Jesus: Good Shepherd or CEO? An Exercise in the Perspicuity and Sufficiency of Scripture

(A good friend of mine, Andrew Lindsey, has allowed me to post a recent article he wrote in response to Andy Stanley on Tad Thompson’s blog. I felt this topic is very pertinent to the church today, especially in the SBC, given the prevalent ‘CEO’ mentality and the undermining of the sufficiency of scripture that is all too common. -NW)

By Andrew Lindsey

[This blogpost is an expansion of recent comments made in a discussion on the Total Leadership blog.]

In a recent article entitled “The God Who Names Himself“, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary begins with these thoughts:

Calls for theological innovation and the employment of “theological imagination” are now routine among mainline Protestants and others prone to theological revisionism. Dismissive of doctrinal orthodoxy and biblical language as out of date, oppressive, patriarchal, and worse, the proponents of theological reformulation intend to restructure Christianity around an entirely new system of beliefs, playing with language even as they reinvent the faith.

The “theological innovation” Dr. Mohler decries is painfully obvious in situations such as the recent declaration by the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. that different names– such as “Compassionate Mother, Beloved Child and Life-Giving Womb”– must be given to the members of the Trinity (this is the situation that sets the context for Mohler’s article), but extreme examples such as the actions of the PCUSA only come about after a long series of small moves away from a full confidence that God has clearly and sufficiently communicated the truth that He means for us to have.

One such “small move” is illustrated by the Spring 2006 Leadership Journal interview of Andy Stanley, the leader of North Point Ministries in the Atlanta area. [This excerpt from the interview is taken from the Ah! Bright Wings blog.]

page 28 – L: Should we stop talking about pastors as ‘shepherds’?
AS: Absolutely. That word needs to go away. Jesus talked about shepherds because there was one over there in a pasture he could point to. But to bring in that imagery today and say, “Pastor, you’re the shepherd of the flock,” no. I never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd. It was culturally relevant in the time of Jesus, but it’s not culturally relevant any more. Nothing works in our culture with that model except this sense of the gentle, pastoral care. Obviously that is a facet of church ministry, but that’s not leadership.

L: Isn’t shepherd the biblical word for pastor?
AS: It’s the first century word. If Jesus were here today, would he talk about shepherds? No. He would point to something that we all know, and we’d say, “Oh yeah, I know what that is.” Jesus told Peter, the fisherman, to “feed my sheep,” but he didn’t say to the rest of them, “Go ye therefore into all the world and be shepherds and feed my sheep.” By the time of the book of Acts, the shepherd model is gone. It’s about establishing elders and deacons and their qualifications. Shepherding doesn’t seem to be the emphasis. Even when it was, it was cultural, an illustration of something. What we have to do is identify the principle, which is that the leader is responsible for the care of the people he’s been given. That I am to care for and equip the people in the organization to follow Jesus. But when we take the literal illustration and bring it into our culture, then people can make it anything they want because nobody knows much about it.

There are many points that could be made about Andy Stanley’s words in this interview, but I will focus upon two:

  1. Jesus was NOT striving for “cultural relevance” in His words about shepherding. When Jesus spoke of being a shepherd to His sheep, He did not choose the illustration of a shepherd based primarily on the experiences of His hearers. In John 21:16, Jesus told Simon Peter, “Shepherd my sheep”. Now we know that Peter was not a shepherd before following Christ, but rather a fisherman. And yet Jesus does not say, “Be like a really good fishing-boat captain to the other fishers.” There is richness in the metaphor that we must understand, where the Bible has consistently named the LORD as our shepherd, Scripture has named us as His sheep, and God’s Word has given church leaders the task of following Christ’s example by living as a shepherd. Likewise, when the Apostle was addressing the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, he said, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (NASB) While studying for my under-graduate degree in history at Georgia State University, I was constantly confronted with how erroneous a view of history we often develop. The difference in how people live today, with all of our technologies and innovations, is not as dissimilar from past urban societies as we sometimes think (though things do happen much faster in the 21st century). Somehow, it seems that we get the idea that half the population in the Roman Empire at the time of Christ and His apostles were shepherds and that a person could not walk through the streets of a major city without bumping into a shepherds’ convention. But Ephesus at the time of Paul was, “an important political, educational, and commercial center, ranking with Alexandria in Egypt, and Antioch of Pisidia, in southern Asia Minor” [from the 2006 MacArthur Study Bible, NASB, page 1770]. So the urban elders addressed by Paul would necessarily have had any more first-hand experience of shepherds as an individual in New York City would have today. And the thought that Jesus chose the illustration of the shepherd and the sheep due to the experiences of His hearers is betrayed in the fact that neither Jesus nor any of His 12 apostles are said to have held the occupation literally tending sheep. At the time of Jesus people would have held a great variety of jobs– much as people do today– and they would not necessarily have had any more experience with shepherding than the majority of people reading this blog, yet they could understand the simplicity of Jesus’ illustration. I’ve never been a shepherd, but I can understand what a shepherd is and what he does. And any small child or CEO can understand the illustration of a shepherd as well with the slightest bit of explanation. If the Holy Spirit chose to reveal Christ as a shepherd– and names church leaders as shepherds following Christ’s example– then it is our duty, not to change the word “shepherd” to our modern context, but to help our hearers adapt their thinking to the biblical context. It’s less ‘cool’, but it’s not that difficult, and it honors the life-giving Word of God.
  1. Jesus IS “here today” and He’s still talking about “shepherds”. Jesus promised to be with His followers always as we go and “make disciples of all the nations” (see Matthew 28:19-20). Jesus said that He would personally build His church upon the confession that He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (see Matthew 16:16-18). This confession is not a mere utterance of words on the part of the confessor, but is a statement of true faith, which comes from hearing the word of Christ (see Romans 10:17). Now, the word– or message– of Christ is found only in the Bible– there is no other way that we would have sure information about who Jesus is and what He has done. The Bible is no dead book, but is rather “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 NASB). The Bible is God-breathed and is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (cf. II Timothy 3:16-17 NASB). Therefore, the Bible is sufficient to bring people to faith in Jesus, to instruct them in growing as disciples for Jesus, and in ordering and illustrating the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ, which is charged with making disciples for His glory. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35 NASB). So if we look at Jesus using the word “shepherd” in Scripture, an then make the statement, “That word needs to go away,” then we are contradicting the “living and active” word of our Lord. The Bible is the only blueprint for how God is working His redemptive plan in history. If we step away from the words of Scripture for any reason, whether it be “academic credibility” (as liberal scholars have) or “cultural relevance” (as many modern “evangelicals” have), we are stepping away from the redemptive power of God

[For some good practical thoughts on the difference between applying Jesus’ illustration of church leaders as shepherds and the idea of a church leader as a CEO, please see Frank (“Centuri0n”) Turk’s current post on the Pyromaniacs blog.]

Explore posts in the same categories: Exegetical Issues, General

8 Comments on “Jesus: Good Shepherd or CEO? An Exercise in the Perspicuity and Sufficiency of Scripture”

  1. kletois Says:

    “I never seen a flock. I’ve never spent five minutes with a shepherd.”

    Does this guy own a tv, or ever read a book (some even have pictures)?

  2. Allan Says:

    I stand amazed agian. I know scripture states of the end times, many shall fall away… and, evil will get worse…, shall give heed to suducing spirits and doctrines of demons. But man… All I can say is Lord come quickly. Thank you for the post.

  3. Floyd Jones Says:

    When we consider church leadership, it is incumbant upon all of us to consider how Christ Jesus spoke regarding that leadership. To relegate his words to be only culturally relative and then to state that if Jesus were alive today he would state the matter differently is just foolish speculation. Christ Jesus had plenty of options to choose from as he spoke about leadership. He could have spoken from the governmental perspective and stated that we should be like governors (similar to Pontius Pilate). He could have stated that church leadership be handled in the same manner as the high priests who had charge of the temple. He could have said that church leaders lead the church like business owners (unless we are to assume there were no businesses in Jesus’ day). Christ Jesus spoke about the leaders of the church as being shepherds. This shepherd theme runs from the Old Testament to the New. Even false prophets were called shepherds, and they had much worldly success. Christ Jesus spoke of himself as “the Good Shepherd”. How much richer is that comparison than “the Good CEO”. The comparison fails in numerous manners. Should Hebrews be understood to read: Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great CEO of his workers, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with every good thing that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Hebrews 13.20-21)? Should Peter be understood in today’s terminology to really be saying: For you were off-task as employees, but have now returned to the CEO and Boss of your souls (I Peter 2.25)? I am making the point by being absurd.
    Is it significant, therefore, that every time we read the Bible regarding the leadership of the church, we find that it is lead by One Lord Christ Jesus and under him is a plurality of elders? This plurality of elders can actually help place a check on the whole CEO mentality of the singular pastor. I have been attending various churches in my life and all but one were run by a singular pastor. I have seen pastors who thought that they were CEO’s and I have seen those who understood they were shepherds. The CEO’s burned out and caused resentment in the church. The shepherds were those who were loved by the church because they lead by love. While I believe that the best church leadership is accomplished by a plurality of elders, we should all (regardless of our church structure) remember the words of Peter who wrote: So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (I Peter 5.1-4).
    Just two asides from the main content. First, if we consider that we need to understand Jesus’ words differently today than they were understood during his time, what exactly will be the next area of teaching from Christ that we must reinterpret to fit our cultural understanding? Second, how many times is the church called a flock? Perhaps we would be better understood to see ourselves as employees or associates for the great Fortune 500 corporation in the sky?
    Floyd Jones

