‘Non-Shepherding’ Pastors: Option or Oxymoron?

Are “non-shepherding” pastors ever legitimate? You know, ministers who, due to other commitments (such as preaching) abstain from counseling and visitation and other life-on-life ministry during the week. Apart from perhaps a brief window on Sundays, they’re essentially inaccessible.

“It’s never okay to have a non-shepherding pastor,” J. D. Greear insists, since you “can’t separate those roles [shepherd and pastor] God has joined together.” Nevertheless, the pastor of North Carolina’s 4,000-plus-member The Summit Church admits, this principle will look different according to context.

“These duties are wed in Scripture,” notes Bryan Chapell, pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois, and former president of Covenant Seminary in St. Louis. He points to Paul’s instructive words: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thess. 2:8). Like Greear, though, Chapell admits there will be different “gifts” and “degrees of calling” when it comes to shepherding and proclamation.

“It’s good to know your own personality so that you’ll be able to work against your weaknesses,” adds Mike McKinley, pastor of Sterling Park Baptist Church in northern Virginia. As an introvert, he’s acutely aware that “books are easier to love than people.”

Just because you can’t pastor everyone doesn’t exempt you from pastoring anyone. Indeed, despite the priority of preaching, you won’t be “half the preacher you ought to be if you’re not individually involved in people’s lives.”

Watch the full seven-minute video to hear these pastors discuss generational shifts in expectation, the place of preaching, multiplying leaders, and more.

“Non-Shepherding” Pastors from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

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  • Padre Shaun

    Commented in Vimeo as well: This was a very disappointing clip. Biblical basis for the parochial view of pastoring is assumed but never given. Perhaps because the stance that ‘pastoring’ is visiting homes and sharing tea and cookies is unbiblical. In my view (and experience), not only unbibilcal, but dangerous to the vocation of our pastors (burnout) and the mission of our church (the community should be present with one another). Greear is closer to the mark biblically when he describes pastoring and engagement within the small-group setting (e.g. Paul in Acts). This old view of pastoral ministry is a sacred cow that needs to be burned with fire and ground into dust.

    • JB Brown

      Friend I could not disagree with you more. Paul, as he framed his ministry as a Church Planter/Pastor among the Ephesians to the elders that he was seeing for the last time, left them with these words: Acts 20:20 “how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house”

      The ministry of a pastor includes, but is not limited to, public preaching, visiting in homes, and small groups. There is much more however, we must be engaged with our people praying with and for them and sharing the word and our lives. Blessings

  • Luke

    “Perhaps because the stance that ‘pastoring’ is visiting homes and sharing tea and cookies is unbiblical…This old view of pastoral ministry is a sacred cow that needs to be burned with fire and ground into dust.”

    Would you also oppose doing visitation with the sick? What about hospital visits? James states pretty strongly that pastors need to spend time ministering to the sick through anointing and prayer (there is no distinction between pastors and elders in the NT).

    The groundwork for pastoral ministry is in the relationships built by sharing life with people. It involves more than shaking hands after a sermon. Pastors that are not involved communally are dangerous to the very community that they purport to be building within the church.

    Pastors that are disconnected preach poorly (because they can’t speak to their congregants specific situations), they cannot shepherd, and they cannot lead effectively.

    It’s true that even in small congregations pastors can’t personally disciple every individual. That is impossible and certainly a recipe for burnout. Still, pastors have to model shepherding by caring for their leaders. They must make sharing life with congregants a priority and must do more than simply preach.

    Hiding out in the office avoiding contact with people for 30 hours a weak is a waste and ignores the primary function of shepherding.

    It’s sad that so many pastors churches reflect our society’s hyper individualistic mentality and overvalue privacy to the point of never encouraging or providing opportunities to share life: to confess, forgive, weep, celebrate, encourage and otherwise love one another as a family. It’s scary to be vulnerable: especially to pastors. It is also incredibly important and valuable to model that to people who want to control every aspect of how they are perceived and how they are known.

  • Padre Shaun

    Thanks for the comment JB,
    I agree that Pastors must be engaged with those the serve. It is the idol of the professional pastor going from door-to-door in one-on-one home visitation to simply be present that I take exception with. Especially the notion that you are a pastor in error unless you do. This is the position I see assumed by Pastors Chapell and McKinley.
    I would point to the context of Acts 20:20, and the interactions Paul has with the Ephesians in Acts 19. In 1 Paul speaks to “some”, 8-10 he travels with disciples in his ministry. Further to the point, in Acts 18 while in Corinth, Paul travels to Titius’ houses and many hear through his ministry there. I agree with your comment as it pertains to true Christian fellowship. Reference Pastor Greear’s style of ensuring he is engaged in meaningful small-group ministry. Actively engaged in the lives of a smaller group, while pastoring the pastors. Acts 20:20, in context, illustrates the difference between what the bible teaches as fellowship (catechetical, evangelistic) and the cheap knock-off that we have bought into (tea and cookies). I think it is dangerous, and unfair, to heap even more guilt upon our overworked Pastors for not being all things all the time.
    No doubt many disagree. As Haddon Robinson declared: Sacred cows make the best BBQ.

