Dear Pastor . . . You’re a Shepherd, Not an Entrepreneur

This article is part of the Dear Pastor series.

Dear Pastor,

Greetings to you in the precious name of our Lord, King, and friend, Jesus Christ. It is my earnest hope that you find yourself in places of refreshment at the mere mention of his name. Besides, is there anyone in whose presence is more joy? I trust not. And to consider that he prays for you by name–its all so wonderful. Our work is hard, but it lightens a bit when we remember such things.

I wanted to write a few lines to you in an effort to reorient your work. We are pressed on every side—danger from without in the schemes of the devil and danger from within with the passions of the flesh. To be sure, we are also in danger from without in the ways we are so tempted to conform to the patterns of the world (Rom. 12:2). One of those patterns we are tempted to conform to as pastors is to see ourselves, or our work, as entrepreneurs.

The Trade of the World

The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. More than 27,000 people will die today in China. Tragically, most of them without Christ. How many thousands are there outside your window that live with a Christless future? Too many. The need is great, but the answer, brother, is not found in speed, strategy, or charisma as the great business leaders of our day do. Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).

Planting by Pastoring

Nathan Knight

Planting by Pastoring rejects the entrepreneurial mindset of church planting and invites leaders to adopt a far more biblical view of the church to cultivate a community that can “treasure Christ together.”

The world endeavors to appeal to the sensualities of humanity. Sights, sounds, smells, and feels are the trade of the world. They dole it out in bunches so as to draw the masses in and keep them for profit. We might understand why their white board sessions and slick marketing campaigns combined with charismatic leaders and flashy services would garner attention. We might understand how the product could be reproducible–“scale” they call it.

When the Fortune 500 turns its pleasant gaze towards these multiplying businesses, it’s easy to consider how we in the church might learn from them. After all, we do believe in common grace, don’t we? Imagine pastors that were more like Musk, musicians that were more swift than Swift? Consider the appeal of church leaders with charisma like Obama?

No, no, dear brother. This is our Father’s world, but this is not our Father’s way. Our message is not a product to be freshly packaged but a message to be carefully stewarded. The core of our message is foolishness and stumbling blocks to the appetites of the world (1 Cor. 1:23). We are, by nature, pastors, not entrepreneurs. What is the difference? Well, beloved, I’m glad you asked.

Pastors, Not Entrepreneurs

Do you recall the final interchange between Peter and our Lord? In what might be considered as Jesus’s concluding session of his initial church planting residency, he asked his “lead planter”, Peter, a few questions:

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon Peter: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Jesus: “Feed my lambs.”

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter: “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”
Jesus: “Tend my sheep.”

Jesus: “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Simon Peter: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus: “Feed my sheep”—John 21:15–17

Love for Christ that is devoted to feeding and tending our Master’s sheep–this was the final lesson for Jesus’s church planting class. Would that we would pay attention. Loving, feeding, and tending the vulnerable prize of Jesus’s passion. This is not the work of entrepreneurs, it is the work of pastors.

Our Aim

Paul writes to the successor of his successful church plant in Ephesus and tells him that “the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Our aim is love, beloved, not profits. Pure love drawn from pure hearts and peaceful consciences that don’t need the validation of customers, but sincerity of souls. This kind of love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8). Never.

Therefore, if we plant churches as pastors, not entrepreneurs, whose aim is to love Christ and feed and tend the sheep of Christ’s reward, knowing that such love can never fail, then we can sleep well knowing our work will endure.

Our message is not a product to be freshly packaged, but a message to be carefully stewarded.

Compare the sleep of Mark Zuckerberg to that of your devoted Christian mother who, from her purity of heart and sincerity of faith, taught you Christ and fed you cheerios–who do you think sleeps better at night? Need we even ask?

Jesus slept amidst the storm and bid the seas be still with but a word while his disciples were in fits. The quietness of his soul calmed the quickened souls of his disciples. This is our aim. Love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Our aim is the quieted soul that issues from the pure love of Christ and the good of our neighbor. Our aim is not in the multiplication of gatherings with nameless crowds that are known only to God and not hardly at all to ourselves. Crowds moved Jesus towards compassion, but his aim was to get them under a shepherd that knew his voice and he their names (Matt. 9:36; John 10:3).

Pastoral Attention Propels (Not Quells)

I’ve gone on too long. I should close. But before I do, allow me to have a go at the question I know you're itching to ask: What of the crowds that draw the Lord’s compassion? So many are sheep without shepherds! If we step away from the white board session and to the bedside of the dying saint, won’t the spread of the gospel slow? It’s a question worth asking, beloved.

I respond by asking, Isn’t the healthy child who has been the recipient of a devoted mother and father the most eager to have more children? Isn’t the carefully tended tomato plant the most fruitful? How many times has “Amazing Grace” been sung in foreign languages and faithful gatherings therein? Innumerable. Surely this is due in part to Newton’s meticulous attention to notes and words.

Indeed, beloved, pastoral precision to real people with real names doesn’t quell growth, but instead, it spurs it on.

Pastors, not entrepreneurs. Men whose aim is to love by tending and feeding the flock of Christ’s eternal reward. This is what not only church planting needs more of, but this is what the world needs more of. Let us do as our Lord instructed and pray earnestly that more laborers like this might be raised up and sent out.

Until next time, pastor, I am . . .

Your humble servant,

Nathan Knight is the author of Planting by Pastoring: A Vision for Starting a Healthy Church.

Popular Articles in This Series

View All

Related Resources

Crossway is a not-for-profit Christian ministry that exists solely for the purpose of proclaiming the gospel through publishing gospel-centered, Bible-centered content. Learn more or donate today at