FamilyLife Today®

The Shepherd Knows His Sheep

with Tim Witmer | June 6, 2013
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As a shepherd cares for his sheep, so does a father care for his children. Pastor Timothy Witmer talks about a father’s responsibilities to his family and points men to the ultimate role model, the Good Shepherd, to teach fathers how to tend their little flocks.

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  • As a shepherd cares for his sheep, so does a father care for his children. Pastor Timothy Witmer talks about a father’s responsibilities to his family and points men to the ultimate role model, the Good Shepherd, to teach fathers how to tend their little flocks.

Pastor Timothy Witmer talks about a father’s responsibilities to his family.

The Shepherd Knows His Sheep

With Tim Witmer
June 06, 2013
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Bob:  For a husband to lead his wife well, spiritually, he has to really know her and what’s going on in her life. That means the conversation had better go deeper than just, “How was your day?”

Tim: What has happened is that, many times, our conversations sit on just superficial matters that need to be addressed—for example: “What time are you getting home from work?” “What are we having for dinner?”—things like that. But we need to remember that to truly refresh our knowledge of one another, we need to go deeper than that. We need to find out what our wife’s greatest frustration is, at the moment. Maybe, it’s me! I don’t know. [Laughter] But if that’s me, I had better find out!

“What is she struggling with the most?” “What is her greatest concern for the children?” Maybe, one of the best ways to get to that is to sincerely and honestly—looking straight into her eyes—ask her, “How can I be praying for you?” That tends to go below the surface. Those kinds of conversations, of depth, need to be advanced.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 6th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Healthy communication between a husband and wife is just one of the ways that a man can be more effective as a spiritual leader in his home. We’ll talk about that today. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I think most of us, as men, kind of assume our responsibilities instinctively more than directionally; don’t you? I mean, few of us have had a road map laid out for us. We just kind of look around—

Dennis: Well, men are notorious for heading off in a direction—

Bob: Without asking for directions! [Laughter]

Dennis: —without looking at the map. It’s true, not only in driving a car, but also in life!

Bob: Yes. As a result, a lot of guys wind up trying to live out their responsibilities, as men, and they are lost. They don’t know who to stop and ask directions from.

Dennis: I agree with you. In fact, I wish, when I had Ashley—our first-born daughter—placed in our arms—that I would have had our guest on today’s broadcast. I wish I would have had his book placed in my hands, as well, because it outlines kind of the map that you’re talking about.

Bob: You’re presuming that he would have been smart enough, back then, to have given you any good advice. [Laughter]

Dennis: Well, he wasn’t married back then, so—anyway, Timothy Witmer joins us on FamilyLife Today. Tim, welcome to the broadcast.

Tim: Thanks. It’s great to be with you.

Dennis: Tim is a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary. He is a pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Philadelphia. Share with our listeners how many countries are represented at your church.

Tim: We have first-generation immigrants from 21 countries, now.

Dennis: Wow!

Bob: That’s awesome!

Tim: Yes. A couple of weeks ago, we received twelve new members from five new countries.

Bob: That’s great!

Dennis: So, you would have to say, though, wouldn’t you, that people from every country have the same problem, in terms of understanding kind of the map of how men need to lead and be the shepherds of their families?

Tim: Absolutely! Everybody needs to know the Creator’s purpose for their roles in the family.

Dennis: As a result, you have written a book called The Shepherd Leader at Home. In the book, you talk about how Jesus modeled four components of being a shepherd leader.

Tim: Yes, that’s right. First, a shepherd knows his sheep. Jesus said, “I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me.” Also, providing for the sheep—Jesus Christ made the greatest provision of all, for us, in giving His life for us. And leading—you know, the Great Shepherd Psalm says, “He leads me in green pastures.” Also, protecting—Jesus saves us from the greatest danger of all by saving us from the penalty for our sins. The metaphor of shepherding for leadership is obviously fulfilled in Christ completely; but then, serves, as an assistance, to help us, as leaders, in the home to know what we should be doing.

Bob: Let me ask you, because a mom might be listening and thinking: “Well, I have a responsibility to know my kids, and to lead them, and to protect them, and to help provide for them. Why is this uniquely a male calling or in what way is it, especially, a male calling?”