  • Padre Shaun

    Good Afternoon Luke,
    The visiting of widows and orphans is actually different to what I am speaking of (although James makes it clear that this is the role of all Christians, and especially the elders, not just the pro James 1:27). I’m speaking of passing regular cyclical visitation of church members off as the model of biblical shepherding. Visiting 7 church families per week was actually in the job description of one church I saw recently. I also had a denominational executive tell me one of his pastors was lazy because regular pastoral visitation wasn’t a priority for him (cell-groups and youth ministry actually were). I am more comfortable, biblically-speaking, talking about the Pastor as but one of the elders engaged in building intentional mentor and peer-mentor relationships, organic relationships and community building.

    • Luke

      Padre Shaun,

      I think we are in agreement in regards to our understanding of elders. Elders shepherd just as pastors do. Hopefully they minister to one-another as well, and look out for the well-being of pastoral staff to ensure that they aren’t being abused (for instance by quotas of visitation numbers to meet).

      Shepherding necessarily entails those relationships you mention at the end of your response. I would argue that they are the cornerstone for ministry: especially those harder aspects of grief support, church discipline and reproach. By loving well and sharing life, elders can then engage in these areas much more effectively, and model that ministry to the congregation as a whole. This certainly can be done in a lot of ways, but must involve thoughtful, deep engagement (whether in homes, coffee shops, offices, or elsewhere).

      Without relationship and a recognition that leaders are ‘for’ them and with them, those harder aspects of ministry will be much more difficult and likely much less effective.

    • chen

      So, you mean creating another class in the church like Roman Catholics?

  • Andy

    Thabiti Anyabwile said it best:

    Brothers, We Should Stink. ( smell like the sheep )


    That’s a good word.

  • Hal

    Even in a mega church, it would be good for the senior pastor to pick random church members and visit with them, rather than concentrating on the upper echelon only. People need to see the pastor as a real person–not another talking head who doesn’t know them, and not a superstar super saint with a halo on a pedestal, who can’t relate to their average lives of quiet desperation.

    And “non-shepherding pastor” is an oxymoron. The words are synonyms.

  • Mike Meadows

    I think the mega church pastor model is broken. How can we pastor people we do not know? If we are to pastor the people of God then we must as Thabiti Anyabwile said smell like sheep. If all you want to do is preach then be a traveling evangelist, but to pastor means to love on the people of God, to spur them on to love and good deeds, and equip them for the work of ministry. Just my two cents for whatever that is worth :)

    • Ryan Fishel

      Dear Mike, I’ve noticed over the years I had certain ideas I imposed onto other different kinds of churches. But when it came down to it, big churches and little churches and everything in-between needs to function differently. Are we against big churches? Thousands coming to faith over years (or in a single days, Acts 2:41, 4:4)—would love to see it more! But what “smelling like sheep” in a big church (blessed with thousands) probably isn’t gonna be the same as smelling like sheep in a church of 100.

      I found Tim Keller’s article on the dynamics of different church sizes helpful here. Even reading only the first page or two can be striking:


      Yours sincerely,

      • Mike Meadows

        Ryan, I have actually read Tim Keller’s article and I agree it is very helpful. And for clarification’s sake I am not “imposing” my ideas on other churches. I am simply stating I feel the mega church model is a broken model.

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  • jason

    what do you do if you’re in leadership and your pastor is not a shepherd?

  • Robert Reece

    Sad thing is I experienced for almost 3 yrs being under a Pastor that had NO personal connection with me. After many attempt to setup a meeting, I was denied every time and forwarded to a “spiritual leading pastor”, I don’t even know what that even means. I read this article that I thought I would share with you about church membership and why you must find a biblical church. http://redgracemedia.com/church-membership/#sthash.4E8RglG8.dpbs

  • Eric Rasmusen

    Part of preaching is a mild form of church discipline. It is a way to admonish and warn individual people without buttonholing them. For that reason, whoever preaches needs to be in very close relations with those who know the hearts of the congregation.

  • Greg

    Certainly, it seems fair to say that pastors of larger churches will struggle with this, but it can be an issue for a church of 50 or 5000. An observation: If an effective husband/father/pastor were to shepherd his family like he does his (don’t take “his” wrong) church, his family would be in serious trouble. A father’s relationship to his wife and children isn’t (hopefully) restricted to a sermon/lecture once a week. In fact, probably most of what his children receive from his life is more “caught than taught.” Obviously, one pastor can’t shepherd dozens or hundreds or thousands as effectively as he does his family, but he and the leadership team can and must attempt to model and instill these shepherding qualities in the lives of the few they can impact within the body, who will then do the same with others, and so on and so on and so on.