Friday, March 1, 2013

Are you a shepherd or a leader?

I've had my bones to pick with Rod Dreher over the years (he even wound up on the Our Word Enemies List™ one year), but Lent is a time for reforming one's life, and I've tried to bury the hatchet over so many of these petty things.*

*Though I'll admit there are still some for whom the hatchet should be buried in their backs.

Anyway, when a man is right he's right, and setting aside those areas of disagreement, Dreher has been right about a lot lately. His latest is entitled Rebellion and Empire, and in addition to making some pertinent comments of his own, he quotes at length from Jeff Dunn's essay on the failure of Christian pastoral leadership.  The problem, Dunn asserts, is that too many pastors try to be leaders rather than shepherds:

Shepherds focus on sheep entrusted to them; leaders focus on the structure of the organization that employees them. Shepherds walk behind their flocks to be sure that they stay together and no one gets lost; leaders walk out ahead, “casting the vision” so that all know who is in charge. Shepherds are filthy and dirty from caring for filthy, dirty sheep; leaders are dressed for success. Shepherds get very little recognition; leaders get book contracts.

Being a leader of a church, no matter what size the church, means to study demographics and business models. It means reading case studies and taking cues from the latest research published by business school teachers. Being a leader means setting goals and establishing benchmarks and, at the end of the day, mastering the latest business catchphrases, like “at the end of the day.”

Being a shepherd, meanwhile, involves visiting MaryLou in the hospital where she will want to talk with you about her medical history for the entire afternoon. It means meeting for breakfast with three men who resent even having to go to church, but do so to only please their wives. It means sitting bedside with a man whose wife is dying of cancer, and then taking the brunt of his anger as he accuses you and God of taking the one thing from him that mattered.

Leaders are professionals. Shepherds are laborers.

There's more, for which I'd suggest you head over to Rod's blog, but I think Miller makes an excellent point here, one that can be extended over many walks of life.  We used to say of a situation that there were "too many chefs and not enough cooks."  However, isn't the same true in business, in politics, in most areas?  Too many people are concerned with the most recent buzzphrases, the newest business guru, the latest book on leadership secrets from a dead historical figure.  It's a lot easier than, you know, actually caring about people.  If you reduce them to economic units, then you can apply your fun new theories.

I wholeheartedly embrace Rod's conclusion, oft-stated, that it's time for the alternative: a rebellion against the old ways, and a creation of a new way of life.  Easier said than done, and I don't know that we'll ever make it ourselves, but it's hard to disagree with what he calls the "Benedict Option" (after St. Benedict of Nursia, 5th century), in which we should consider

dropping out of a barbaric mainstream culture that has grown hostile to our fundamental values. The case for traditional conservatives to make a strategic retreat to defensible perimeters, so to speak, has become even more appealing since 1999, when Paul Weyrich issued his famous fin de si├Ęcle call for conservatives to pull back radically from “a [cultural] collapse so great that it simply overwhelms politics.”


Sometimes, it takes a catastrophe to make us come to ourselves, to see the world in a new and more truthful way. The political catastrophe the Republicans are living through, and the far more consequential cultural catastrophe we’re all enduring, obviously call for fresh political and economic thinking. But even more, they call for a renewal of our moral and spiritual vision. We have to learn to retreat from the passions of the moment, making use of this gift of catastrophe to enter into contemplation and draw once again “from the moral and spiritual depths” (Ryn) of the sound of church bells calling the faithful to evening prayer, the cattle lowing in the fields, the cold beer on the village square in the twilight of a world that, as Russell Kirk said, “remains sunlit despite its vices.”

Yes, it does sound a bit pessimistic - but we've been saying, "them's fightin' words" for too long now - time to do something about it.  Like a rebellion with a shepherd instead of a leader at the front. 

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