Tim: I think, often, men are concerned about what their calling to be the leaders in the home looks like. I think that when you look at that, those roles and those functions are clearly to be manifested in the men. Obviously, there’s going to be support coming from the wife in all of these things; but the man needs to take them seriously, as the leader in the home.

Dennis: You’re saying that a guy bears the mantel of responsibility for the direction his family is headed. His wife shares that with him. She’s to be an advisor, a counterpart, a helpmate, a communicator of needs that she sees. Barbara and I, for a number of years, had a date night. We would go out; and a good bit of that date night was spent on her downloading to me, really, what was going on with the kids. I had seen some things; she had seen some things—we were comparing notes. As a result, that enabled me, as a father, to better lead our family. That’s what you’re saying; isn’t it?

Tim: Absolutely. It is a partnership, for sure. The respective strengths that we bring to our marriages are displayed as we seek to guide our families.

Bob: But your book has men in mind.

Tim: Yes.

Bob: That’s who you wrote it for.

Tim: It is written for dads and husbands.

Bob: So, when you’re talking about a man being a shepherd leader—first of all, let me ask you, “Where were you on this assignment, back 37 years ago, when you first got married?”

Tim: [Laughing] Oh, I was on a steep learning curve for me because I was a relatively new believer, myself. As I like to say, “Those who write such books could easily confess that, ‘We’re no experts,’”—completely!

Dennis: Yes.

Tim: It’s like the young man who—before he got married, had a lecture called “The Ten Commandments for Parents”. Then, after he got married and had a child—he said “Five Principles for Parenting”. [Laughter] Then, after he had three or four kids—he said, “A Few Suggestions about Parenting”. [Laughter]

So, you know, it’s been that learning curve for me. Obviously, the longer I’ve grown in my understanding of biblical teaching—coupled with the hard road of successes and failures in family life, myself—it has been a great opportunity for me to communicate some of those things in the book.

Bob: Let me ask you what you think your default was, as a young husband and father, without a biblical framework. What were you just going to do naturally?

Tim: Well, I think the default is what we learned in our own families of origin. I was imitating what I saw my dad do—which, for me, was good because he was a Christian. He wasn’t very strongly-steeped, I would say, in biblical principles; but my default was definitely treating my wife the way he treated my mother and reacting to my children the way he reacted to us.

Bob: What was missing from your default? Were you just kind of doing the minimum?

Tim: Yes. I would say that what was necessary was for me to grow in my understanding of the biblical principles to help apply them in my respective relationships with my wife and my children, when they came along.

Bob: You had some sense that, “There’s something I ought to doing here;” but you kind of weren’t sure how to put shape to that; is that right?

Tim: Right, right.

Dennis: Where would a young man go, who wants to become skilled? I’m looking at the Scriptures here—Psalm 78, verse 72, has always been a passage that has instructed me, as a dad. The Psalmist writes, “With upright heart, he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.”

Tim: Yes.

Dennis: The key word in this, for me—obviously, you’ve got to be a model. You’ve got to have integrity. That’s a key part of being a shepherd—but you have to have the skills. That’s what we’re talking about here—having the skill-set, as a dad.

Where’s a young man to go to get the skills? He can get your book. Obviously, he can read the Scriptures. What are some practical things he can do?

Tim: I think it’s very important to be gathering together with other men, who are standing together and trying to equip themselves with these principles in family living. I think what that includes is not only growing in those principles you are talking about, but also the accountability to move forward. I think, in a ministry like that—in many churches, for example—there is going to be older, more experienced men—hopefully, who are working with the younger men—to provide mentorship and examples as they seek to grow; for example, in learning how to provide for their families spiritually and materially.

Dennis: Many of our listeners are going to have no idea where this illustration comes from, but I think both of you will recall how Groucho Marx was a TV personality and had this game show. I forget—what was it? Do you remember the name of it?

Bob: Yes! “You bet your life”—[mimicking Groucho’s voice]—“You say the secret word—”

Dennis: “You say the secret word,” and out of the ceiling—

Bob: [Groucho’s voice] “The duck drops down and, you win fifty dollahs—fifty dollahs when the duck drops down!”

