My Pastor As Coach and Shepherd? Yeah, Right. (From an Actual Facebook Conversation)

Grafitti face 200cAre Pastors supposed to be Shepherds any more? Or is that idea long-gone? If so, have we replaced it with something better? Or worse?

Pastors have long debates about this. What if we had some raw, unsolicited, honest opinions from the people who matter? Namely, the people in our churches – maybe even the people who’ve left our churches.

Recently, a friend posted what he thought was a simple question on his Facebook page. The responses he received were so surprising that he alerted me to it.

(The people who responded to his Facebook status had no expectation they’d end up on someone’s blog and I want to respect that, so I won’t tell you who my friend is, except to say that he’s not a pastor. I have his permission to re-post this.)


What Happened to the Pastor as Shepherd?

Here’s what my friend posted:

Have received 2-3 Facebook & LinkedIn invites to connect recently from a few “Professional Certified Life Coach(es).” Isn’t that the biblical role of a PASTOR? Someone who helps you define your strengths & weaknesses, holds you personally accountable for your life choices & behavior, is there for you through thick & thin?

In response, he got a handful of positive responses, including one “Preach, brother!” from a Small Church pastor.

But he got these responses as well:

Hmm…..I don’t know what church you go to or have been to but I don’t know any pastor who can do what a life coach does. At least not in the personalized way a coach does. Life coaching encompasses all kinds of things, some personal, some spiritual, some career or vocation-related. Sometimes they are useful for specific needs, such as managing adult ADD, where expertise and training is needed that most pastors don’t have.

OK, I get where that’s coming from, to an extent. Not every pastor will have the skills to deal with every specific behavioral issue. But neither will most life coaches or counselors.

I find it interesting and more than a little sad that this person doesn’t know of “any pastor who can do what a life coach does.” If so, why is that? That’s the premise of my friend’s original post, after all – that this is what pastors are supposed to be doing. 

Then came another response…

Well, as I understand coaching, it’s all about asking good questions and allowing a person to form their own answers. Many Pastors I have known seem to feel they have all the answers, so the questions Don’t matter.

Ouch! That turns the heat up a little and, quite frankly, it stings!

Pastors “seem to feel they have all the answers, so the questions don’t matter”? At least this person believes that applies to “many” pastors, not all. But still…ouch!

Then came this response:

…that is hilarious. A pastor that helps you define anything other than who would lead a committee! HA! Good one. Nowadays if you are a “pastor” the only spiritual gifting your church wants is “administration.” Churches are corporations in search of a CEO/CFO type. They certainly don’t want Jesus.

Oh my.

Is that really how some people view pastoring today? And churches? As businesses that have done away with our need for Jesus?

These responses probably aren’t the way most people feel. And there’s something in me that wants to rise up and defend my fellow pastors. But…

What if these responses represent more people than we realize? I think they do.


What Changed? And Why?

In response to these three replies, which probably came from deep hurt, cloaked in protective sarcasm, my friend wisely responded this way:

My late father, a pastor for 30 years & minister for 46 years, demonstrated all the attributes I described in my original post. And he certainly didn’t define who was going to lead a committee. He counseled people, prayed for them, laughed & cried with them, held them accountable. Set them straight when needed, hugged them when that was best, went to the hospital when they were sick or dying. Dedicated their babies. Buried them when they were old. Was both tough & tender. And prayed for wisdom & instruction from God to lead & speak…and cast vision.

What’s wrong with that? Perhaps in his old school way my dad fit the role. Maybe the role in the last 20-30 years has changed so radically that a pastor doesn’t coach anyone anymore. Maybe. Quick 2 point sermon w/ motivational quotes, then shove them out the door for the 2nd service crowd. But that doesn’t negate the New Testament role of people who are called to be a pastor.

God bless my friend’s dad and so many like him. Including my dad, who was that kind of hands-on shepherding pastor, too.

But what about that last paragraph? Has the pastoral role really changed from shepherd to CEO that dramatically in the last generation? And is that change what’s causing the cynicism in this conversation?

The conversation went on. In response to my friend’s testimony about his dad, someone wrote this:

Been looking for a pastor and church that mirrors your post for over thirty years. Seems today “life coaches” and “therapists” who ask questions without offering much input are good paying professions, but they are by no means fully committed to the people who they “mentor”. They are paid by the hour. They are paid to listen. Old time Pastors served and tended to those in their congregations. It makes me sad to think about.

This is as far as the conversation had gone when I was made aware of it.


