The Role of a Pastor As a Shepherd with Tom Nelson

Modern Church Leader feat. Tom Nelson
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The Role of a Pastor As a Shepherd

Pastors have many important responsibilities in their role as spiritual leaders.

One of the most important but often overlooked is that of a shepherd. This is an ancient metaphor that is still true and powerful today. 

Shepherding is more than just preaching and leading church services. It's also about caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of the congregation. 

For pastors to effectively lead their congregations, they must first learn what it means to be led by the Good Shepherd. Jesus speaks about Himself as the Good Shepherd and how His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. 

It's a beautiful analogy of how we are to be led by Jesus--with trust and faith that He knows what is best for us. So likewise, pastors must first learn what it means to be led by the Good Shepherd before they can shepherd God's people well. 

The church can be a great place for people to find community, grow in their faith, and find support. A big part of the success of a church lies with the pastor. If the pastor is a good shepherd, then the church can flourish. A church with a good shepherd at the helm will have members passionate about their faith and eager to share it with others.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul talks about the importance of being a shepherd to the flock. He states that a good shepherd can help keep the sheep from straying and, at the same time, lead the lost sheep back to the path of righteousness.

In this podcast episode, we’ll explore the shepherd’s role as a pastor with our guest Tom Nelson, the Senior Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church. With his insights and expertise, you'll have a roadmap to follow on your journey to pastoral leadership.

“The most important part of any servant leader's life is to be led well, by Jesus. We need to have a deep passion and priority to seek intimacy with Jesus and be His apprentice. That's the foundation of everything.”
-Tom Nelson

Tom Nelson (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is president of Made to Flourish (MTF), a network that seeks to empower pastors to lead churches that produce human flourishing for the common good. He has also served as senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, for almost thirty years.

Listen in and discover what it means to be a good shepherd and how you can be more effective at leading your congregation to Jesus.

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • Why leaders are called to be shepherds
  • How to start and grow a church
  • Ways that help pastor flourish
  • Why servant leadership matters
  • Some insights from his book The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership

Resources Mentioned:

Read his book: The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership
Learn more about Made to Flourish: madetoflourish.org
Know more about  Christ Community Church: cckc.church

Other Episodes You May be Interested In:

What It Means to Be a Christian Leader with Richard Stearns
How to Leverage Small Groups for Maximum Impact with Jason Sniff
Small Church, Big Impact with Karl Vaters

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[12:29] David, shepherd them according to the integrity of his heart and guide them with skillful hands. This is the most central text of biblical leadership in all of Scripture.

[17:19] I think leadership is a community because we have a plurality of leadership in the New Testament and old.

[21:10] The most important part of any servant leader's life is to be led well, by Jesus. We need to have a deep passion and priority to seek intimacy with Jesus and be His apprentice. That's the foundation of everything.

[23:49] There's suffering, difficulty, and everything else flows out of who you are, who you're becoming, as the beloved of Jesus. And then your leadership flows authentically from who you are. So you don't have to fake it.

[27:25 I would encourage most pastors or leaders to find a really good competent counselor to talk through their lives. If you can have a greater self-understanding of what has shaped you and some of the challenges, then that bridge of vulnerability really cements you to the peel.

[29:.08] It is that security, intimacy with God, and sense of unconditional love that opens us up. So it makes sense to be vulnerable because you don't have to perform for someone. They don't have to think you're perfect.

podcast transcript

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Tom Nelson (00:00):

The most important part of any servant leader's life is to be led well by Jesus. It sounds very basic, and I unpack this in the book from Psalm 23. Our apprenticeship with Jesus, the most brilliant leader of the universe, is first and foremost. So I would say simply and profoundly is, deep passion and priority to seek intimacy with Jesus and be His apprentice. Now, that may seem obvious, but that's the foundation of everything, and that's what I practice every day.

Narrator (00:32):

Welcome to The Modern Church Leader, where you'll hear executive pastors share practical tactics and strategies that churches are using right now to thrive in our digital world and advance the Kingdom of God. Here's your host, Frank Barry.

Frank Barry (00:46):

Hey guys, Frank here with another episode of Modern Church Leader. Excited to talk today about really kind of taking care of pastors, or pastors taking care of themselves. And I am joined by Mr. Tom Nelson, who is, I don't know, quite the thoughtful expert in this category, and published a book recently on the topic. So Tom, great to have you today.

Tom Nelson (01:07):

Frank, great to be with you. I'm excited for our time together.

Frank Barry (01:10):

Yes. I mean, every show we interview tons of people in all kinds of different places of the church, so I'd love for you to just tell everyone about yourself. And I know you've founded a church, and you've been there for a long, long time, 30 years it sounds like. You work at a nonprofit, you've written a few books. Just give us the background.

Tom Nelson (01:30):

Yeah Frank, I'd love to. Probably the most important thing about me is, I've been married to my bride Liz for 39 years. We're going to celebrate our 40th anniversary May 1. She's a long-suffering woman Frank, that's what I always say to you and your listeners. But no, I'm just really delighted. I have two grown children. I've been in Kansas City for 33 years actually-

Frank Barry (01:52):

Wow.

Tom Nelson (01:52):

... and after finishing seminary my wife and I moved to Kansas City, and began our church, Christ Community Church in Kansas City, in an apartment with two of us. So on a good morning, we had a membership of two. But the Lord's blessed that, and we've got a front row seat which has been really fun, and a wonderful work of God in Kansas City. So we've bene privileged to be a part of a wonderful congregation, and as you mentioned I also serve a nonprofit organization called Made to Flourish, and it's six years old, and it's a national network that helps pastors really disciple people from Monday. We talk about connecting faith work and economic wisdom for the flourishing of the community. So yeah, I'm really privileged and blessed, and also blessed to be a part of your show. I'm excited by our conversation about leadership, and flourishing, and service, yeah.

Frank Barry (02:40):

Yeah. So, you're still at the church, you guys founded it 30 years ago-

Tom Nelson (02:45):

Correct.

Frank Barry (02:45):

... or somewhere in that neighborhood. Tell me about that, how did you feel the call to sort of start a church and get... We could probably do the whole show on just that topic, but give us a little bit. Like church planner, and how did that come to be?

Tom Nelson (03:04):

Yeah, well, in the mysterious province of God there's always a mixed bag of our human agency, mixed motives of our human heart. But after I finished, I was at... Did my THM at Dallas Seminary, and when I finished my Masters of Theology my bride and I just really sensed God's call to begin a church, to try to be a part of a church we think would have a long, long time horizon, and make a long-term impact. We've always had a long-term time horizon. So, we literally had a six-month-old son there, then, and we literally packed a 24-foot rider truck, moved from Dallas, moved into Kansas City into a little apartment, and I'd never been a pastor before, we didn't really know anybody. And we just began, so it's been quite a ride-

Frank Barry (03:47):

Wow.

Tom Nelson (03:47):

... of faith and joy, yeah. We just had a sense of God was calling us to this city, and calling us to have a long-term... We've always had a long-term sort of institutional horizon about the local church. So yeah, it was one of those crazy, pioneering phase steps, and we're very ordinary people. You know that Frank, we've just had a little conversation, we're just ordinary people. But God has really allowed us to be a part of a remarkable congregation that truly, I would say, and I'm a little biased, and we've grown a lot in numbers and budgets and buildings and all that stuff, and campuses, but that's not the point. I think the biggest thing is that we have a congregation we serve that really loves God with their mind well, and their hands, and their heart. And I always wanted to be a part of a faith community like that. And we're not perfect, but it's a really remarkable congregation.

Frank Barry (04:35):

Yeah, yeah. Over that time, did you plan it out of any kind of church planning organization, or connection to any other groups or resources? Or did you just literally show up in an apartment and be like, start inviting friends to church?

Tom Nelson (04:53):

You're like my father-in-law, who was then living, just when he called me after I got to Kansas City. And he's a business leader in Dallas, and he knew it all, the education, all that stuff. He was like, "Where did you take my daughter to?" He was like, "Where's your church, where's your building, where's your people, where's your budget?" And I'm going, "Uh, nope. I don't have that." And I could just hear his wheels turning, and mine too, like, "What are you doing?" So yeah, it really was... I'd never been a pastor before, I didn't have coaching, I was a part of the Evangelical Free Church of America Network. So that, I had a tribe. But it was like, this is it, "If you want to fly our flag, go for it. It's all you." So yeah, it was pretty crazy. And it's a remarkable work of God, because the failure rate is extremely high, you know that.

Frank Barry (05:37):

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tom Nelson (05:37):

I mean, when you do this kind of thing, it's pretty crazy.

Frank Barry (05:40):

I mean, that's hard. And it sounds like today, and we'll bounce to maybe, but this is interesting. Today there's a lot of organizations that will help you plant churches, whether it's within your denomination or it's something like Ark, that do a lot of prep work and coaching in getting you ready, and connecting you to resources, and a bunch of stuff which is really amazing.

Tom Nelson (06:03):

Totally awesome.

Frank Barry (06:06):

It sounds like you didn't quite go through-

Tom Nelson (06:07):

I didn't have that.

Frank Barry (06:09):

... anything like that, so to me it's like, man, you just showed up, and you-

Tom Nelson (06:14):

Yeah. And I'm all for all that you said. I think it's really important.

Frank Barry (06:15):

Absolutely.

Tom Nelson (06:16):

We plant churches, and help leadership development, and I'm all for that kind of intentionality. I just didn't have it.

Frank Barry (06:21):

Yeah, right, right, right, yeah. I think there's been maturing in the church in a sense, like to kind of resource church planners a bit more. So, well that's cool, and it sounds like... So the church is doing well, and even through the pandemic and all the crazy over the last two years, you feel like things are going well?