Dennis: Exactly! You know what? You just said the magic words, Tim: “Accountability”, “group of men”, studying the Scriptures—talking about what it means to shepherd their family—because FamilyLife just spent months coming up with a small-group video series called Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. It has ten parts to it. It is an edgy video—thirty minutes long. Every guy gets a workbook. Every guy interacts with what they’ve seen on the video; and then, they interact with the other guys—talking about, “How do you do this in your marriage and in your family, as a man?” Because if there’s ever been a time when men needed other men in a spiritual setting—to be stimulated to shepherd their families with skillful hands—it’s today!

Bob: But I think the question is, “Why do we need other guys?” I can watch the videos and go through the workbook on my own. I can read your book on my own. You start off by saying, “I think you need accountability in other guys.” Why don’t I just do this as a solo deal?

Tim: Well, because we’re fallen, sinful human beings. We need that accountability, and we also need encouragement to continue on.

Dennis: I would say a lot of guys suffer in isolation—thinking that they’re the only man who ever failed at this, the only man who was lost and afraid to admit it, the only man who didn’t know what to do next, the only man who didn’t know how to pray with his wife, how to pray with his kids, how to lead his family, spiritually.

I find that, within men today—and, as far as that goes, with wives and moms, as well—they want to do what’s right. They want to lead their families. They just don’t know how and where to go.

Bob: Do you think guys are really interested in sitting around with a group of guys and saying, “Boy, I’m really blowing it here!”? Don’t we, as guys, want to hide any failings we’ve got?

Dennis: I think we do. No doubt about it. I think we do want to hide. We don’t want to admit that we may not have it all together. But, I think, after Session Three, in this new Stepping Up video series, the guards begin to get dropped—guys begin to get honest. When guys get honest, that’s when God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, and through the Scriptures, can begin to redirect a guy and give him hope to be able to lead his family.

Tim: I agree with you. I think that men really want to work together on this. A couple of months ago, I started a series on the family—working through some of the material in the book. As I was teaching it, I felt this burden that preachers often feel: “Oh, I’m dumping a lot of stuff on them here. How am I going to help these guys?”

Dennis: Yes!

Tim: So, I just said: “Here’s what I’m going to do. Next week, during the Sunday school hour, we’re just going to meet together. We’re going to work through my book, chapter by chapter.”

Dennis: There you go!

Tim: I had no idea how many were going to show up. Well, in our church, 30 men showed up during the Sunday school hour. That was very, very encouraging because I do think men want to have encouragement in these areas.

Bob: So, as you’re sitting down with young guys, who are saying: “Okay, we are ready for a map. We know that we would benefit from some directions,” do you start them with the idea that: “You need to know your flock. You need to understand their condition”—that, as a shepherd, that’s the beginning point?

Tim: Absolutely. The relational dynamic is absolutely crucial in every kind of ministry context, as you know. For leaders in the church, they have to know the sheep; and the sheep have to know them.

The same dynamic carries over into our relationship with our wives. Just think about—for me, when I was dating Barb—I was always there. I was always at her house. It was to the point where—

Dennis: You didn’t have to be told to go over there; did you?

Tim: No, I didn’t have to—

Dennis: There was a reason you were going over there!

Tim: I was there! She was gorgeous, and she still is! So, I wanted to be there. It was amazing how many hours we would sit there and just talk. It got so bad that a couple of my friends came to me one day and said: “Hey, Tim. We’re really upset that you don’t spend any more time with us.” I said, “Well, I’m with Barb; and that’s where I want to be.” But sometimes, life gets in the way, and we have to reprioritize those kinds of conversations.

Dennis: You talk about this in terms of men having presence—being there.

Tim: Yes.

Dennis: One of the ways that you have been there is by going to a cabin that kind of sounds prehistoric, frankly, Tim. [Laughter] It’s called “Aunt Nettie’s Cabin”.

Tim: Aunt Nettie’s is a little house, up in the woods, that my parents started renting in 1947. I went there as a little boy, and my kids went there as kids. Now, my grandkids are going there with us. What that has always provided is just that quality time of being together and having conversations. There’s no TV. There’s no internet. There’s no cell service. The opportunity to engage people in conversations—on the back porch, overlooking this beautiful valley—has been remarkably beneficial.

My kids—my adult kids—even though they live quite a distance now, make it a point to come and be there with us at least a couple of days. We go up every summer.

Bob: You know, last year, after the holidays were over, I remember Mary Ann coming to me. Our kids had been home, and it had been a busy week. We were doing stuff—going here and going there, activities, keeping it all together. When they left—or I think it was before they left—Mary Ann came to me; and she just said, “I miss you.”

I’m thinking: “I’ve been home all week. We’ve been doing stuff.” First, I’m feeling like: “Okay! What have I done wrong this time?” [Laughter] Right? I mean, that’s just the feeling you get. But here was a wife, saying, “We haven’t had that time that we get—where it’s just you and me—and we’re talking about life.” She said, “We’ve been busy—too busy for us.”

I think that’s part of what a husband—we may not lock in on that right away, as men, and go, “That’s important for us, in a relationship”—but it’s important for our wives. If we’re going to be shepherds, it had better be important for us.

Tim: That’s right. I think what has happened is that, many times, our conversations sit on just superficial matters that need to be addressed—for example: “What time are you getting home from work?” “What are we having for dinner?”—things like that. But we need to remember that—to truly refresh our knowledge of one another—we need to go deeper than that. We need to find out what our wife’s greatest frustration is, at the moment. Maybe, it’s me! I don’t know. [Laughter] But if that’s me, I had better find out!

“What is she struggling with the most?” “What is her greatest concern for the children?” Maybe, one of the best ways to get to that is to sincerely and honestly—looking straight into her eyes—ask her, “How can I be praying for you?” That tends to go below the surface. Those kinds of conversations, of depth, need to be advanced.

Dennis: But, Tim, as a man, there are a lot of guys, who would hear that—and wives, who are listening right now, “My husband would be terrified because I would tell him! Then, what is he supposed to do with that?

He doesn’t know it, but it’s this simple: “Barbara,”—my Barbara; not yours, by the way—“Barbara, what are your top three needs, right now?” Then, pull out a piece of paper and just take notes—on a 3x5 card—just write them down.

Tim: Yes!

Dennis: Stick them in your pocket. As you go through the day, pull out the 3x5 card. Say a prayer, on behalf of your wife, on those three needs. Then, perhaps, one day, grab her hand—gently, by the way—and say, “Sweetie, I want to pray for you and those three things that you shared with me.” Prayer is nothing more than talking with God.

Tim: Right.

Dennis: He’s here. He wants us to practice His presence. He wants us to bring our cares—our concerns, our wife’s needs—before Him. I want to tell you—there are a lot of wives, who are listening right now, who would melt into a puddle if their husbands would exhibit—and it doesn’t have to be sky-scraping, galaxy-moving prayers!

Tim: Right.

Dennis: It’s just a basic prayer, on behalf of another person—bringing them to the Father and saying—“God, You know my wife. You know she’s struggling here. Would You minister to her? Would You encourage her in this area? Would You help her with this child or this husband?” [Laughter]

Tim: You know, I think that what you’ve said is very important in terms of the troubled disconnect that exists there. I think that wives can be praying for their husbands to be more responsive to them. What I’m hoping that—if a husband takes that 3x5 card—which, I think, is a great idea—and writes those things down—hopefully, there are not only some things that he’ll pray about but, also, some things that he can do on there.

Dennis: Yes.

Tim: Likely, there are going to be some things on that list that he can do to help relieve the frustration in her life.

Dennis: Well, one of the things you recommend he can do is—for them, as a couple—is a family time. Explain what you mean by a family time and how that really helps a man shepherd his family.

Tim: Research continues to show that family time—at dinnertime, for example—is extremely beneficial to the development of children. They’re less likely to become addicted to drugs; they’re more likely to be successful in school. This is the ideal time to set some time apart—to engage a family, spiritually—to take out the Scriptures, read a few verses, pray together, and have a conversation about God’s truth.