The Pastor People Want and Need

Challenging. Frustrating. Real. Sad.

That’s what hit me as I read my friend’s Facebook stream.

Then I added this:

What you’ve described sounds like what I do every day as a pastor. You’ve hit the nail on the head, dude. Anyone who thinks pastors don’t do that any more maybe needs to find another church with a pastor like you’ve described. We’re not hard to find. There are a lot of us. And it’s interesting that the only other person on this thread who I know is a pastor, was the one who gave you a well-deserved two-word answer, “preach, brother!”

I probably don’t do it as well as your dad did, but your description of him is what a lot of us ascribe to be. We’re not just CEOs and administrators who give pat answers. In fact, a lot of us have tried that route and have found it wanting, so we’ve taken the mentor / coach route instead.

Way to go.

That was followed quickly by this, from a new person:

What an interesting thread. makes me appreciate how blessed we’ve been for all the great pastors in our lives who have truly had the gift of pastoring, not just the title. Thank you Larry and Linda, Carl and Linda, and most of all Paul and Rebecca!

Then someone else came in with a longer comment that included these words of affirmation:

…while I think pastors at times fall short of the mark, it’s also easy for lay people to point elsewhere rather than answering the call to be the same. That’s what the footprint, the aroma, the life of the church is supposed to be wherever we are – and many pastors and believers are doing just that.

What would it be like if the world around us was continually amazed and commenting on the life of churches in communities everywhere, because this was the exact perception? …

The last time I checked, the last comment in the stream was this:

Exactly, beautiful.


What Can We Learn From This?

What’s happening here? My knee-jerk reaction is to say that this skepticism about pastors has happened because our corporate/rancher/pastor-as-CEO model has overtaken the relational/shepherd/pastor-as-caregiver model. That the shepherd model is not just a good-old-days longing, but the core need people seek from their church and pastor.

But could something more than that be going on?

Food for thought.

Now it’s up to us to continue the conversation.


So what do you think? What do you think has caused such skepticism about the role of pastors? And what can be done to repair the damage?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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18 thoughts on “My Pastor As Coach and Shepherd? Yeah, Right. (From an Actual Facebook Conversation)”

  1. As a pastor myself, pastoring both large churches and small churches (small right now) I’ve found a mix of people and what they expect and want from the pastor. I think those who were raised in a church where there was a true pastor/mentor that’s what the want and what they expect and what they are looking for. I find that this present generation (new Christians or younger crowd) are looking for a place to fit in and just be a part of something real. I was raised by a dad who was also my pastor and sat under him as a staff member. He taught me how to pastor people and care for the flock. Over the past 30 years I’ve had to learn from the people what they wanted and expected. Some still want pastoral care and prodding, while others don’t want to be bothered or called on. The pastor is the shepherd and he/she must care for God’s sheep.

    1. I agree, Scott. That’s why there’s a place for churches of all sizes and styles, to meet people with all kinds of needs. Not every pastor has the shepherding/coaching gift or call and, as you correctly point out, even within the same church some people want/need more shepherding than others.

      The problem I think this FB stream points out is that we’ve so elevated the pastor-as-CEO model that a lot of people who want a shepherding pastor are having a hard time finding one. Both are needed, but I think we’ve neglected one in favor of the other in recent decades.

      Thanks for adding your voice to this conversation.

  2. Why should congregants leave a church and go looking for someone who is doing the job they are scripturally commanded to do? There is so little accountability for pastors because there is a lack of or giving up of belief that there are those doing it differently. What results is an overall lack of growth spiritually and developmental maturing in the church. Anyone coming in with a more energized approach for caring and service is ostracized by pastor and those trained by him.

  3. Like Karl, I am a PK whose father was a strong pastor. Very old school. I miss my dad deeply, even though he’s been gone almost 20 years. I miss his ministry too.

    In 2011 I heard & felt God’s call to ministry…as a pastor to filmmakers & digital media artists. I know of very few doing this. Here in Southern California I am almost scoffed at by young producers, directors & artist types who constantly are seeking attention for their work & “career” rather than a veteran mentor to show them how to move up to becoming a consummate professional. Plus “create” works that brings glory to God. I call it “redemptive filmmaking.” And that’s the subject I just received my Doctor of Fine Arts degree in. Without redemption, it’s secular storytelling. It may move you, but never change you. With redemption, the Holy Spirit walks in and starts doing what only the Spirit can – change lives…through film, television, video, digital media.