Tom Nelson (06:42):

Well, I think it's going better now. I would say most pastors or leaders, and your listeners over the last two years, I use the language in this new book called The Black Swan. It's an economic term, but we've had a very unusual time with most of us... Well, hardly anyone, I've talked to 90-year-old men who've never been here before, apart from the Spanish Flu. So, we were in a massive free fall of uncertainty, and all leaders of every stripe have tried to address that. So as a church leader [inaudible 00:07:12], we have five campuses, and we have a larger operation. Man, we just had to pivot, we've had to pray, we've had to try to build resilience, and we've had conflict. I mean, I'm sure you've had conversations in your podcast about all the... Or the catch-22s we've been on.

Tom Nelson (07:27):

Whether it's mass vaccines, whether it's in-person, non-person, it's just been a time of turmoil. But it is also a time of really pruning, and we're seeing a lot of growth and depth, and now more in numbers. I mean more people coming back in depth, so as hard as it's been it's been pruning in all our lives, including me.

Frank Barry (07:42):

Right, right, yeah, yeah. It's been a, I mean, just all the things. But it does feel like there's a little momentum building, you know? Like, as things get a little bit more kind of, I don't know, opened, or relaxed, or I don't know, as life goes on I guess.

Tom Nelson (08:00):

We're sure hoping for that, yeah. It feels better, yeah, for sure.

Frank Barry (08:03):

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, you wrote the book, Flourishing Pastor. And I don't know, did you write it because of all the craziness, or was it already something that kind of God had put in your heart to help pastors in that way, or to have that kind of thought on your heart?

Tom Nelson (08:21):

Yeah, great question. You know, in God's providence, I published this book with the University Press as I've done some of the other. And Amy Sherman is a very good friend of mine, her book comes out in May, which you've got to have, Agents of Flourishing. And mine came out in December called The Flourishing Pastor, and University Press, just a backdrop, since we've worked with IVP and I really love IVP and the team there, we talked about doing these two books. This is three plus years ago. So, this was pre-pandemic, and I had no idea when we started, nor did IVP in its release date and writing it, and a good chunk of it I wrote during the pandemic. Which actually, I'm not minimizing the pain of the pandemic, but it helped shut my travel down, it helped me focus.

Tom Nelson (09:08):

And so a good chunk I wrote during the pandemic. Yeah, we had no idea in writing the book, in framing it, and I do a little bit in the book about COVID. But I didn't want it to be centered in COVID, I wanted it to have a longer shelf life. So yeah, we didn't know that was going to take place, and that was one of the amazing things that I think maybe God is doing, we hope, like loaves and fishes if he wants to multiply the book to help people, is that it came out in December. And now it's just really getting some traction in a time when we're all wrestling, pastors aren't doing very well maybe before the pandemic, but now certainly it's been really stressful. So it seems to be in God's providence, we hope, the timing.

Frank Barry (09:46):

Yeah, yeah, [crosstalk 00:09:47], yeah.

Tom Nelson (09:46):

It wasn't our smarts, it wasn't our smarts. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Frank Barry (09:50):

Pretty amazing. Right, right. Like, it wasn't planned for it, but it all worked out, and it is a very relevant topic. I mean, I get to talk to a lot of pastors and church leaders of all types, and I've done a couple shows on kind of Christian counseling, and pastors getting help, and things like that. And I think pastors have had a tough... We were talking before, I put them in that category of like any kind of frontline, whether it's firefighters, or police, or nurses, or teachers, pastors are kind of in that bucket. Like, you're really on the front lines dealing with this stuff, and I like your phrase, it's a catch-22. Like how do you, whether you're mask or no mask, or politics, or racial tensions-

Tom Nelson (10:32):

It's really hard-

Frank Barry (10:33):

It's really hard to win, like-

Tom Nelson (10:36):

You're caught in the middle.

Frank Barry (10:36):

Yeah, you're really caught in the middle, so...

Tom Nelson (10:37):

These things matter, but they become... They matter so much. My wife is a mental health professional, she's a remarkable counselor. And she said in her practice, and all her colleagues, she's highly professional, highly credentialed, and here's how she says it. She says that the pandemic has amplified the decibel level, so if you struggle with anxiety, you were dealing with a certain kind of mental health dynamics, the pandemic, because isolation has just shot the decibel level up. And I think pastoral care has reflected that too, Frank. I mean we on our staff, and we have again several campuses, and we have a wonderful staff. But we've had to spend much more time and got helping people in their mental health and their marriages and things that are so stressful. So yeah, it's been really hard, really hard for everybody.

Frank Barry (11:31):

Kind of jumping back to the book, give us the overview. What's the book about, and kind of how is it geared towards helping pastors?

Tom Nelson (11:39):

Yeah. Well, so, my journey... I built the book, it's the first time I've written a book on one verse. It does have a Bible basic. I have been looking at a Hebrew idea, ever since I first started studying Hebrew many, many years ago. And I've had an academic interest in this word, it's called tom tamim, it means wholeness, or blameless, or integrity as it's translated in the Bible. So I have an academic journey there in my doctorate and other work on this word. And then, starting Christ Community, I really had this idea that the culture which this church would want to emerge, and leadership was centered in this tom tamim word. So the primary verse this whole book is about, Frank, is Psalm 78-72. It's referring to David, but it says, "So David shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with skillful hands."

