution: forgoing the torturous work of training a covey of leaders, we’re embracing the model formerly triumphed by Wagner and most recently championed by Warren and Hybels.
This observation is not an exercise in semantics nor an effort to “skin the sects” but recognition that at the very moment our churches most need to chart a course drawn from biblical settings we are drifting with the current toward more pragmatic waters.
The nationwide success of Charles Siburt’s Elderlink program is evidence of our leaders’ gnawing hunger. But these busy and untrained men have little time or patience for difficult excursions into theological reading that demands a background in biblical studies, the ability to translate work not directly intended for them, and skills to discern from sketchy implications appropriate responses to never ending pastoral demands.
So, we wait patiently for the definitive logos of “Pastoral Ministry for Church of Christ Elders.” And, as we wait, we are left with the warm and inviting embrace of Lynn Anderson’s ethos. Our predicament could be worse.
DAVID FLEER is professor of religion and communication and special assistant to the president at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn.