MULTICULTURAL & In This Model It Only Seems Like the Senior Pastor Isn’t Really a Shepherd

by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 11/15/15.

Once a student felt I was letting the senior minister off the hook in the Multicultural or Multi-congregational model. To her it appeared that the senior pastor’s role “…seems a lot of oversight and administration, no real pastoring???”

I think the confusion comes over the word pastoring and its root word: shepherding. There are two general ways people define this term.

Definition 1: If we define shepherding as discipling others, then yes, in a church that is above 75 in attendance, the role of shepherding all individuals becomes too wieldy for one pastor.  Jesus Himself only discipled 12 individuals, and then had them (and their disciples such as the 72 – Luke 10:1-3) disciple others.

Definition 2: Or we think of shepherding as: leading the flock forward. With this alternative definition it then it is feasible for the senior pastor of a church over 75 to do this.

The Scriptures better support the former (Definition 1), where shepherding is analogous to discipleship. Thus, even Jesus didn’t shepherd a large group, but allowed the Jethro Principle to be utilized (oversight was given by multiples of 10 with basic groups of only 10 each, Exodus 18:17-27), so that small groups emerged as the basic discipleship venue.  Thus, there should be many shepherds in a church over 75 (and some would argue anytime a church is over 12). These many shepherds, including the senior minister, would each disciple a small group per Jesus’ example and as seen in the effectiveness of small group systems (see St. Tom’s example my book Inside the Organic Church, Whitesel 2006). The senior minister is not exempt from this task, for he or she disciples a group of 12 or so as well. This group will usually be leaders who themselves shepherd other leaders, and so forth (see Jethro’s advice to Moses in Exodus 18:1-27).

The confusion arises when pastors go into the ministry because they want to do “real pasturing” which they perceive as shepherding everybody in the church, only to discover that the church is larger than can be shepherded by one shepherd. Thus, because the pastor does not begin to disciple and mentor so-called under-shepherds, everyone looks to the senior shepherd for personal ministry. And, because he or she is overwhelmed the shepherd decides they are not cut out for the senior pastorate.  Semantics tend to confuse things here, for we shouldn’t probably call a senior pastor a shepherd (he or she is, just not of everyone … but of a group of under-shepherds). That is why I prefer the term lead minister, or senior leader.

And, most shepherds have other jobs too. A small group shepherd might do this as a church volunteer and work as an accountant or businesswoman the rest of the time. Similarly, the senior minister will usually be employed by the church and have as his or her other job (aside from discipling his or her leadership group) the job of church planning and oversight. Thus, it is easy to see how it can seem like “… a lot of oversight and administration, no real pastoring,” when in actuality in the Multi-Gen. Church the senior minister should be pastoring … just not everybody. That is the duty of an expansive shepherding network comprised of many lay and professional under-shepherds.

Thus, don’t let the semantics confuse you. The senior shepherd is really the senior minister and also a trainer/mentor.  Yet, the small group leaders are the most prolific shepherds, as is witnessed in the cell-church movement, St. Thomas’ Church in Sheffield England (the largest Anglican church in the UK) and in programs such as Stephen Ministers. I hope this clears up the often confusing explanations and opposite expectations that are put upon the terms: shepherding.