Pastor is a strange and difficult calling. It’s strange because, to use the biblical metaphor, a pastor is a sheep to whom the Great Shepherd has entrusted certain shepherding responsibilities within a particular “flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2) — he’s a shepherding sheep. And it’s difficult because, in addition to carrying out his demanding shepherding responsibilities, he himself needs to be led by the Great Shepherd as much any other Christian. Indeed, he is to set an example of following for his fellow sheep (1 Peter 5:3).
In other words, a pastor is a lead follower, which puts the emphasis of his calling in the right places. He’s first and foremost a follower of Jesus, the Great Shepherd, like any other sheep. Lead describes not his exalted status or unquestionable spiritual authority or superior value within the flock, but his sober calling to follow his Shepherd in such a way that his fellow sheep can “consider the outcome of [his] way of life, and imitate [his] faith,” to speak to them “the word of God,” and to keep watch over their souls, as one “who will have to give an account” (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
Call to Prayerful Dependence
If understood correctly, a pastor’s calling is designed to keep him in a posture of prayerful dependence, with his fellow flock members praying on his behalf. For who is adequate for such a calling — accountable to Jesus for how he models what it means to be a Christian, how rightly he handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15), and how the souls under his care spiritually fare? A pastor’s calling should regularly send all the sheep to their knees, because how well a pastor leads hangs on how well he follows the Great Shepherd’s lead.
“How well a pastor leads hangs on how well he follows the Great Shepherd’s lead.”
To that end, the following are ten suggested ways pastors can pray to be led by Jesus, drawn from various psalms. And they can be easily adapted by church members as ways to pray for those who love them enough to serve as lead followers.
1. Following: Lead me as my shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake. (Psalm 23:1–3)
Great Shepherd, the flock I am a part of is your flock, and I am only an “overseer,” a lead follower, by the appointment of your Spirit (Acts 20:28). Therefore, I am all the more dependent on you to shepherd me, since apart from you I can do nothing (John 15:5). Help me keep looking to you for everything I need (Philippians 4:19) and seeking to serve your flock in the strength you supply (1 Peter 4:11). Lead me in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake.
2. Wisdom: Lead me in your understanding.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law
and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments,
for I delight in it. (Psalm 119:34–35)
Great Shepherd, I believe that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” and that “all those who practice it have a good understanding” (Psalm 111:10). This is why I delight in your word: it is the source of understanding for how I and my fellow sheep may “walk in a manner . . . fully pleasing to” you (Colossians 1:10). So give me understanding that I may wisely observe your commandments with my whole heart, because I love you (John 14:15).
3. Teaching: Lead me by your Spirit.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground! (Psalm 143:10)
Great Shepherd, you’ve called me, as a lead follower, to teach my brothers and sisters (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9). Help me remember that I have nothing to teach them that I have not received from you through others by your Spirit (1 Corinthians 4:7). And help me remember that I am responsible to teach not merely through what I say, but through what I do by the power of your Spirit (James 1:22). So lead me by your good Spirit, and teach me to do your will.
4. Purity: Lead me in your righteousness.
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23–24)
Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness. (Psalm 5:8)
“Great Shepherd, lead me in your righteousness — don’t let me try to lead with mine.”
Great Shepherd, apart from your sovereign keeping, I am as vulnerable to temptation and as prone to wander as any of my fellow sheep. And you know the state of my heart and my inmost thoughts more thoroughly than I do. Do whatever you must to reveal any grievous way in me so that my precious brothers and sisters “who hope in you” never have cause to “be put to shame through me” (Psalm 69:6). Help me lead by seeking to be a lead confessor, lead repenter, lead grace-recipient, and lead holiness-pursuer. Lead me in your righteousness — don’t let me try to lead with mine.
5. Guidance: Lead me in your truth.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:4–5)
Great Shepherd, all your providential paths “are steadfast love and faithfulness” (Psalm 25:10). But as a lead follower, I often do not know the right path to take. I and this flock are utterly dependent upon you to lead us. Make me humble enough to remember that “in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14), patient enough not to move until you grant sufficient clarity, and bold enough to lead in following you when your guidance becomes sufficiently clear. Lead me and my fellow sheep in your truth and teach us.
6. Courage: Lead me because of my enemies.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies. (Psalm 27:11)
Great Shepherd, you displayed such wise and gracious courage in the face of your spiritual and human adversaries. Train me in cultivating such courage. Teach me to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19), to courageously seek the glory of the one who sent me, and not my own (John 7:18). Teach me to truly love my enemies and seek their good (Luke 6:27) while remaining courageous enough to speak the truth in love when it is unpopular and despised (Ephesians 4:15). Lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
7. Discouragement: Lead me with your light.
Send out your light and your truth;
let them lead me. (Psalm 43:3)
Great Shepherd, when I do succumb to discouragement because of the opposition of adversaries, criticism from my fellow sheep, sorrow from tragedies within my flock, difficulties within my family, my besetting weaknesses, or fatigue from long, strenuous labors, have mercy on me. Send out your light and your truth, and let them lead me to once again “take courage” (Psalm 27:14).
8. Protection: Lead me to your refuge.
You are my rock and my fortress;
and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me. (Psalm 31:3)
Great Shepherd, you laid down your life for your sheep to deliver us from our greatest danger: your Father’s wrath (John 10:11; Romans 5:8–9). You told us we would experience tribulation in the world, but not to fear because you have overcome the world (John 16:33). And you promise to “rescue [us] from every evil deed and bring [us] safely into [your] heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18). Protect me and my fellow sheep from the true danger of faithlessness. Protect me as a lead follower from discouraging others by fearing what man can do to me more than I fear the destruction of faithlessly shrinking back (Hebrews 10:39). You are my rock and fortress; when I am afraid, lead me to seek my only safe refuge in you.
9. Overwhelmed: Lead me when my heart is faint.
Hear my cry, O God,
listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I. (Psalm 61:1–2)
Great Shepherd, I take comfort that such a faith-filled, strong, courageous lead follower as David at times felt overwhelmed by his circumstances and became faint of heart. And I take comfort that you know my frame and remember that I am dust (Psalm 103:14). When I become overwhelmed, “lift me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5), above the fray, where I can rest and regain perspective. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
10. Spiritual Desertion: Lead me through my darkness.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning.
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:7–12)
Great Shepherd, when darkness has covered me, and I have lost sight of you; when I can’t discern your presence, and your voice seems like a distant echo; when a spiritual storm overtakes me, and I become disoriented and confused, remind me that saints through the ages have also endured such experiences. Remind me that even my darkness is not dark to you. And reveal yourself — not only to me, but also to my brothers and sisters — as the Shepherd who never loses a sheep (Luke 15:4), even in the valley of the shadow (Psalm 23:4). Even there, let your hand lead me until the storm passes and “light dawns in the darkness” (Psalm 112:4).