Review of “The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church”

“The Shepherd Leader” was written by Timothy Z. Witmer and published by Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, Philipsburg, New Jersey.

God’s people NEED shepherds! And God has richly supplied this need by giving them The Good Shepherd AND clearly spelling out in His Word the qualifications and duties for “undershepherds.”

But, as Tim Witmer points out, most elders (a) don’t know what shepherding is OR (b) what they’re supposed to do OR (C) they don’t know how to shepherd.

Dr. Tim Witmer has been pastoring a healthy, growing, multi-ethnic PCA congregation (Crossroads Community Church in Upper Darby, PA) for 24 years. That fact alone should cause you to listen to anything he has to say. It is a “vanilla Presbyterian, ordinary means-of-grace, congregation” and well-established in the community (over 100 years!)

Add to that the fact that Tim teaches Practical Theology courses at Westminster Seminary (Philadelphia) and you’ll begin to see that he has lots of street cred. So, let me whet your appetite for this book.

Witmer begins by deeply rooting the whole notion of shepherding in Biblical Theology. He does this bywalking thru the shepherding imagery of the Old Testament, and exegetically demonstrating how important the shepherd-sheep picture is. Along the way he gives OT models of shepherd-leaders and what they DO. Witmer carefully shows the problems with ALL human shepherds, and how they are being used to prepare the hearts of God’s People for The Good Shepherd to Come.

Dr. Witmer moves from Promise to Fulfillment by showing how Jesus fulfills the OT model. He then moves seamlessly thru the New Testament showing Christ and the Apostles instruction on shepherding. Along the way Witmer points out the implications for church structure – namely, the Plurality and Parity of the Eldership.

Perhaps you’re wondering what the church’s practice of shepherding has been over the last two millennia? Witmer does a rapid survey of shepherding from the Church Fathers thru the Pre-Reformers thru the Protestant Reformation into the Puritan period thru Scottish Presbyterianism and into the contemporary American reformed scene.

If there is an omission in the book it is the neglect of the rich tradition of shepherding and home-visitation in the Dutch reformed tradition. Resources like John Sittema’s “With a Shepherd’s Heart” or Peter DeJong’s “Taking Heed to the Flock” or W. Huizinga’s anthology entitled “From House to House “ are all worthy of careful perusal by an elder.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, as well, the regular helpful articles on shepherding the flock in Ordained Servant, the excellent and practical OPC publication and available on their website (

After surveying the historical models, Witmer addresses the current milieu and a major problem concerning shepherding: authority. The chapter entitled “The Shepherd’s Biblical Right to Lead” is worth the price of the book! In it – the culture’s loss of moral values and how that has stormed into the church- is addressed. Along the way Witmer gives clear counsel on the will to discipline, the use of authority and avoiding extremes on the “Authority Continuum”. As a bonus-Witmer gives one of the finest brief critiques of the Emerging Church Movement and its horribly deficient pastoral model.

The reason that YOU should buy this book is his clear model for implementing the practice of shepherding. He breaks the practice into four digestible bites: Knowing the Sheep, Feeding the Sheep, Leading the Sheep and Protecting the Sheep. Along the way Witmer drops genuine nuggets for implementation: including an excellent 10 point rationale for consecutive, expository preaching and how the sheep are genuinely FED by such a diet; the strategic covenantal wisdom of targeting fathers to feed, the inclusion of deacons in the shepherding task and much more.

Witmer gives you everything you need to get started including good forms for tracking the process AND discussions of how you’ll want to structure your Session (or governing body) and even how you’ll communicate the model to the congregation. He even tells you when (and when not to) to begin the model!

If I have any critiques it would be areas that I wished Dr. Witmer would have addressed and included. Let me list three of these

1.), I would have loved to seen such an able pastor as Dr. Witmer instruct on “The Shepherd as Counselor”, since elders will frequently deal with issues as diverse as Assurance , Depression, Parenting Issues, Fear and Worry, Marital Dysfunction and much more.

2.) How the shepherd ministers to the sick and dying.

3.) How an elder would “do” an actual shepherding visit or call, providing talking points and resources.

I would urge Dr. Witmer to come out with a companion volume that addresses some of these issues of shepherding practice. And I will be first in line to buy several copies! Given the success of this volume I think a “sequel” would be eagerly awaited!
Carl Robbins is a PCA minister serving as Senior Pastor of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church in Simpsonville (Greenville area), South Carolina and is an expert on all things Oklahoma.