    Since the USA pretty much ignores my gifts I have concentrated 90% of my time, efforts & skills to teaching, speaking & mentoring overseas. In the international realm there is huge interest from young people to hone their craft, learn, push to the next level. 98% are self-taught. They need a pied piper. If I wanted – and had the funds, energy & time – I could be gone 52 weeks a year somewhere overseas holding workshops & seminars in redemptive filmmaking. The need is that immense.

    Why do I bring these issues up? Because there is such a gigantic need in our digital world today to raise up visual storytellers. And that includes pastors – both in USA & international. The group that is most resistant to creative arts & media has consistently been…pastors. Too busy. Not enough vision. Believe media is just for young people. It’s a smart phone or camera thing. Not a true ministry. Why can’t we just shoot the pastor’s message and get on TBN…that’s all we need. No music, documentaries, short films, children’s programming. Pastors preaching. I’ll stop my rant right there.

    So I have begun to wrap around my shoulders the mantle of media coach. Yes, I hold people accountable. Ask them why they make/made certain choices. Show them how to become better, more professional, more effective. I kick their behinds when necessary, praise them when proper. Encourage them to get more training, education. Learn, expand their talents & gifts.

    The goal?


      1. Hi Chris, I heard from your congregant @ H2O Filmworks (via Facebook) who told me he only needs people ages 18-30. Already in the Bay Area. Thanks, but no thanks. One surprise?…he never even told me his name.

        Sorry I couldn’t be of any help. Thanks for trying. Remember what I wrote about USA filmmakers shunning veteran help?


  4. My understanding of scripture is that the Elders(Pastors) are the leaders/shepherds, the minister can also be a Pastor, if gifted in that way, otherwise he’s an evangelist. And the problem comes when the leaders/Elders don’t do their job that the Minister gets a bad rap. Sometimes because he is looked upon as the end all be all of the church. And so if the minister doesn’t do all things and do them well it’s time for them to look elsewhere. If the people complain it becomes a democracy and that is not good for the church. I am so blessed to be the Minister of a church who defines the roles well. The Deacons, scripturally also have a large role in helping the widows and orphans, and more. I pray churches will realize that it’s more than just the Ministers role to be all things to all people. I believe churches will win more souls to Christ and grow the Kingdom.
    Serving Christ gratefully,

    1. No doubt, the kind of delegation you’re talking about is a primary task of the pastor, Paul. But I don’t think the cynicism in the FB posts came because the pastors they knew were training and delegating deacons and elders to do the work of ministry. When the complaint is that pastors are only concerned with putting people on committees and churches only want administrators for pastors, there’s something else wrong.

      There’s no question not every pastor is called to fulfill the caregiver/shepherd role, and that there’s a place for coaches/caregivers/counselors to supplement their role, but the cynicism came from people who said they couldn’t find “any” pastor who did that any more. No doubt that is a huge exaggeration, coming from a place of deep hurt, but there’s something wrong when more and more church members have little or no expectation that they’re pastor be a caregiver, so they’re paying others to do it as life coaches, instead.

      It sounds like you and your church have been able to strike a very good balance between pastoral care and lay leadership. We need more churches and leaders like you and yours.

      1. Karl, thanks for your wise words. It is true, the members should not need a life coach if the church was being the body of Christ. There should never be a member of a Church who is in want for any reason, material, emotional or otherwise.
        I am starting my 14 year with the Church I’m ministering with. It’s been a huge blessing to minister together with this body of believers. We are considered a small church with just under 200 members. God is using us to be a leader in our community. Keep up the good work. Your website has been an encouragement to me and my ministry. I’ll be praying for your upcoming journey.
        Serving, Paul

        1. Thanks, Paul. Your church is about the same size as mine. Congrats on your longevity. There are a lot of good things that can only happen when there’s been long-term, consistent leadership.

