James Emery White on Two Kinds of Church Leaders: Ranchers and Shepherds

Every church longs to grow. That’s the way it should be. “The Great Commission” was not “The Small Suggestion.” It’s important for churches to know that there are two kinds of church leaders.

But many churches are stuck in neutral. They can’t seem to break through their current plateau to the next level.

So what is keeping many of these churches from reaching their full potential?

In many cases, I think it’s something as simple—but decisive—as the Shepherd-Rancher divide.

This is based on the premise that these are the two basic kinds of church leaders—Shepherds and Ranchers.

Shepherds are oriented toward providing primary care to their sheep. They are the ones in the trenches with coffees and funerals, discipling and weddings, one-on-ones and late-night calls. They are not usually leaders so much as they are chaplains.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I honor them and revere them.

Ranchers are oriented toward ensuring that their sheep are properly cared for. They are leaders and visionaries, mobilizers and catalyzers, inspirers and motivators, change-agents and provocateurs.

There has been much back and forth as to which “model” is best. It’s trendy to opt for the Shepherd role, and thus argue for smaller church communities. As a result, the “Pastor as CEO” has become almost cliché for dismissal and condemnation.

But what if we have a false dichotomy with the two kinds of church leaders?

What if it’s not Shepherds vs. Ranchers, but Shepherds and Ranchers? And what if a lack of ranching is what’s keeping many churches at their current level?

Let’s make a case for the Rancher for a moment.

In the Old Testament, God clearly put Moses into a Rancher role.  When he tried to fulfill this role instead as a Shepherd, arbitrating each and every situation, he failed miserably.

And the people suffered.

It took the wisdom of his father-in-law, Jethro, employing the skills of a Rancher, to organize things and unleash others to care for the people.

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit birthed the church by dropping 3,000 fresh converts on 11 very overwhelmed men. It was a megachurch mess if there ever was one.

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Source: Church Leaders