7 Ways to Deal with the Pain of Being a Shepherd

I’ve worked with many shepherds who start with a great vision of their work. “We want to get out of management, details of the business, caring for the building, controlling finances, and become shepherds. We want to know the sheep, lead them, help them, and encourage them.”

Often within three months the shepherding goal is abandoned, forgotten, and the group is back to being busy deacons, exhausting themselves with various tasks of keeping the organization going. They’re doing good things. They do a good job of doing good things. But they’ve forgotten the great goal they had of being shepherds.

Why does that happen?

My observations:

  1. Shepherding takes a lot of time. When shepherds decide to know and be known by sheep, it doesn’t happen quickly (John 10:3, 4). It takes hours, days, weeks, months, and years to know people by name and disclose yourself appropriately so you can be known by the sheep. I haven’t found a formula for developing instant trust. Often the presenting question doesn’t reveal the real problem. The first approach is your try-out. They want to see how you’ll handle a small problem to decide if they’ll share the devastating problem with you.[tweetthis]Shepherding takes a lot of time. [/tweetthis]
  2. Shepherding is confusing and embarrassing. Shepherds don’t have all the answers. Many men have told me, “I never knew all the problems people have and the seriousness of their difficulties. I don’t have answers to tell them how to solve their problems.” When people relate things others have done to hurt them, sometimes they’re things I’ve done or may still be doing I never realized was a problem. I’m like the ones they want me to fix. When I get lost in my pain and guilt, I haven’t listened to the last five minutes of their conversation.[tweetthis]Shepherding is confusing and embarrassing.[/tweetthis]
  3. Frustrated sheep can attack. It must be disappointing to start a work that takes time, effort, and energy — then be bombarded with criticism. It will happen. Some sheep want you to fix other sheep to solve problems they need to address. When you don’t do what they ask, they’ll complain or leave. Members will accuse, blame, and withhold their contribution. You’ll be criticized to your face and behind your back. Best friends can become cold, absent, and sometimes enemies.[tweetthis]Frustrated sheep can attack.[/tweetthis]

How can you deal with the pain of shepherding?

  1. Count the cost before agreeing to the work. Most good tasks and roles involve some discomfort and messiness. Imagine a young man who says, “I want to play high school and college football, but I don’t ever want to get hurt.” Football is a contact sport. Expect sore muscles, bruises, bloody noses, and maybe broken bones. That’s the nature of football. If you want to avoid all physical pain, sign up for the chess team. Ask and answer the question, “Is the reward I’ll receive worth the price I’m paying” (1 Peter 5:4)?
  2. Many new tasks become easier with training and experience. When I first started working with a computer, it was frustrating and confusing. I had a friend who started the same time I did. He went back to a pencil and legal pad. Now, much of what I do with my computer is muscle memory. I work without conscious thought and enjoy it.
  3. Plan how you’ll continue your education, training, and personal growth. There are classes, books, newsletters, workshops, and podcasts that can improve your effectiveness as a shepherd. I’ve found going to a competent counselor is helpful. Unless I work on my issues, they’ll get confused with people I’m trying to help.
  4. Learn from the sheep you’re leading. We are more alike than different. When I see myself in others, I can avoid consequences of bad decisions others are making before I get that far down the road. Also, because they’re having problems in one area, doesn’t mean they aren’t excellent in other sectors. One of the ways to serve others is to permit them to serve me (Luke 7:36-50).
  5. Build a list of available and competent resources to help in working with sheep. Doctors don’t usually develop their medicines. They find what helps and prescribe the same one for the same symptoms. I don’t know of a doctor who treats every illness — sinus infections, heart bypass surgery, and transplanting kidneys. Each general practitioner has a list of specialists who can treat what he or she is unprepared to address. It’s good to know Christian counselors, accountants, alcoholics — even someone who “was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:13, NIV). People with different training and experience can relate to others who need their training or their past for instruction and hope.
  6. Your hope comes from pain (Romans 5:1-5). Very few rewards come without painful effort and persistence.
  7. Follow your leader — Jesus (Philippians 2:1-11; 1 Peter 2:15-25). Jesus is the perfect model of Someone who understood that creative, helpful, beneficial pain precedes blessing. Resurrection is great, glorious, and victorious. However, crucifixion comes before resurrection (Matthew 16:21, 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

For those who follow the Good Shepherd, the reward is worth the risk, “and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1Peter 5:4, NKJV).

How have you dealt with the pain of shepherding?


(Visited 1,158 times, 97 visits today)
Jerrie Barber
Servant of Jesus, husband to Gail, father to Jerrie Wayne Barber, II and Christi Parsons, grandfather, great-grandfather, Interim Preacher, Shepherd coach, Ventriloquist, barefoot runner, ride a cruiser bicycle

6 Responses to “7 Ways to Deal with the Pain of Being a Shepherd

  • Tom Payne
    5 years ago

    Hi Jerry,

    shared this blog with a new elder. Thanks for your wisdom

    Tom Payne

    • Jerrie Barber
      5 years ago


      You are welcome and thank you for encouraging this new elder and me.

  • Charlie Harrison
    5 years ago

    This all sounds very “business like” in tone.

    • Jerrie W. Barber
      5 years ago


      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      What is a way you have found to deal with the pain of being rejected and not appreciated in a valuable but difficult role?

  • In one respect you are correct. Jesus responded to his dismayed parents question – “Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?” – “wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s (business)? Aren’t we all workers in the Kingdom?

  • Dennis Makins
    5 years ago

    Your perspective is wise and insightful. I hope this reaches many current and prospective elders far and wide.

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