There are two things that really stress me out.
Getting lost and asking for directions.
Perhaps that is why I am such a fan of GPS technology. Outside of the wheel, my vote for the greatest human invention is the Global Positioning System. Whether I find myself in a brand-new city or another country, I may be completely clueless about where I am, but I am never lost. All I have to do is let my handheld device know where I want to go, and then the best route and the time it will take to arrive at my desired destination instantly appear on my screen. Not only is the optimum route provided on my screen, I also hear a very pleasant and always patient voice telling me when and where I am to take the next turn. I simply cannot imagine traveling without GPS technology to guide me.
Knowing where we are going and having confidence we will arrive at our desired destination is not only important when we travel, it is also crucial in navigating our vocational callings. Like many callings, the pastoral calling is hard to navigate, and the road ahead often seems murky and unclear. Every day is a new day. Every situation and context is unique. Every morning we get out of bed, we are above our pay grade. In every new role and phase of life we are rookies.
The inconvenient truth is this: it is all too easy and common for pastors to lose their way.
Even with the best of intentions, pastors can take wrong turns. Pastors can find themselves facing dead-end streets. Perhaps most unsettling is that many pastors do not realize they have lost their way until meltdown, burnout, or disaster strikes. The resulting collateral damage to themselves, their family members, and the faith community they serve has a long shelf life of pain, disillusionment, and heartache.
Getting lost is an ever-present danger throughout all stages of a pastoral ministry.
How do pastors find their way back home again? Finding their way home again will require more than adopting a new philosophy of ministry or the latest church growth techniques. It will call for more than tweaking schedules and adjusting pastoral practices. What is needed is gaining greater paradigmatic clarity around the pastoral calling. To find their way, lost shepherds must embrace God’s Positioning System, which first results in recalibrating life around its true north.
It is not only sheep that get lost; shepherds get lost too.
Yet set against the bleak backdrop of lost shepherds, the prophet Jeremiah provides hope that God will provide shepherds who find their way home again. “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jer 3:15).
Finding our way home, we must establish a firm existential foundation of our faith, clarity of our purpose, and the time horizon that animates our lives and work. We pursue our pastoral calling by embracing a gospel centrality, cultivating intimacy with God, and living fully into the reality of God’s unfolding story. As we navigate the often confusing and perilous pastoral calling, we are wise to keep our eyes on five guideposts given to us in Psalm 78. May we trust in a sovereign God, heed the shepherd’s calling, embrace obscurity, pursue an integral life, and cultivate leadership competency. And finally, in finding our way home, shepherding leaders must not only learn to shepherd well, we need to be shepherded well.
Tom Nelson (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is president of Made to Flourish. He has also served as senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Kansas City for over thirty years. A council member for The Gospel Coalition, Tom is the author of several books, including Work Matters , The Economics of Neighborly Love, and his latest workThe Flourishing Pastor.