  5. I worked at a secural job for so long, trying to be like the apostle Paul and take care of my family’s needs, and pastor a church for over 17 years. I found myself giving to the congregation only a part of what I was capable of. I truly wanted to see the church grow and get away from my secular job, but the more hours I could work, the better I could provide for my family. On top of that, I turned down promotions to move up in management, because I didnt see myself being able to grow the church if I had to devote even more time to my secular job. I now know that was a huge mistake. Learning how to manage/coach/mentor/disciple people is something that could have helped me as I moved up. I see the point in Moses being groomed by Pharoah’s systems he was around, and then being able to manage Israel. He may not have been in charge while in Egypt, but he certainly was around leaders and gained understanding how to run a country. I cannot look back and would have/could have/should have. I can learn from other pastors and their mistakes and successes. I found in life, I like learning from my mistakes, but I would rather learn from others mistakes instead of dig my way out of mine. I find so many congregants are educated and if they happen to be avid readers, feel as if they do not want or need a life coach to pastor them. The truth is some of them lost respect for their pastor and would no longer receive correction from someone they have concluded wasn’t further along that they are in understanding. The real truth was that they couldn’t draw on or receive from the gift they took for granted. People have grown to believe that knowledge is power, and he who knows all the rules wins. I found I don’t need more and more information, what I need is revelation and clear, precise direction on my mext steps. I trust that the footsteps of a righteous man are ordered of the Lord, but not everyone gets excited about steps, theirs or others. Some just want the answers….not how you get there and arrived.

    1. It sounds like you’ve been through some tough battles, Mark. Like you’ve said, it’s always better to learn from the mistakes of others when we can. But the reality is, we all have to make our own mistakes, too.

      I’ve done both, and it seems like you have, too. My prayer for this site and my book is that others can learn from my mistakes and not have to make so many of their own. And when we share our stories like you’ve just done, we can all learn from that, too.

  6. Let me take a different angle into this thing.

    There’s a whole other field of meaning for the term (shepherd/pastor) that tends to beoverlooked. In the ancient world the term had two primary fields of meaning; one was a term of animal husbandry and the other was a royal term. The ANE kings often called themselves the shepherds of their people, referring to the exercise of governing and military authority to fend off foreign powers. The term “shepherd” is applied to David in this way.

    The concept of tender, solicitous care is largely absent in this second field of meaning.

    The question is, which of these fields of meaning is an appropriate starting place for understanding the NT office of “pastor”?

    Assume for the moment that the view elders = pastors (an argument that I think is easy to make from Acts 20). When you consider the elders’ prescribed duties, it seems to me that they largely involve the exercise of protective authority.

    The various passages detail the elders’ need to fend off false teachers, discipline wayward members and preserve the order of the church. In the Ephesians 4 passage the pastor is Christ’s gift to the (local) church. His (depending on your views of egalitarian vs. complementarian debate) duty to Christ is to train believers to do the work of the ministry so that the church achieves mature comity among its members.

    Now this probably needs to be tempered, somewhat, with Paul’s personal revelation of concern for the welfare of the churches, his burden in prayer & etc. But his direct instructions to the elders/pastors are about exercising authority to protect the church *as a church*, something that our atomistic culture (emphasis on the individual as the locus of what’s “best”) makes hard to see.

    So I have this nagging suspicion that in some large degree the view of the parson’s role being discussed is inherited from cultural relics dating back three or four centuries and in a lesser degree stays connected the ancient biblical cultures in which these terms took on meaning and employed in the New Testament. And when we excise the ancient world from our approach to the text we inevitably navigate into troubled waters.

    Put yourselves in the shoes of the elders of the tenement churches in Rome, of the house churches in Ephesus or in the small town gatherings mentioned in many of Paul’s letters. If you’re a typical citizen of that era – working every day for the evening meal with almost no resources set aside – where do you find time to do the kind of work that parsons from the 1580s to the 1950s (and in lesser degree, even today) think of as “doing ministry?”

    I don’t know, maybe I’m a naive purist, but I don’t think this kind of conversation could have taken place in the 1st century. They would not recognize how we use these terms today. Which makes me wonder if we’ve got warrant for using them so?

    Sorry about that.

    Here’s $1.

    Please return $0.98 and we’ll call it even.

    As always, Karl, provocative post.

  7. However you perceive the role of pastor changing through the years, there’s no doubt the biblical imperative is as you said “to train believers to do the work of the ministry so that the church achieves mature comity among its members.” That seems to be what the respondents in the FB post were missing from their pastor – however they chose to phrase it.

    As always, Bud, provocative response. 🙂

  8. It is something how the present day Pastors don’t get to often fulfill their whole calling and be that shepherd to coach to mentor to giving away that special care if loved ones die or get to experience more celebration in life not so much hidden pain and sorrow. It is amazing though how some of whom I have gotten to be in the presence of hearing of the great service in their lives which have lead others to Christ and then seeing the prayer life come alive as it is spoken of through maticulous writing in language arts in front of a congregation often very humbling. Sometimes so deep into the word of God I fall into a deep place and cry out for this God in exaltation.

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