  4. Floyd Jones Says:

    As I think about the comments given by Andy Stanley as shown on this site, I realize that there is too much to address in a single response. I will try my best however to offer some insight to the statement and perhaps this will engender conversation that is highly needed.
    First, I do not find that Andy Stanley is alone in his hermaneutical approach. If you listen to modern day preaching and teaching you will find that the Bible is constantly reinterpreted to meet the expectations of the teacher or preacher. Our duty as Christian leaders is to faithfully and objectively present the full council of God. We are not to find our pet ideas and then run full-speed with them neglecting context and serious study. Sadly, the comments given by Andy Stanley demonstrate that he has interpreted the Bible to read as he finds fit. I encourage all who are reading my post to read the Bible for what it says and not for what we want it to say. Then preach the Word and not our own message.
    Second, with the idea given by Andy Stanley that the word “shepherd” can and probably should be replaced by the term “CEO”, I find a multiplicity of problems. One is that we are never to interpret the Bible by what we have seen. Andy states that he has never seen a “flock” or a “shepherd”. Fair enough. When I was in Israel, I saw them. Does that mean that my biblical accuracy has increased ten-fold because I saw a shepherd? Since when do we interpret the Bible by our experiences? I have never seen God. I have seen people who thought they were God, but that is a different story altogether. I have never seen angels or demons. I have never heard a talking serpent or for that matter a talking donkey. Does all of this give me ground to interpret the Bible in such a manner that it makes sense to me and my ideas of what it should say? Of course not! My example just given is not exactly correct however, for we are told that we must take such things on faith and that is true. So, lets bring down the examples to this physical world. I have never seen Pontius Pilate. I have never seen a chief high priest presiding in Jerusalem. I have never seen an animal sacrifice. So, do I have ground to state that really Pontius Pilate is better understood as the President of the United States, the chief high priest is better understood as the Pope, and animal sacrifice is better understood as that which occurs at a butcher’s shop? I do not think so. All of those miss the point of Holy Scripture in a drastic manner. So, we do not interpret Scripture by our experiences, period.
    Third, if we are now to understand “shepherds” as “CEO”s, then does that mean that all of the elect are now employees for the corporation? Does that mean that all the visitors are the consumers who are looking for the product? Does that mean that we are “selling” the gospel, or as Paul wrote of some, “like so many, peddler’s of God’s word” (II Corinthians 2.17)? How does our corporation measure success? Is it by numbers or by money or by professions? What is the church staff? Is is CFO’s and general managers? What about the deacons…are they like foremen? Really, we open the door. Further, how is the CEO suppose to act? Does that mean he can hire and fire at will? Surely we all can see how far this door really opens!
    Finally, this understanding goes to the heart of biblical authority. It assumes that if Christ knew better he would not have spoken the way he did. This statement shows that the Bible is regarded as a low standard and is always to be understood at the whims and wishes of the one reading it. This attitude places man’s authority over God’s. This interpretation demonstrates that real leadership is lacking and rather that rebellion is underway in the name of spirituality.
    I look forward to the further postings…
    Floyd Jones

  5. Gene Says:

    While studying for my under-graduate degree in history at Georgia State University, I was constantly confronted with how erroneous a view of history we often develop. The difference in how people live today, with all of our technologies and innovations, is not as dissimilar from past urban societies as we sometimes think (though things do happen much faster in the 21st century).

    This is an excellent observation. Notice that it looks very similar to the atheist tactic of slandering the past to say that they were gullible and would believe anything. It is also very like latitudinarian epistemology in some evangelical circles these days where this is just the language of accomodation and has no real significance…but I don’t think Andy Stanley would agree with such an epistemology, given his background; ergo this strikes me as inconsistent for one to say if he truly affirms Sola Scriptura, inerrancy, &c.

  6. Good point Gene re: the atheists revising history right under our eyeballs in an effort to make the people then look dumber than we are today. Our society is an arrogant one, and with all of the computers and gadgets, etc. it is truly amazing to me that we still have people in our congregations that can’t tell the difference between a verb and a noun. Anyone who has ever studied Koine Greek and then compares it to English knows that we’re just plain stupid when compared with the folks of ancient Palestine. It is too bad Christians (or so-called) are adopting the same tactic of slandering the past in order to push away the rich biblical metaphors. Sadly, this is typical of the post-seeker, come emergent era.

  7. centuri0n Says:

    OK — as a guy who is friends with this blog, with Tad Thompson, and with conservative views of the Bible let me say two things and then go back to work.

    [1] I think Pastor Stanley put his foot in a gopher hole with his statement in this interview. There’s no way to read that statement and not start down the road to placing the Bible in a non-authoritative position. It’s rough. It is also off the cuff, OK?

    [2] I also think Pastor Stanley was trying to make a specific point here: Jesus was speaking to a particular people at a particular time in a particular way to make a particular point. In that, if Jesus had come to Atlanta instead of Jerusalem, he might have picked a different image. But a part of that — which I think Pastor Stanley fails to account for — is that Jesus is speaking to a particular people whom He had just spent all of time forming to receive this message. The extent of God’s sovereignty cannot be underplayed in understanding how and why Scripture was composed.

    Listen: if you don’t know what a shepherd is, you haven’t read the rest of the Bible. Abel was a shepherd; Moses was a shepherd; David was a shepherd; God is Himself the shepherd who lays me down in green pastures.

    So when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he is invoking an image God spent millenia ingraining into the people of Israel. It’s too bad that we Americans are disconnected from that. It should be pretty jarring for us to think about the idea that we are disconnected from the ability to receive Scripture as it was written.

    Just because Scripture is clear doesn’t make it a pop-up book. Let’s at least give it as much time and energy as we would in reading Lord of the Rings.

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