Tom Nelson (12:35):

This text I think is the most central text of Biblical leadership in all of scripture. And what the book is built around is this text, now I bring other texts, other insights and leadership. But notice the [inaudible 00:12:48], the picture, Biblical picture is a paradigm that guides servant leadership, and the primary paradigm of leadership is shepherding. So, I unpack that as a primary metaphor, that's the first part of the book. And I critique current paradigms that guide callings that are toxic, like celebrityism... Well, I mean, humbly and charitably, critique where a lot of pastors lose their way, first. And then I focus the second section of the book on integrity of art. This is a tom lay, this tom idea, formation, wholeness, it's your spiritual life you lead and live out of the [inaudible 00:13:24] of your soul.

Tom Nelson (13:24):

So, the integrity part is the second section. And my wife said to me when I wrote one of the chapters on pursuing wholeness for a leader, she said to me... And again, my wife is not a flatterer. But she said, "Of all the things you've written, that chapter... And maybe because she's a counselor and been a pastor's wife for a long time, in parish church work. She said, "That chapter on pursuing wholeness is the most important thing you've ever written." And so, the middle part of the book is on this area of formation and wholeness, because we lead and love and serve out of the overflow of who we are, and who we're becoming. And then the last part of the book is some insights that I think are really vital for skillful leadership. So, integrity of heart, skillful hands. So, the book flows around that verse, and unpacks it as kind of the moniker or the guide.

Frank Barry (14:04):

Right, right, yeah, I love that. Well, what are some... You piqued my interest when you said you kind of warn... There's the warning section upfront, like these are some of the pitfalls, or these are some of the dangers. What are they? You mentioned one, celebrityism. That one I get, we probably all get. But there's got to be more in there.

Tom Nelson (14:25):

Right, right. What I do in the book is I bring the best quantitative, empirical research about pastor well-being that we have. And then in a positive way, and hopeful way, I critique, why is this taking place? Now again, everything has multiple factors. But I'm suggesting that some of the biggest issues for all of us as leaders is the paradigm that guides our sense of calling, whatever that is. So I do critique three main ones that I think are very toxic, it's like a GPS dynamic or a compass dynamic. If you get off a certain number of degrees, the longer you go the farther you get lost. My point is, shepherds get lost too, not just sheep. And that the heart of shepherd leadership, and I think this is probably the thesis of the book, is that those who lead well are well-led first.

Tom Nelson (15:18):

And so I unpack Psalm 23 as a primary leadership text, but I do critique, I'm just saying, I do critique three main areas. The celebrityism, which I talk about the Green Room Effect and the danger of that. But the other two probably are a little bit more... Well, one is more contrarian, and I'm going to go tell you about, one is the Lone Ranger, this is the danger of isolation, the lack of deep, safe, authentic, transparent relationships that are vital for your well-being and your connectedness, and the danger of isolation. The one that's probably the most... I get the most go, "What?" But the more I think people I work with it, the more they see is what I call the danger of the visionary. Now again, there's goodness in leadership of getting direction. But Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, rightly so, the 20th Century, brilliant, martyred pastor.

Tom Nelson (16:05):

He said, "Visionary dreaming, God hates it." And there's a subtle shift in vision when it becomes toxic, not only to the visionary but to the culture in which it's in. I'm all for leadership, I'm all for a sense of direction, but often that visionary or visioning becomes toxic to the leader, to the culture, to the church. And so I'm pretty strong on critiquing that, it may be viewed as a little contrarian.

Frank Barry (16:31):

Yeah, yeah, interesting. You need vision, right? The senior pastor, or the team, hopefully the leadership team has some kind of shared vision that they feel like it's God leading them, somehow it's connected. Not just like their own, "We're doing our own thing," but it's somehow connected to what they feel like God is calling them to do. I mean, don't you need something in there? Like, you need that, right? If you didn't have that, where are you leading people, or what's going on?"

Tom Nelson (17:08):

I'm not saying this to try to have people get the book, though I'd like them to do that. But I unpack this more, it needs more nuance than we can cover. I will say a couple things, very good question. I do think leadership as a community, because in the New Testament, in the Old Testament, we have a plurality of leadership. The danger is when there's just one primarily what I call going to the Sinai and bringing down the plates visionary. It's really hard for the individual. I do believe in direction, I believe in a community of leaders seeking the Lord's direction. But if we're going to really cast vision, the danger is sometimes that future vision is so clouded by cultural norms of bigger, better, more sensational, some of those cultural values get cluttered in what should be a kingdom vision.

Tom Nelson (17:55):

So I speak in the book about, if we're going to cast vision, we need to cast the vision of the Kingdom of God, and the life God has for us that is animated from the pages of scripture, and then adapted to our context. So, there's quite a bit there. But one of the things I would say is that I've had a good number of conversations, I've also been in visionary environments that were toxic, and very abusive, and we are seeing and hearing scandalous kind of meltdowns of places where I think there's been too much visionarying and celebrityism, they often come together. But I do think there's some potential perils of how visionaries tend to operate in a local church.

