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Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.
Pastor to Pastor

The Character of a Shepherd

It must be of the highest quality.

Shepherding God’s Flock (6)

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous.. 1 Timothy 3.2, 3

It is a measure of how far the Church has drifted from its Biblical moorings that the word “bishop” puts us in mind of some ecclesiastical administrator who works far removed from the everyday flocks of the Lord. The Greek Word ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos) simply refers to one who “watches over” others, in this case, the church of God, to take care of the Lord’s sheep (2 Tim. 3.5). One cannot be a shepherd from afar. The shepherd must be among the sheep, caring daily for them. And he must do so not with the aloofness of an administrator but with the loving character of a true overseer.

Gregory the Great (ca. 540-604) offers insight to the kind of person a true bishop should be: “That man, therefore, ought by all means to be drawn with cords to be an example of good living who already lives spiritually, dying to all the passions of the flesh; who disregards worldly prosperity; who desires only inward wealth; whose intention the body, in good accord with it, thwarts not at all by its frailness, nor the spirit greatly by its disdain: one who is not let to covet the things of others, but gives freely of his own; who through the bowels of compassion is quickly moved to pardon, yet is never bent down from the fortress of rectitude by pardoning more than is meet; who perpetrates no unlawful deeds, yet deplores those perpetrated by others as though they were his own; who out of affection of heart sympathizes with another’s infirmity, and so rejoices in the good of his neighbor as though it were his own advantage; who so insinuates himself as an example to others in all he does that among them he has nothing, at any rate of his own past deeds, to blush for…” (The Book of Pastoral Rule

I have for many years participated in ordination counsels and examinations for men wanting to become ministers of the Gospel. I find this work interesting, important, but always a little disappointing. We ask many questions, some of which are focused on their experience of Christ, but most of which are directed at their knowledge of Scripture, theology, and church order. It is difficult to examine a man’s character in an hour or two, and even more difficult to discern the true state of his soul. I just hope we’re not giving the wrong impression about what matters most in shepherding the Lord’s flocks.

Gregory did not begin at that point in his recommendations for a true shepherd. He wanted men of excellent spiritual character and demonstrated gifts. Such men, he knew, could grow in knowledge; men of mere knowledge, however, might easily ruin a flock by their faithless or unshepherd-like lives.

Resources for Shepherds
For an overview of pastoral ministry, together with self-assessment tools to help you improve in every area, check out our book, Fan into Flame. Learn more about this book and order a free copy by clicking here.

The goal of pastoral ministry—as the goal of all Christian life—is to realize more of the presence, promise, and power of God’s Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is the Good News we proclaim and the realm of which we are citizens and ambassadors. The Kingdom and righteousness of God provide the defining motif for every aspect of our Christian life. We need to make sure we know what the Kingdom is and what it is to live in a Kingdom presence in the world. Two resources can help. Order a free copy of our book, The Kingdom Turn, and discover more about the central role of the Kingdom in Christian life (click here). Begin reading our thrice-weekly column, ReVision, in which we have begun a new series on “Kingdom Presence.” You can read the first and second installments in this series here and here, and if you add ReVision to your subscriptions list, you’ll get it three times a week from here on out.

From the Celtic Revival
We hope you found our series on Columbanus helpful and encouraging. He is truly one of the great saints, missionaries, and shepherds of all church history. In our twice-weekly teaching letter, Crosfigell, we have begun a series looking not only into his preaching but his ministry and other writings, and doing so from a worship and devotional perspective. Here’s an excerpt from the first installment:

“The body of the Church, enriched by the splendor of its Founder, is augmented by the hosts of saints and is made resplendent by religion and learning, so that those who come after draw profit from the concourse of the learned.”

  - The Monk Jonas, Life of St. Columban (early 7th century)[1]

Concerning our subject, John T. McNeill writes, “There is something difficult for twentieth-century minds to grasp in this seventh-century Irishman who by choice lived below our poverty level; who founded a series of monasteries among foreign peoples; who made friends of bears and squirrels in a forest retreat; who wrote and enforced the severest ascetic rules; who took it upon himself to give advice to popes and dared to rebuke rulers with power to put him to death; who preached diligently from a fund of biblical knowledge; who was unsurpassed in classical learning among his contemporaries, loving and in a free way imitating the Latin poets; and who in his late years wrote a versified letter in a rare meter which, he explains, was practiced by Sappho.”[2]

Such is the life we’ll be examining in more detail in Crosfigell over the weeks to come. You can read the first installment by clicking here.

Crosfigell is mailed every Tuesday and Thursday. Subscribe to Crosfigell today (click here to update your subscriptions). Be sure you click each teaching letter you want to receive, (including Pastor to Pastor), and journey with us through our devotional study of this remarkable saint.

Check out our latest Celtic Legacy podcast to learn how to keep distractions down and focus more consistently on the things that matter most.

T. M. Moore.

Please pray that God will move many of those we serve through this ministry to share with us financially in its support. If the Lord moves you to give, you can use the
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Jonas, Life of St. Columban, Dana Carleton Munro, ed, and tr. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, nd), p. 3.

[2] John T. McNeill, The Celtic Churches (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1974), pp. 167, 168.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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