Again, as your listeners are hearing this, they’re thinking: “Here we go again! I know I’m supposed to be doing that.” But I think it’s important that we have realistic expectations of what that time could be. It’s unrealistic for us to start saying, “Well, I’m going to have an hour of family worship every day.” That’s not realistic.

Bob: Right.

Tim: But have something that’s realistic—that you can do consistently—but something that also allows for flexibility in the lifestyles that we have today so that it doesn’t become a cumbersome burden—but it’s something that you do often enough that your family members will be able to say, “This is something that we do.”

Dennis: Now, I’m not suggesting that leadership and shepherding of your family is just one-minute long; but a number of years ago, there was a book called The One-Minute Manager.

Tim: Right.

Dennis: It was the idea that you can do a lot in a minute, just by taking the initiative and giving direction. I would just encourage guys—around the dinner table—to do just what you’re talking about. Don’t try 15 minutes; don’t try 30 minutes; don’t try 45. You’re going to be disappointed because they’re going to flip the green beans or the peas across the table. They’re going to be shooting pool with them. You’ve got to do something really simple and provide some direction. Either read a Scripture or ask the whole family to pray for Mom—

Tim: Right.

Dennis: —or ask what the needs are, around the table. What we’re talking about here is encouraging men to be shepherds of their families.

Bob, I want to encourage men, who are listening right now—who are hungry to get better at this—to think about—well, not think about. I want to encourage you to go to our website and check out the Stepping Up video series, and how you can get a ten-part video series to lead with a small group of men and begin to get men into that small group—become accountable. You may meet for a while; and then, end up getting into Tim’s book, The Shepherd Leader at Home.


The point is: Forge some meaningful friendships and accountability that has direction—that’s going somewhere and will equip you in life’s most important relationships.

Bob: Well, we’re hoping that, this summer, there would be a number of guys who would gather up with other guys and go through the material over the summer. The Stepping Up video series is ten weeks’ long. Guys could get together every week, for ten weeks over the summer, and get through the material; or you could make plans to host one of the Stepping Up one-day events at your church.

In fact, our team is doing something, here for Father’s Day—that I thought was pretty cool. We’re making available copies of your book, Stepping Up, along with a sampler DVD that includes the first session of the Stepping Up DVD series and the first half-session of the live event DVD so that you can get a feel for what’s included in these resources. You get the book and the sampler DVD at no cost. All you have to do is cover the cost for shipping and handling. We’ll send the book out to you, along with the sampler DVD.

Go to to request Dennis’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood and to get the sampler DVD, along with it. Again, we’ll send it out to you at no cost. All you’ll have to do is pay for the shipping and the handling, and we’ll get it out to you. You can also request a copy of Tim Witmer’s book, The Shepherd Leader at Home. We have copies of that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. That’s a great book to take guys through, over the course of the summer, as well.

So, again, go to for more information about both of these resources; or call, toll-free, 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”. Ask about the book, The Shepherd Leader at Home, and about the book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. We’ll get what you need sent out to you.

Now, we want to make sure we say, “Thank you,” to those of you who, from time to time, will get in touch with us to help support this ministry with a contribution. We also want to say, “Thanks,” to our regular Legacy Partners, those of you who are in touch with us, each month, to help provide the financial support we need. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. Without those contributions, we could not pay for the production and syndication of this radio program. In a very real sense, you make the program possible; and we appreciate our partnership with you.

This month, when you make a donation, we’d like to send you a message on CD from Dennis Rainey—a message presented to a large group of guys, talking about the important role a dad plays in the life of his children—especially, guiding them through the adolescent years. We’ll be happy to send that CD out to you when you contact us to make a donation this month. Go to and press the button that says, “I CARE”, to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation over the phone. Ask for the CD from Dennis when you get in touch with us. Again, thanks for your support of the ministry.

And we hope you’ll be back with us again tomorrow. Tim Witmer is going to be here, and we’re going to talk tomorrow about the important role a dad plays in modeling godly character for his children. I hope you can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Episodes in this Series

Fathers Day 2
The Shepherd Leads His Sheep
with Tim Witmer June 7, 2013
Pastor Timothy Witmer talks about the call of sacrificial leadership on a man’s life.
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