Frank Barry (18:38):

Right. How do you get the right balance of having vision, but sort of appropriately so in your experience that you... And you've done it, 30 years, and you planted a church, and it grew. So, it's not like you're speaking from hypothetical.

Tom Nelson (18:58):

No, I'm not being passive, or you just don't lead in one sense, and serve. But I think a couple things, I put in like guard rails, Frank. I think we have certain guard rails. On one side is to first Peter five is to clothe ourself with humility. Because one of the great dangers is the burden of being the visionary, I've had very... I'm not going to say, being careful. A good number of conversations with very successful pastoral leaders, and if they've been doing this for a long time, if you get to know them and they're safe they say, "You know, I'm worn out from trying to come up with the next vision." It's just a burden, it's a heavy yoke. And that's what's not... A lot of people have not really heard that, and that I would say... One side is to bathe and clothe yourself with humility.

Frank Barry (19:46):

I love that.

Tom Nelson (19:46):

I mean, this is so vital in first Peter five. The other, I think, is to continually make sure your vision is deeply connected to the Kingdom of God, and the life Jesus has for us to live in individual and in community. Now, that kind of vision I want to continue to cast, not like we're going to be 20,000 by so long, or we're going to have this building, or we're going to do all these things. And again, not that that's all bad, but what happens when that vision doesn't realize? See, that becomes the meltdown. I could go on too long there, I'm not trying to be too contrarian. But I want to be critiquing charitably, because I think there's some real toxic things there.

Frank Barry (20:22):

Right, right, yeah, no. It's good, I mean, all this stuff is interesting to talk about. Well, on the flip side, obviously you're talking about pastors flourishing, and things that they can do in their own lives, and how they're leading their churches to really flourish. I mean, give us maybe the top couple there that you think are just super important to longevity as a pastor, and going 30 years, and really flourishing, and being not successful in the sense of like, "Oh, you've got this massive church." But successful in the sense that you're doing what God's calling you to do, and you're loving it, and you're excited by it still.

Tom Nelson (21:03):

Yeah. Well, a couple things stand out to me. One is that the most important part of any servant leader's life is to be led well by Jesus. I mean, that sounds very basic, and I unpack this in the book from Psalm 23. But, our apprenticeship with Jesus, the most brilliant leader in the universe, is first and foremost. And He gives us this invitation in Matthew 11 to come to Him in deepening intimacy, and who we're becoming, that's what we're doing, take his yoke and learn from Him. And then we find rest, which is a picture from a Hebrew standpoint of the life God has for us from the genesis, the whole life. So what I would say simply and profoundly is, a deep passion and priority to seek intimacy in Jesus and be His apprentice.

Tom Nelson (21:52):

Now, that may seem obvious, but that's the foundation of everything, and that's what I practice every day. I want to be led well by Him, I want to learn from Him how to live my life like he would if He were me. And then secondly I would say, is that to seek close, safe friendships, just a handful of people. If you're married, seek it with your spouse too. But you need places, and this is Kurt Thompson, lots of good stuff on interpersonal neurobiology we're learning, on spiritual formation. But we long and need to not only know others, but to be known. And each of us as leaders need to be deeply known by God, the scripture says, but also by a handful of others. And that's where I find a great lack of health. To do that, we have to have...

Tom Nelson (22:41):

Here's what I'd say, we want to have a handful of people in our life that we have deep friendships with, that we can be completely safe and completely known. And when we are in a space that we have nothing to fear, nothing to hide, and nothing to prove, then our life begins to flourish in community, right?

Frank Barry (23:00):

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tom Nelson (23:01):

We don't have to put all the negative energy, and hiding, and again, with a small group of people. So I would say yeah, yoke to-

Frank Barry (23:08):

It's not your whole church.

Tom Nelson (23:09):

No, no. But yoke to Jesus, and deep, meaningful, safe, authentic, vulnerable friendships. Because our primary calling in life... I mean, I'm just... Our primary calling, if any servant leader that's listening, it's not accomplishing great things for God, as wonderful as it is. I mean, we were called to do, we were created to do things. But it's become an increasingly intimate and integral apprenticeship to Jesus, and there's nothing more important. I think this was Rebecca De Young in her brilliant book, Glittering Vices, when she said, "The greatest project of life is being like Jesus." And that has to be the focus, and everything else... It's not easy, there's suffering, there's difficulty. But everything else, Frank, flows out of who you are, who you're becoming, as the beloved of Jesus. And then your leadership flows authentically from who you are. You don't have to fake it. I mean, this is the stuff that all of us can fall into.

Frank Barry (24:05):

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Why do you think it's hard... And I'm sure this is a blanket statement, so it's not meant for everybody. But why do you think it's hard for pastors to do those two things? And maybe the second one is the harder one, I don't know. I'm sort of just guessing like, is it harder for pastors to have those deep, close friendships that they can be themselves, can be honest, they're totally known, there's no expectations, but they're just with their friends that care about them. Is that hard for a lot of pastors?

