Real Shepherds: Thomas Oden on pastoral leadership as service

tom odenIn Thomas Oden‘s Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry, he takes one chapter to reflect on the analogy of pastor as shepherd. In the midst of that chapter, he strikes at the heart of what I think is missing within much of pastoral ministry as it is currently practiced in North America: pastoral authority approached as service.

The shepherd is not without authority, but it is of a special sort. The shepherd’s authority is based on competence grounded in mutuality, yet this authority requires accurate empathy to be properly empowered. Pastoral authority is not primarily coercive authority, such as that of a judge or a policeman, but rather authority based on covenant fidelity, caring, mutuality, and the expectation of empathic understanding (Gregory, ACW, vol. 11, Part 2).

This conception of authority has a christological base in the minds of Christian believers. From where else did Christianity learn this unusual view of authority? It is precisely from the servant messiah that we learn of the paradoxical unity of dignity and service. It is from the true God, true man, who though he was rich became poor for our sakes (2 Cor. 8:9), “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8, RSV). The pattern of authority is that of the incarnate Lord, who expressed in a single, unified ministry the holiness of God amid the alienations of the world, the incomparable power of God that was surprisingly made know in an unparalleled way amid crucifixion and resurrection.

Wherever Christians speak of authority or dignity of ministry or headship of the shepherd, those are not properly understood as coercive modes of power, but persuasive, participative modes of benevolent, empathic guidance. This is an extraordinarily complex, subtle, and highly nuanced conception of authority, but it is intimately familiar to those who love Christ and listen for his voice. The proper authority of ministry is not external, manipulative, alien power that distances itself from those “under” it, but rather a legitimized and happily received influence that wishes only good for its recipient, a leadership that boldly guides but only on the basis of a deeply empathic sense of what the flock yearns for and needs. The analogy of shepherd was not promiscuously or thoughtlessly chosen by Jesus as the centerpiece of ministry, but wells up from the heart of God’s own ministry to the world. (p. 53)

Thursdays with Murray [Humility, week 4]

Andrew Murray 2As I continue interacting with Andrew Murray’s writings over the next number of weeks, I am currently spending time first with his short book Humility, which a friend shared with my recently.

After looking at how humility is the secret of our salvation and the way in which Jesus models humility in his life, Murray focuses on Jesus’ explicit teaching on humility in the fourth chapter of the book.

Murray comments briefly on a series of verses on meekness and humility from Jesus before drawing summary comments later. I found it helpful simply to read those verses one after another:

  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven….Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:3, 5)
  • “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)
  • “An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.'” (Luke 9:46-48)
  • “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'” (Matthew 20:25-28)
  • “The greatest among you will be your servant.” (Matthew 23:11)
  • “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11)
  • “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
  • “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
  • “But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:26)

Let me ask you a question: which of these verses stands out to you most and why? Read More »

Joy that Gives

As we continued our series “Unshackled: Joy Beyond Circumstances” this past weekend at Eastbrook Church I walked us through Philippians 1:27-2:11, where the Apostle Paul shifts his attention from his present circumstances to the situation of the Philippians.

You can view the video and sermon outline of this message, “The Joy of Faith,” below. You can also follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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Servant

Chosen Words Series Gfx_ThumbWe began a new series entitled “Chosen Words” this weekend at Eastbrook Church. This series tracks through John, chapters 13-17, and includes a 40-day devotional journey that you do not want to miss. This week, I started us off with a look at Jesus’ powerful display of and teaching on service from John 13:1-17. As you can find out by watching the message, sometimes actions speak louder than words.

One element that I didn’t include in my outline that was really important was the three characteristics of true service we see in Jesus’ life. Those are:

  1. Seeing things the way they really are
  2. Stepping inside of a situation
  3. Sacrificial love

You can view a video of the message and the accompanying outline below. You can listen to the message via our audio podcast here. You can join in with the “Chosen Words” devotional online.

Connect with us further at Eastbrook Church on VimeoFacebook, Twitter and Instagram.

 

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Humble Service

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, I concluded our “Conversations” series with a message entitled “Humble Service.” I was looking at Jesus’ interactions with His disciples in the Upper Room from John 13:1-17, where He washes His disciples’ feet.

You can listen to my message online at the Eastbrook web-site here. You can also subscribe to the Eastbrook podcast here or follow Eastbrook Church on Twitter.

While I hope to offer up some further reflections on this story later this week, here is the basic outline of my message.Read More »