The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church, by Timothy Z. Witmer. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2010, 268 pages, $17.99, paper.
Of the multitude of evangelical and Reformed books that are currently coming off the presses, relatively few address in any depth the field of "pastoral theology." Presbyterian ministers, in particular, must rely on classics in the field, e.g., The Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter, The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges, all of which are goldmines of information, but all of which also address very different times and situations than ministers must work with today. The Shepherd Leader by Dr. Timothy Witmer, Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, is a welcome contribution to this much neglected and important field of study. This well-organized and well-written volume focuses throughout on a view of the minister and the elders that highlights their work as undershepherds who represent the Great Shepherd in all of their biblically given responsibilities.
The book is divided into three parts: "Biblical and Historical Foundations," "What's a Shepherd to Do? A Comprehensive Matrix for Ministry," and "Putting it All Together." Eager readers are well advised not to jump to part three without giving careful consideration to the first two parts. The logic of the last part grows out of the material developed in parts one and two. The book includes a much needed treatment of our modern culture's rejection of authority. Less treatment is given to abuses of authority in churches; but the biblically developed responses to each abuse are helpful and to the point.
The author's distinction (developed in chapter 6, "Shepherds Feed the Sheep") between "macro-feeding," i.e., the public ministry of the Word, and "micro-feeding," i.e., the various personal ways of bringing the Word of God to bear on the lives of others, is very helpful. I especially appreciated the emphasis on catechism in the section on "micro-feeding," and the importance of singling out fathers for personal work by ministers and elders. Likewise, it was good to see Witmer build on the historic pattern (beginning with Gregory's Book of Pastoral Rule, further developed by Martin Bucer in his Concerning the True Care of Souls, and even more fully developed by Richard Baxter in The Reformed Pastor) of dealing with different categories of believers, e.g., the young and weak, the declining Christian, the strong, etc.
Witmer, a Presbyterian Church in America minister, has clear affinities with a "two office view" of the eldership, which will make Orthodox Presbyterian ministers somewhat uneasy. However, this should not detract from the book's strength in providing a model for taking the historic Presbyterian and Reformed understanding of the church and its eldership and working that out in our culture. While I think that Witmer is too dismissive of the value of regular elder visits in homes, he rightly notes that it is increasingly difficult for churches to carry out such programs as work schedules of often both spouses, and the general busyness of our activity-laden culture make the scheduling of these a great challenge. He urges more work to be done by phone calls (which are beginning to pose almost as much of a challenge as elder visits, given the increased reliance on answering machines and voice-mails). While this is certainly preferable to an elder having little or no regular contact with the people he is to be shepherding, we must be careful not to lose the important biblical and theological reasons behind the apostolic pattern of being with the people to whom we are representing the Great Shepherd who dwelt among us (e.g., Acts 20:18, Rom. 1:8-12, I Thess. 1:5).
The "Action Plans" in part 3, in the chapter "Seven Essential Elements of an Effective Shepherding Ministry," remind ministers and elders that the concepts and suggestions presented in the book are to be put into practice in ways suitable to each local church. Sessions could do few things more important than taking time to consider this chapter and adapt the material for their particular fields of service. We should keep in mind that any volume like this (which is written by a pastor who labors in a mid-Atlantic suburban area) must be contextualized for different situations. There is no "one size fits all" in the specific outworking of the various aspects of pastoral theology.
Part 3 concludes the volume in a way that makes it an outstanding tool for sessions to work through either in an intensive time of discussion of the whole book, or in systematic consideration of chapters as a part of each session meeting. Tim Witmer is to be commended for this fine contribution to assist ministers and elders in the vital work of being conscientious undershepherds who serve the Great Shepherd in a way that will secure the commendation, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matt. 25:21, 23). May the book get wide usage in our churches.
Orthodox Presbyterian Church
Franklin Square, New York
Ordained Servant Online, March 2011.