Tom Nelson (24:41):

Yeah. Let me get to that, the first part is the ordering of our loves. I'll use Saint Augustine, I mean, the biggest dynamic is that our loves get misordered, right?

Frank Barry (24:50):

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tom Nelson (24:51):

So I mean, that's that intimacy, that primary love of Jesus, that intimacy with God. So in the first question, that's what I would say. There's lots of siren songs, there's not only external scandals, there are scandals of the heart that are often well-concealed, right?

Frank Barry (25:06):

Right.

Tom Nelson (25:06):

So we hear about scandals, and none of us hopefully ever want to... We don't want to have scandals that diminish God's character, or how he's viewed in the world I mean, and our church and that kind of thing. But, the greatest challenges are within, the misordering of our loves, of chasing after other loves rather than Jesus first and foremost. The other side of, yes, I think it's very true, that pastors... There are some unique challenges, I think, for pastors to have close, and intimate, and meaningful friends. One is, because of their visibility often, there are people that aren't safe, and they've been burned in the past. All of us have, not just pastors. So, there is that woundedness that makes us more defensive.

Tom Nelson (25:53):

But I would say that the biggest dynamic is that there's the nature of confusing different hats we wear, like as an employer, as an employee, as a brother and sister in Christ. We have all these hats, and it gets really confusing. So we need to have a couple close friends, both outside the church, I think that's really good, and then inside the church.

Frank Barry (26:20):

Got it.

Tom Nelson (26:20):

But we have to pursue that, and we have to risk vulnerability, and find people who are safe, and be really vulnerable. But it takes work, and intentionality.

Frank Barry (26:28):

Yeah, like pastors need best friends.

Tom Nelson (26:31):

Indeed, and many, many don't. And there can be some inside the church, but sometimes it gets a little messy, right? If they're on the elder board, or something, right?

Frank Barry (26:40):

Yeah, I get it. 100%, yeah.

Tom Nelson (26:41):

But have it outside the church, have a couple close, deep friends.

Frank Barry (26:44):

Yeah, yeah. And you probably see it like... For me, having a bunch of best friends that are all within the company could be tricky, you know?

Tom Nelson (26:52):

Right.

Frank Barry (26:53):

So you need some here, and you need some over there, and you need some at church. And you've got to find a way to have them in different... Probably in different contexts, you know?

Tom Nelson (27:03):

Right, right.

Frank Barry (27:04):

But that's hard work for anybody, right?

Tom Nelson (27:06):

Yep.

Frank Barry (27:06):

Like, having real, real, sort of good, best friend-type people that you're vulnerable with, and you share life with, and... How do you do that well? How does a pastor intentionally go work on that?

Tom Nelson (27:22):

Yeah. I would say first is that I would encourage most pastors as leaders to find a really good, competent counselor, first to talk through their life. Having a really safe place, what I'm saying is that there are a lot of barriers that we don't even know, and we bring so much in from our childhood that hinders us from that deep level of connection and trust and vulnerability. So, I think many, many pastors... I've been benefited greatly by a psychologist and a counselor that helped me look at my family origin and some trauma, small trauma in my life. I mean, it's having I think that desire, I hope humility, authenticity to have others speak into your life. And I think if you can have greater self-understanding of what has shaped you, and some of the challenges, I find then that bridge of vulnerability really cements you to the people.

Tom Nelson (28:11):

It's often right, isn't it true? It's often not our successes. We think our successes, and again there's nothing wrong with success. But it's our weaknesses, our vulnerability that deeply connect us to others, right?

Frank Barry (28:22):

Yeah. My wife is amazing at it, I'm terrible at it. I don't know why... I don't know if that's a global woman thing or not, but she's great at being vulnerable, and building those kind of connections, and all that. Maybe to a fault it's so good, you know? And I'm like, "Dang, you're good at that, I'm terrible at it." So generality, maybe guys have a harder time, I don't know. That's just a...

Tom Nelson (28:47):

Yeah, but I think again, we believe the Gospel, we believe... If we're pastors and leaders, we believe what the Bible says. And do we really believe that God delights in us, I mean, that God, when He walks into the room He delights in you, Frank. I mean, He delights in you, He loves you, you're His beloved. And then Christ, if you've embraced Him, you are perfectly secure beyond anything you do or don't do. I mean, it is that security, that intimacy with God, that sense of unconditional love, that I think opens us up, does that make sense?

Frank Barry (29:16):

Yeah.

Tom Nelson (29:16):

To be vulnerable, because you don't have to perform for someone, they don't have to think you're perfect, you don't have to put on a mask. I mean, I'm not trying to be a psychologist here, but I think that stems like, "Wow, and I truly believe what I preach, am I truly experiencing the intimacy and love of Jesus, and that I'm His beloved, and that God delights in me." I mean, yeah. Regardless of my performance.

Frank Barry (29:39):

Yeah, yeah. I mean, that's probably a lifelong thing, right? For everybody on the planet.

Tom Nelson (29:41):

It is, it is.

Frank Barry (29:41):

Pastors included, like everybody, yeah.

