Spiritual Leadership: Developing A Healthy Shepherding Culture

It is easy to talk about being brave, but the confronting of others or being confronted by others is one of the scariest experiences of community life, yet, at the same time, it can be one of the most spiritually rewarding.  The church would be a very different place indeed if Paul had not confronted Peter in Antioch. (see Galatians 2:11-21)  Without that confrontation by a loving, brave spiritual leader it is easy to see that a division of the church would have been immanent along ethnic lines.  Who knows how Peter and Barnabas’s (both were “carried away” in this brief division) names and legacies would be remembered today.  Who knows if we would even have Peter’s letters as part of the New Testament canon?  This is a clear case of a loving brave spiritual leader putting his own neck on the line for the love of the person, in this case Peter, the church as whole, and the unity of the body of Christ for the future.

Paul embodied the essence of spiritual sacrifice as a leader, following and imitating the same spiritual leadership he saw in our Lord.  He goes so far as to say to the church in Colosse that,

“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” – Colossians 1:24

As spiritual leaders it is our place to suffer for the body of Christ.  In Paul’s case that meant beatings, traveling, shipwreck, and the like, but I don’t think that is what caused him the most pain.  Think about Paul’s letter to Galatia, which is essentially a letter of confrontation. (incidentally, it is also the letter where we find out about his confrontation of Peter)  How would you like to speak these words to a fellow believer?

“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.” – Galatians 3:1


I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.  Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. What then has become of the blessing you felt? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth? – Galatians 4:11-16

I think Paul agonized more over the confrontation and possible loss of a brother or group of brothers than he did any beating he was ever subjected to.  He even avoided a visit to Corinth in order to give them an opportunity to repent so that he didn’t have to go there just to exercise discipline.

Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time? As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. But I call God to witness against me–it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. – Second Corinthians 1:15-23

Paul took no pleasure in confrontation and negative discipline in the church.  Yet he knew them both to be a necessary part of a healthy shepherding culture, with negative discipline being avoided as much as possible.

So what are our take-aways from all this talk of being spiritual leaders that embody the same love and bravery we see in Jesus and in Paul. I think Galatians 6:1 about sums it up.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”

  1. Make sure that your confrontation of a brother or sister is truly warranted.  Nothing can be worse than receiving a false accusation.  Take care that the reputation of the person to be confronted stays intact until it is clear that repentance is not forthcoming, as then it must be told to the church. (See Matthew 18)
  2. Make sure your own heart is immersed in grace and that you are the right man or woman for the job.  The “you who are spiritual” lends to the idea that you are mature enough and experienced in the ways of grace as well.
  3. The goal is always restoration in a spirit of gentleness.  Confrontation is not you being a jerk for Jesus but it is you seeking the restoration of a soul to God.  Jesus was gentle most of the time.  There is a place for a tough word, but it is rarer than we think.
  4. Always keep in mind that you are human and subject to the same blindness and failure as you are witnessing in them.  A couple hours, days, or years later you may find yourself in the exact same place

Every now and then God has to get a little rough with us to shake us out of our apathetic slumber and call us back to love, honor, and bravery.  Just like I hope you embrace your children after you have disciplined them, know that God does the same with His spiritual children of whom I am one.  We should be thankful, as God’s discipline is one of the surest subjective ways we have of judging our own authenticity as one of His dear ones.

 “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.” – Hebrews 12:7-13

I pray we would as leaders begin to know and experience the “peaceful fruits of righteousness” as we are trained by a culture of loving bravery amongst ourselves.  And that through our example and shepherding we would truly be able to “lift up” the “drooping hands and strengthen” the “weak knees, and make straight paths for” the “feet” of our brothers and sisters, “so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”

Christ’s servant and yours,


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