Before I am a Shepherd…January 1, 2007
Ever since a friend gifted me “Dear Timothy – Letters on Pastoral Ministry” I’ve returned to its wisdom time and again. It is truly one of the most encouraging books I’ve read since entering pastoral ministry.
To explain, Dear Timothy is a collection of letters written to a fictional young pastor named Timothy. Since Timothy is just entering the ministry, a league of wise counsellors (such as Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, Tedd Tripp and Joel Beeke) pass on their sage advice. Needless to say, I wish I had that kind of counsel when I unfurlled my sails!
In the first chapter, “Establishing Priorities”, Tom Ascoll encourages Timothy with some sane advice:
“What has God called me to be? First, he calls me to be a sincere, devoted follower of Jesus Christ. This is so basic that it is easy to take for granted and to forget about it. One great danger of the ministry is professionalism. As you will soon discover, a pastor can become very adept at doing his job. Like any other vocation, certain skills can be developed and polished in the gospel ministry. A pastor can become so proficient in his public ministry that others will regard him as successful.
But when professionalism as a mentality takes over a pastors outlook, his heart will inevitably begin to be neglected. And the heart is the primary tool of every pastor. If you are not loving God with all your heart because you have neglected the basic responsibilities of discipleship, it does not matter how professionally ‘successful’ you become. In reality, your apparent successu will only be a sham.
So my dear brother, guard your heart. Go to God’s Word first and foremost as a believer. Remember that before you are a shepherd you are a sheep. As a pastor you need the very same things that you commend to others. Follow the wisdom of Robert Murray McCheyne who noted: ‘it is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.’ “
This I so readily forget. Not all sheep are shepherds. But all shepherds are sheep. If I forget this basic truth, I will soon cease to be an effective shepherd.
On this, the first day of a new year: let me set as my pre-eminent goal to follow the Good Shepherd closely; let me examine my heart to see where professionalism has crept in; let me feed on good pasture, so that I may lead others to it.
Before I am a shepherd, I’m a sheep.