Questions about John 10:12

He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.

Disclaimer:  Please assume I know that there are a few bad churches with problems beyond the leadership of the most spiritual and skilled pastor!

Can we apply John 10:12 to pastoral tenure or is it stretching the text?  For full disclosure I believe that it is applicable.  If we are going to follow the true shepherd then we must be willing to sacrifice as He has taught us.  The average tenure for SBC pastors is about 3 years.  I think it is valid to ask ourselves if we are hired hands or shepherds.  What have we taught our pastors to think they are?  What have we taught our churches to think their pastors are?  Why do so many pastors leave the sheep so quickly? 

One thing is for sure. . . there are a lot of pastors who are fleeing from real or perceived wolves.  I truly believe our small rural churches are suffering because of this issue.  I don’t have any empirical evidence, only what I have observed around me, but I think pastoral tenure can be directly linked to much of what ails small rural churches.  Nothing good can come from a church losing a pastor every 2 or 3 years.  Nothing good can happen for a pastor who moves every 2 or 3 years. 

Most of the research I have seen thus far focuses attention on the perceived threat to the pastor.   Everyone seems drawn to the external forces that beat pastors down.  What about the internal spiritual stuff?  What about the pastor himself?  What is it that makes our current crop of pastors so vulnerable to attack.  Where did so many of us learn to think that we were only hired hands?  Could there be character flaws so prevalent within our ranks that our average tenure only adds up to three years?  Is the character flaw in the churches?  Why are we so willing to run and so unwilling to stay for the sake of the sheep?  Are there that many BAD churches out there or do we have a leadership problem?  

I am full of questions tonight. . . with few answers.  Perhaps you can help. 

Published in: on May 22, 2008 at 4:08 am  Comments (8)  


  1. Good question about the text. I know you are sincere about your disclaimer:) I also agree with your proposition about tenure. We have often talked about issue. However, I am working on the use of this text for this purpose. Can you be more specific about how you connect it to pastoral ministry?

    P.S. Tell Barnhart to man up and post some comments!!

  2. I am connecting the passage b/c pastors are supposed to be shepherds. I think more guys need to see themselves as stewards of the sheep under the headship of the true Shepherd. If I am a steward of Jesus’ sheep it makes a difference in the way I stay or go.

  3. We hopefully both know that not every rural church is the same. Here’s where the conflict lies with me. The church I pastor has a rural church mindset even though everything around it is starting to change. What used to be farmland is becoming suburbs. The church setting where you pastor sounds like where my church’s setting was 30 years ago. I have much less conflict with a church of 75 where the population is 150. What destroys me weekly/daily is a church of 75 when the population is exploding, coupled with the mindset that “We’re just a little ol’ country church.” There’s nothing wrong with being that, IF the world around you isn’t dying and going to hell. And 30 years ago, the majority of the rural folks in our area actually went to church. Today that is no longer true. I could care less if they like sitting in a rocking chair on a porch and drinking lemonade OR if they spend their time critiquing literature, and going to art galleries. THAT IS NOT WHAT BEATS ME DOWN. That’s just culture. I don’t want to make rural folks into urban folks. I just want them to realize their world has actually changed, people are dying, they are going to hell, and our job is to speak the one message that will save them. How often do I feel like a fish out of water that would be better served somewhere else? Weekly. Is that hard to overcome? Yes. What keeps me going? The knowledge that it’s God that brought me here. How long am I here? For life or until God clearly takes me somewhere else. God definitely takes His people on wilderness journeys, and sometimes they don’t walk out of the wilderness. I am fooling nobody if I pretend it’s easy. I’m fooling nobody if I pretend I always enjoy it. The great thing about the wilderness is that it isn’t the final stop, the Promised Land is. When I’m beaten down I remember that. Nothing worth doing is easy. I appreciate your optimism.

  4. Josh,
    Our church fields are very different and somewhat the same. Your church is where the city is physically meeting the country. This is happening in our state around Nashville, Memphis, Jackson, and pretty much any metropolitain area you can think of. Within 60 miles of any of our major cities you will find country churches either languishing because of the changes or meeting the changes with the life changing gospel. I wish I knew what the trick was to help congregations see the opportunity around them if they would just prepare for it and act on it. I like what Brad Waggoner said to the small church guys: “Preaching always proceeds biblical change.”

    The rub here for me is time. How much time does it take to help a congregation see the things that God has shown you? How much investment will you have to make in their lives? For goodness sake. . . how much preaching does it take to see people respond? When will God be done with you and me in our current situations? No easy answers. I do know that things improved for me around the 2 1/2 year mark here.

    The thing that beats me down daily is the mundane. There are days when all I want is a good dose of drama. I used to joke about wanting some disagreements in our business meetings just so I would have something to talk about at the preachers meetings. This pastorate is the most difficult, challenging, and at the same time. . . rewarding thing I have done in over 15 years of ministry. It is challenging for me because I am not patient. I have begun to realize that, at least one of the reasons, God brought me out here to work on me.

    I appreciate your honesty.

  5. What?? Didn’t I give you enough to talk about for years to come???

  6. Hello Mike,

    Perhaps I have jumped into the conversation a bit late, but I think it is also worth considering this – sometimes it is also necessary for the “dust” be shaken from our sandals. As pastors, we will be lead like sheep to the slaughter, but we are also to be wise like serpents while we are marching toward the meat house.


  7. Skillet. . . way cool name and a good band.

    I agree. There are some situations, albeit a minority, that even the most skilled and spiritual pastor can not do anything about. Thanks for the visit and for posting a reply.

  8. I agree that too many of us leave to soon. Change doesn’t always come fast and sometimes when it does it may not be the best. I believe the consumer mentality not only has invaded the church goer, but its undershepherds as well. Not only are there the folks that “shop around” for a church to go to that has got something for little Billy, Ladies groups for Momma, and golf outings for dad, but it seems that there are “shepherds” out there who are “shopping around” for the church that has the biggest package, the biggest budgets, the nicest facilities, and so forth.
    I say, God bless those guys who have stayed because of their obedience to God when the budget’s weren’t big, the package seemed more like a thank you card envelope, and the facilites were really something(sixty years ago). The people they have shepherded may not have stayed in that rural church, but have gone on to other a parts of the globe and are making an impact for Christ. So let the guy who remembered that he is an undershepherd and not a hired hand know that God is using him and may never know this side of heaven just how much of an impact God has made through him. I guess that’s all I got to say bout that right now. Thanks for reading this. (Written on a Monday).

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