Tom Nelson (29:42):

It's a daily formation, yeah, a daily formation.

Frank Barry (29:45):

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, I love it, we could probably talk about it forever. But I don't want to keep you forever, so where should folks-

Tom Nelson (29:53):

No, delightful.

Frank Barry (29:54):

How do they go get the book? Is it on Amazon, they just look up Flourishing Pastor, or is it-

Tom Nelson (29:58):

Yeah, yeah. You go The Flourishing Pastor. The subtitle is, "Recovering the lost art of shepherd leadership." It's by IVP Press, and you could get it Amazon, Christian bookstores. IVP, so IVP has a pretty wide distribution. So if you really want to support Amazon, you could do that. But I would encourage people, I think it's helpful, and again, you know that we're not here just to sell books, but hopefully... Like I've said to the Lord and others around me, and I sort of, all of us have little loaves and fishes. You think about that little kid, one lunchbox. And they may be crusty, I mean they may not be great. Some are really great, some are not, but Jesus can multiply our loaves and fishes. So if this book is a couple of little crusty loaves that might help someone, or any of your listeners, they have some gifts that God has given then, open our hands and say, "Lord, multiply it."

Tom Nelson (30:46):

So if the book could be that, it'd encourage me, and I think it would be God honoring. So, The Flourishing Pastor, IVP Press, it's just out. So, [crosstalk 00:30:54].

Frank Barry (30:55):

Love it, love it. Let me ask you a couple rapid-fire questions, and then we can kind of wrap this up.

Tom Nelson (31:00):

Yes, yes, yes.

Frank Barry (31:00):

You write books, but is there any book that you haven't written? Or, what is a book that you haven't written that really had an impact on you. And it could be recent, or just any book that just comes to mind.

Tom Nelson (31:15):

One that I've recently read, is that what you mean?

Frank Barry (31:17):

Could be recent, could be way from the past. Just-

Tom Nelson (31:19):

That I've read?

Frank Barry (31:19):

... the one that you go, "Oh, this is the book." Like, "This book had a big impact on me."

Tom Nelson (31:25):

Oh, okay. Well that's really hard, because I love reading. I would say one of the greatest books I've ever read is Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning.

Frank Barry (31:34):

Man's Search for Me?

Tom Nelson (31:35):

Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl.

Frank Barry (31:36):

Got it.

Tom Nelson (31:37):

I mean, books, there's so many on different areas. But one of the most important books I've ever read, and then it would probably be on that, I'm a real fan of Dallas Willard in terms of formation. It depends on the discipline, so I'd say the spirit of the disciplines, Dallas Willard, I knew him, amazing writer, amazing person.

Frank Barry (31:56):

Yeah, got it.

Tom Nelson (31:56):

It's always hard to know what to say.

Frank Barry (31:58):

Yeah, yeah, no, no, no, that's [crosstalk 00:31:59]-

Tom Nelson (31:59):

There's a lot of great books in the world.

Frank Barry (32:01):

... top of mind thing, right? So-

Tom Nelson (32:02):

Yeah, yeah. I mean, answers for meaning, yep.

Frank Barry (32:04):

Yeah. Next question, what is a podcast that you're listening to right now? It could be anything. These don't always have to be spiritual answers, so this is just, what's a podcast that you're listening to that you love?

Tom Nelson (32:18):

I like NPR's Money, Planet Money is one example.

Frank Barry (32:21):

Okay. Because you're also into economics and finance and all of that [crosstalk 00:32:25]-

Tom Nelson (32:25):

Yeah, so I've written on bridging faith and economics, yeah, yeah. So, I have an interest in that. But I love podcasts, I do.

Frank Barry (32:32):

Do you know of any good podcasts or books on that topic, like on the... Faith and economics, or I'm sure you wrote one too, so I know you're going to go without.

Tom Nelson (32:42):

It's called... No, but no, no, I don't mean... It sounds terrible, but I wrote... IVP published a few years ago The Economics of Neighborly Love, which, I bridge modern economics in a way that can be understood, along with theology, and why we need economics to love our neighbors.

Frank Barry (32:58):

Yeah, I love that, I love that.

Tom Nelson (32:58):

It's called The Economics... But that's one I've written just a few years ago, so...

Frank Barry (33:00):

Now, any place that folks can connect with you? Do you have a website, or are you on Instagram, Twitter, or [crosstalk 00:33:05]?

Tom Nelson (33:05):

No, I'm not on any social media. It's not I'm anti, but I'm just... That's a long conversation, Frank. But no, I'm at Made to Flourish, so you could go tomn@madetoflourish.org, or tomn@ccckc.church. Christ Community Church, Kansas City, [crosstalk 00:33:22], yeah.

Frank Barry (33:22):

Love it, love it. What's your role there, now? Are you still the Senior Pastor?

Tom Nelson (33:25):

Yeah, yeah, I have a great team, and I split my time 60/40, 60% serving Christ Community in the lead role, and then President at Made to Flourish, 40%.

Frank Barry (33:34):

Love it.

