Timothy Z. Witmer
Reviewed by: Jeffery A. Landis
Date posted: 11/28/2010
The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church, by Timothy Z. Witmer. Published by P&R, 2010. Paperback, 240 pages, list price $17.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Jeffery A. Landis.
Timothy Z. Witmer, professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, believes that the church desperately needs elders who will think like shepherds and not like a board of directors. To help the church toward that goal, Witmer has written The Shepherd Leader. The purpose of the book is to show that elders are called fundamentally to be undershepherds.
Witmer's book is divided into three sections. The first one deals with "Biblical and Historical Foundations." Much of this material will not be new to elders and pastors in the OPC, but it does lay a good foundation from the Old Testament through the Scottish Presbyterians. I wish that Witmer had gone beyond the Puritan period to modern times, but his historical overview is helpful. The chapter on the shepherd's right to lead is a primer on the nature and use of biblical authority. This chapter by itself is well worth the cost of the book.
The second section, "So What's a Shepherd to Do?" is the heart of the book. It outlines four key areas of responsibility for every elder: to know, feed, lead, and protect the sheep. In this section, Witmer defines the work of the elder in terms of both macro (the whole congregation) and micro (individual members). This distinction is a helpful one, especially to those elders who are prone to view their work almost entirely on a macro basis. The chapter on knowing the sheep is excellent, but the chapter on leading the sheep is disappointing in that it does not provide much help in the area of macro leading of the congregation.
The final section of the book, "Putting It All Together," gives some practical direction on how to implement a shepherding program in a church. One very helpful section deals with the importance of prayer in the life and ministry of the elder. Witmer is not merely a theorist; as a longtime pastor, he understands how to apply the theology of shepherding. He has some good ideas about including deacons as shepherding partners and some suggestions on how to minister to members beyond yearly home visits.
The Shepherd Leader is a book that ought to be considered by leaders in the OPC in at least two ways. First, it would be a good book to use in officer training, as it lays out a biblical foundation for the office of elder and explains the elders' function as shepherds. Second, it would be useful in helping a session to evaluate its own work. A session would find great benefit in the second section, "So What's a Shepherd to Do?" on an elder's retreat to evaluate its own ministry to God's sheep.
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