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The most challenging part of being a shepherd is to be able to care, feed and guide God’s people with wisdom, through the grace of discernment and life that match it. The main principle rule of being a shepherd, when it comes to dealing with the laity, is to exercise its office with “ competence grounded in mutuality”, humility and service.  The person in position should always be humble with exemplary service to downplay [or lower] his rank among laity who lives according to Christian principle, but needs also to “assert the power of his position when the sin of the weak require it” - this  is called the Paradox of pastoral authority: Leadership as a servant.

Those in position need to understand that their rank is not merited on moral superiority, but are equal by nature in regard to the faithful who stand in the faith. St Paul perfectly explains of what a good leader should follow as a style to flocks who has pious life saying,  “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers [Helpers]  for your joy”[1].  This means that the position of leadership shouldn’t not be synonymous with ruling over others but an agent who is helping and guiding  the laity especially with those who stand in the faith.

The grace of discernment in dispensing a corrective measurement with authority by the pastor to the laity appropriately needs wisdom when and how to apply it depending on the situation. Those who are in leadership should always have empathy in everything in dealing with the laity especially when to rebuke and correct those who err, and when to forego and forewarn those who need to be warned. Above all, the correction or restraint of laity should never be at the expense of loving kindness. Therefore the laity should be disciplined in moderation -“never rigid nor kindly lax”, because an unskilled and non-compassionate way of correcting the faithful would often worsen the situation and have the unintended and opposite effect. “Not every wound is healed by the same treatment; relieve inflammations with cold compresses”, as a shepherd, “be as shrewd as a snake in all circumstances, yet always innocent as a dove”[2]

On the other hand, the relationship shouldn’t be reduced to just social function - having a collective friendship or moral [psychological] teaching without the end goal of righteousness leading to heaven. Those shepherds who concentrate on pleasing others for the sake of bringing praise and favor to themselves will lose the sense of truth.  The concern of the pastor, however,  must always be a desire to please others so as to lead them to the truth which satisfies their soul.  This is why a leader shouldn't be lower than proper, lest he will not be able to affect the lives of laity through the bond of discipleship. Nor should it only focus on requiring the laity of the things in heaven disregarding the weakness, suffering, and challenges of the flocks. This also would despair the flocks.

In the end, no matter how good a pastor is, it is useless unless it is accompanied by the life of holiness and prayer that matches his teaching both in words and deeds. The shepherd needs to walk blamelessly taking a lesson from the fathers who come before him and by heeding to the life of the saints. Because “no one does more harm in the church than he who has the title or rank of holiness and act perversely”.






St Gregory the Great: The Book of Pastoral Rule

Thomas C. Oden: Pastoral theology “essentials of ministry”

Fr. Tadros Malaty: A Panoramic View of patristics in the First Six Centuries

Michael W Holmes: the Apostolic Fathers in English.


[1] 2 Cor 1:23

[2] The letter of Ignatius to Polycarp

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