“I would appeal to us all to refer to the biblical model that best helps us shape the expectations we have of our spiritual leaders in today’s context. It is the most common leadership metaphor used in the Scriptures—“the shepherd leader.”
Expectations of Spiritual Leaders
I have noted, as we get back to public activities, that the need for help in various workplaces is very evident. From restaurants to airports, the “help wanted” call is going out. It is a good patience builder to not react as service happens more slowly, a flight is delayed, or a skilled labourer or the supply of a particular kind of stock is not available for a few more weeks.
At leadership levels in the life of the Western church, including Canada, there is also a recognition that a fresh wave of leadership is needed. Systems continue to be altered to welcome “second career” persons called to ministry as well as newcomers from other countries who exhibit evidence of leadership experience.
In addition, we recognize the need for a younger generation of women and men to know God’s call on their lives and to be equipped to lead the people of God as the Lord of the church clearly directs us to. As we continue to respect the call on every believer as a follower of Jesus, we also value and invest in leadership development through our colleges, seminaries, and other streams of ministry development.
It is crucial, at such a time as this, that we make clear what our expectations of spiritual leaders are. There is a tendency to develop a compilation of the various leadership models we see in our culture and then expect those prototypes of pastors, missional workers, and specialized ministry leaders. Expectations can range for a pastor or minister to be anything from a CEO, a coach, a motivational speaker, or a family chaplain to a presidential, visionary leader with omnicompetent skills. As I have often reminded church and ministry boards, “There was only one omnicompetent leader, and we crucified Him!”
I would appeal to us all to refer to the biblical model that best helps us shape the expectations we have of our spiritual leaders in today’s context. It is the most common leadership metaphor used in the Scriptures—“the shepherd leader.”
First, the “Shepherd King” is the metaphor that is often used to refer to the leadership of our God: “… the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day” (Genesis 48:15) and “The LORD is my shepherd … he leads … He guides …” (Psalm 23:1-3).
Stemming from the Lord’s authority and character, He calls leaders to be shepherds of His people: “… I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). These shepherds included not only the priests, but also the prophets and the kings. In other words, being a shepherd covers all the leadership giftings given by God. Today we should expect all who serve with apostolic, prophetic, pastoral, teaching, or evangelistic giftings to do so as shepherd leaders under the authority of the Great Shepherd.
Psalm 78:70-72 describes David with the three characteristics of shepherd leaders.
Their calling from God is clear.
“He chose David …”
God, in the Jeremiah passage, states, “I will give you shepherds …”
With calling there must be character.
“David shepherded them with integrity of heart …”
In Jeremiah, the Lord provides “shepherds after my own heart.”
Calling and character in a pastor or ministry leader’s life must be accompanied by competency.
Of David it was said, “with skillful hands he led them.”
The shepherds the Lord gives are those “who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.”
Despite the human reality that so often human leaders fall short, God responds with a promise to be the Great Shepherd Himself and to commission shepherd leaders for the people of God. In Ezekiel 34 the shepherds’ failure is noted: “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves!” (v. 2). Yet the Lord’s response is clear: “I will shepherd the flock with justice” (v. 16); “I will place over them one shepherd …” (v. 23).
That “one shepherd,” the ultimate Good Shepherd—Jesus, the Son of God—comes to live among us.
In John 10 Jesus proclaims, “I am the good shepherd” (v. 11). He is the one who seeks lost sheep, who does not abuse or misuse them, who stands between them and their enemies. He lays down His life for the sheep. Sacrificial service is the DNA of kingdom leadership.
After the resurrection, Jesus commissions shepherd leaders starting with Peter. The link is clear: if you love Him, you will feed the sheep He cares for (John 21:15-17). The baton of the Good Shepherd is passed on from Jesus to each shepherd leader as they competently and sacrificially equip the church in the contexts they are called to.
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:1-4).
I pray that God will keep this high calling “on fire” within those called to be “shepherds of God’s flock,” and that He will bless them with His character as they covenant to lead God’s people with humility and competence.
I conclude with a personal tribute. I am so very grateful that my first and ultimately life-long pastor was Rev. Robert W. Taitinger. Pastor Taitinger—although he was more comfortable with “Bob”—was the epitome of a 1 Peter 5 shepherd of God’s flock.
He was our family’s first pastor as my parents made a renewed commitment to follow the Lord during his and Shirley’s ministry at Central Pentecostal Tabernacle in Edmonton. Week after week, even as a school-aged kid, my attention rarely waned as I heard Pastor Taitinger preach and teach. One Sunday, with passion, his topic was the need for a fully committed life. As the service was coming to an end, he asked for volunteers to help build a new outreach tool, the “Singing Christmas Tree.” My father’s hand immediately went up, not just to build a tree, but in response to the call the Spirit had made throughout the message. He needed to fully commit his life to Jesus. From that day until he died, my dad’s life was marked by keeping that commitment.
Every week from the age of seven until I was 13, modelled for me was the life of a true shepherd in Pastor Taitinger. As thousands of others can attest, he knew our names. He knew my name! He would get down at my eye level and genuinely seek to know how I was doing. I was just a kid but was made to feel valued and loved.
He preached the Word and was passionate for the Spirit’s presence. One Sunday he shut down his message mid-flight and called the entire congregation to pray for the Spirit’s presence and power. No one left. His very evident burden and brokenness for those without Jesus marked him. It was rooted in that passion, which others shared with him, that Central developed branch Sunday schools across Edmonton, including the one I came to faith in.
During that time frame, the Spirit made clear to me that I was called to be a shepherd of God’s flock—caring, watchful, willing, and serving with humility. Just like my pastor.
All through my life and ministry, Pastor Taitinger modelled for me what the heart and life of a shepherd of God’s people looks like. He and Shirley always prayed and supported me through every stage of my ministry, and especially as general superintendent, a calling he knew well.
I’ll miss them both deeply.
I pray, Lord of the harvest, for multiple “shepherd leaders” to be raised up in the Canadian church. Grant that I, and others who currently have this high calling, will humbly provide an example of how privileged we are to be Your undershepherds of God’s people. May we stimulate many young women and men to respond to Your call the way your servants, Robert and Shirley Taitinger, have done. Like them, may we be found faithful. Amen.
This article appeared in the July/August/September 2022 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2022 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photography by Leslie Ghag. ©PAOC.