“Everything rises and falls with leadership,” is a oft-quoted axiom that has taken hold of the modern world.   In both the secular and theological worlds, an emphasis has always existed upon the leadership.  The secular world has its managers and CEOs, while the Church turns to her pastors, elders, and deacons.  The Shepherd Leader (henceforth, TSL) by Timothy Z. Witmer, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, attempts to strengthen those in the theological positions with an emphasis upon the shepherd metaphor from Scripture.  The first section, “Biblical and Historical Foundations,” is intended to serve as the underpinning upon which Witmer will build his case in the remainder of the book. He traces the historical development of the shepherd imagery beginning in the Old Testament at Genesis 48:15. He then focuses in upon two of Israel’s most prominent leaders, Moses and David, and presents them as shepherd leaders. He then shifts attention to Ezekiel 34 and explains the deficiencies that will often arise in human leadership. Witmer’s dealings with Ezekiel are more explanation than exegesis, but it leads him into his primary goal of presenting Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd, both figuratively and literally. To mirror his discussion of Moses and David in the Old Testament, Witmer discusses Peter and Paul from the New Testament. Jesus serves as the link between the old and new shepherds.

Moving into the second section, Witmer focuses upon explaining the responsibilities of the shepherd mingled with applications. He accomplishes this by focusing on what he calls the “macro” and the “micro.” It is with these Witmer see four key areas that fall under the shepherd’s ministry to the flock: knowing, feeding, leading, and protecting. These four chapters are essentially the heart of the book and Witmer covers his topics well. Each chapter concludes with a chart to summarize the “macro” and “micro” points, and Witmer helpfully implants suggestions for shepherds who might have trouble knowing where to begin with each key area. As the crux of the work, these particular chapters are packed with insightful concepts, quotes, and illustrations.

The final section of the book seeks to tie together all of the parts into one presentable piece while giving practical advice to shepherds on implementing Witmer’s concepts into the local church.  He first presents seven essential elements to a shepherding ministry.  This chapter is a collection of enumerated lists, but Witmer goes beyond the typical “step” approach and offers practical advice for getting started.  Witmer closes by discussing how the shepherd can prepare his leadership and congregation for a shepherding ministry in the local church.  Overall, the final section of the book is the practical application that develops from the propositional assertions of section two.

A key concept in understanding the book and a central element in the second section of the book is the “macro” and “micro” concept that Witmer uses.  The “macro” focuses upon the flock or congregation as a whole, while the “micro” addresses the individuals that make up the congregation.  This concept is simple, and Witmer does a good job in presenting it in the all-important second section.

While Witmer stands firmly upon the concept of a shepherd’s authority, he does not present them as infallible.  At the onset of the book, with his presentation of Moses and David, the author quickly notes that even these esteemed “shepherds of Israel” were flawed.  He continues this assertion as he moves into the New Testament with Peter and Paul.  I believe this simple observation alleviates the model of perfection so many other works of this type seek to establish.

Another great quality of the book is TSL is structured as a workbook with reproducible worksheets and charts at the conclusion of chapters.  This is a key feature that is missing from other works of the same genre, even though these books are advertising themselves as work manuals for pastors.

Many books have been written on the topic of leadership, even upon the narrower topic of the shepherd leader, as guides for pastors ministering to the people of God.  It is assumed on the part of the reader that an author will address such a topic upon the foundation of his [the author] theological presuppositions.  It can even arguably be assumed the author will present a historical progression of his theological position upon the subject matter without isolating the majority of readers.  It is in this category that TSL steps outside the normal anticipated and tolerated boundaries.
Witmer’s presentation of the material in the first section of the book is structured as an apologetic, yet its tone reads more like a passive-aggressive polemic against non-Presbyterian leadership models.  While he does interact with some Scripture in presenting his position, the main thrust of Witmer’s argument comes from confessional/historical sources with a heavy reliance and lengthy quotations from the Westminster Confession, John Calvin, and John Murray.  One could defend Witmer’s stance by noting his theological background, current academic position, and even the book’s publisher; however, these are still inadequate merely to give Witmer a free pass on his presentation.  It is possible for authors to present material to readers of different theological backgrounds and be helpful, encouraging, and edifying.  In fact, other Westminster faculty and alumni have excelled in crossing denominational boundaries and becoming relevant despite the variations, the most notable being Jay Adams.  Witmer stumbles in this area by choosing to use his platform for a defense of the Presbyterian position rather than an exercise of pastoral office.

The book is presented as a how-to source book for the pastor, yet there appears to be more emphasis upon the why rather than the how of leadership.  Nearly one hundred pages are devoted to the historical foundations of the pastor and more generally church leadership, yet the application is found wanting in the final section of the book.  Much of the application is linked with the explanation in the second section of the book. Since this is the case, the final section of seems unnecessary.

It would perhaps appear to many that I did not enjoy it; however, this assumption would be incorrect.  Despite a slow approach towards the runway, Witmer does a fine job landing the plane once he moves into the practical aspects of his work.   I did found many of Witmer’s insights simple, yet thought provoking.  It will be difficult for my congregation to test or implement many of Witmer’s suggestions because we do not practice a pure presbytery form of church government.  However, it is always beneficial to seek to apply works such as this by examining the principles behind the writing.  In this particular instance, those principles would be upon qualification and expectation of church leadership and the exercise of authority within the Body of Christ.

The Shepherd Leader:  Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church (240 Pages)

Timothy Z. Witmer, P&R Publishing, 2010

Price:  $17.99

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