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Pastoral Leader, Get in Front of Your Sheep. Jesus Did.

In this excerpt adapted from Pastoral Leadership: For the Care of Souls, Harold Senkbeil explores the importance of leading people to the gospel verses “chasing them down”—and how it impacts ministry.


Every group needs a leader, or else they wander off in all directions at once. So you don’t have a choice as to whether you are going to be a leader. The only question is what kind of leader you are. Are you going to get out ahead of your people and lead them? Or will you be wasting a lot of energy scurrying around to round them up?

Learn to be a pastoral leader like Jesus

Take your cue from Jesus; he believes in leading more than chasing. Here’s how he describes the work of a shepherd:

The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. (John 10:3–5)

Jesus, our Great Shepherd, calls his sheep one by one, leads them out into his flock, then gets out ahead of them all. And they follow along behind him because they know his voice. He speaks with a compelling combination of love and authority.

So as a pastor I’d suggest you follow Jesus’ lead: compassionately chase down sinners with God’s law, but always lead them by his gospel. It’s never either/or; it’s always both/and. That’s what Jesus does, and that’s what you do too since you are doing his work. He has appointed you to your office and authorized you to do what he’s given you to do. Like Jesus, get out in front of your sheep; don’t hang back in the shadows.

Speak up

Instead, the pastoral leader should speak up in his name and stead. Use your voice to speak the words he’s authorized you to speak: words of forgiveness, life, and peace through Jesus’ blood and righteousness; words of comfort, hope, and consolation in the presence and power of his Holy Spirit; words of cleansing, renewal, and sanctification by means of his shared holiness. When you do that, the people you’ve been called to serve will, in a very real way, hear the voice of Jesus. And when they do, they will respond, again, not so much to you as to him.

Don’t let this go to your head, though. Since the sheep and lambs of Jesus respond to him, don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think (Rom 12:3). You’ve got nothing to give you have not first received. So don’t get up on your high horse and bully people into doing what you think they should do. Don’t be so full of yourself that you get in the way of people seeing Jesus. He must increase. You, on the other hand, must decrease.

That works reciprocally; the more Jesus they see in you, the less obvious you become. Yet there’s a strange paradox at work here as well. As you deliberately defer to Jesus, diminishing the role of your own personality, the more effective your ministry becomes. As you relinquish your personal authority, exalting his, the more authority you gain in people’s eyes.


Pastoral Leadership: For the Care of Souls is just one of Lexham Press’ Ministry Guides packing in decades’ worth of wisdom for the pastoral leader, including hands-on lessons and carefully curated resource recommendations to help pastors continue gathering as much value in as little time as possible.

See the Ministry Guides available now!

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What Shepherds Know: Yahweh’s Provision in This Beloved Psalm

Related resources

Lexham Press Pastoral Leadership Bundle
The Care of Souls by Harold Senkbeil
Know Your Community: A Demographic and Psychographic Report of Your Community from Church Answers
The Pastor and Counseling: The Basic of Shepherding Members in Need by Jeremy Pierre
Pastoral Ministry in the Real World by Jim L. Wilson

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Lexham Press

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Written by Lexham Press