Tom Nelson (33:34):

But yeah, I have a great team, and I'm trying to be generative now. I mean, it's never been about me, but it's really not about me now, Frank. So, there's all kinds of great young leaders, and other people that I'm basically cheering on right now as I kind of finish out here.

Frank Barry (33:48):

That's awesome, that's awesome. Well man, thanks for your time today, this was great.

Tom Nelson (33:51):

Great, Frank. I hope I get to run into you in-person. Maybe in San Diego some day.

Frank Barry (33:55):

Yeah, when you're out in Carlsbad, it's happening. We're going to connect, somehow, some way.

Tom Nelson (33:59):

Okay, okay, okay Frank.

Frank Barry (34:00):

Well, I appreciate it.

Tom Nelson (34:01):

Blessings to you, yeah.

Frank Barry (34:02):

Yeah, yeah. And thanks everyone for joining today, whether you kind of caught the show live, or you caught the YouTube episode, or your favorite podcast, we appreciate you guys, and we'll be back next week with another episode of Modern Church Leader. Bye-bye.

Narrator (34:15):

If you enjoyed this episode of The Modern Church Leader, consider sharing it with the pastor or minister you think would benefit the most from listening to this conversation. You can send them to modernchurchleader.com, or share this episode directly from your podcast app. Be sure to subscribe for free on YouTube, Apple Podcasts or Spotify, so you never miss an episode. And we'll see you again next week with another conversation here on The Modern Church Leader.

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The Role of a Pastor As a Shepherd with Tom Nelson

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The Role of a Pastor As a Shepherd with Tom Nelson

Listen in and discover what it means to be a good shepherd and how you can be more effective at leading your congregation to Jesus.

Show notes

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The Role of a Pastor As a Shepherd

Pastors have many important responsibilities in their role as spiritual leaders.

One of the most important but often overlooked is that of a shepherd. This is an ancient metaphor that is still true and powerful today. 

Shepherding is more than just preaching and leading church services. It's also about caring for the spiritual and emotional needs of the congregation. 

For pastors to effectively lead their congregations, they must first learn what it means to be led by the Good Shepherd. Jesus speaks about Himself as the Good Shepherd and how His sheep follow Him because they know His voice. 

It's a beautiful analogy of how we are to be led by Jesus--with trust and faith that He knows what is best for us. So likewise, pastors must first learn what it means to be led by the Good Shepherd before they can shepherd God's people well. 

The church can be a great place for people to find community, grow in their faith, and find support. A big part of the success of a church lies with the pastor. If the pastor is a good shepherd, then the church can flourish. A church with a good shepherd at the helm will have members passionate about their faith and eager to share it with others.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul talks about the importance of being a shepherd to the flock. He states that a good shepherd can help keep the sheep from straying and, at the same time, lead the lost sheep back to the path of righteousness.

In this podcast episode, we’ll explore the shepherd’s role as a pastor with our guest Tom Nelson, the Senior Founding Pastor of Christ Community Church. With his insights and expertise, you'll have a roadmap to follow on your journey to pastoral leadership.

“The most important part of any servant leader's life is to be led well, by Jesus. We need to have a deep passion and priority to seek intimacy with Jesus and be His apprentice. That's the foundation of everything.”
-Tom Nelson

Tom Nelson (DMin, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is president of Made to Flourish (MTF), a network that seeks to empower pastors to lead churches that produce human flourishing for the common good. He has also served as senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, for almost thirty years.

Listen in and discover what it means to be a good shepherd and how you can be more effective at leading your congregation to Jesus.

By the end of this episode, you will learn:

  • Why leaders are called to be shepherds
  • How to start and grow a church
  • Ways that help pastor flourish
  • Why servant leadership matters
  • Some insights from his book The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership

Resources Mentioned:

Read his book: The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership
Learn more about Made to Flourish: madetoflourish.org
Know more about  Christ Community Church: cckc.church

Other Episodes You May be Interested In:

What It Means to Be a Christian Leader with Richard Stearns
How to Leverage Small Groups for Maximum Impact with Jason Sniff
Small Church, Big Impact with Karl Vaters

Here’s a glance at this episode…

[12:29] David, shepherd them according to the integrity of his heart and guide them with skillful hands. This is the most central text of biblical leadership in all of Scripture.

[17:19] I think leadership is a community because we have a plurality of leadership in the New Testament and old.

[21:10] The most important part of any servant leader's life is to be led well, by Jesus. We need to have a deep passion and priority to seek intimacy with Jesus and be His apprentice. That's the foundation of everything.

[23:49] There's suffering, difficulty, and everything else flows out of who you are, who you're becoming, as the beloved of Jesus. And then your leadership flows authentically from who you are. So you don't have to fake it.

[27:25 I would encourage most pastors or leaders to find a really good competent counselor to talk through their lives. If you can have a greater self-understanding of what has shaped you and some of the challenges, then that bridge of vulnerability really cements you to the peel.

[29:.08] It is that security, intimacy with God, and sense of unconditional love that opens us up. So it makes sense to be vulnerable because you don't have to perform for someone. They don't have to think you're perfect.

video transcript

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