FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The Shepherd Leads His Sheep

with Tim Witmer | June 7, 2013
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What’s the true mark of a great leader? Pastor Timothy Witmer, professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, talks about the call of sacrificial leadership on a man’s life.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • What’s the true mark of a great leader? Pastor Timothy Witmer, professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, talks about the call of sacrificial leadership on a man’s life.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Pastor Timothy Witmer talks about the call of sacrificial leadership on a man’s life.

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The Shepherd Leads His Sheep

With Tim Witmer
June 07, 2013
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Bob: Tim Witmer remembers the way his dad modeled for him the importance of having a living, active relationship with Jesus Christ in your life.

Tim: My dad was a rural mail carrier, six days a week. If there was ever a guy who could have said: “Sunday is my day. I’m not going to church,” it would have been him; but no, every Saturday night we heard the swish, swish, swish of shoes being shined because we knew we were going to church.

You know, men really show their families what’s important by what they do, not just by what they say.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, June 7th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk, today, about how important it is for a father to instruct his children; but how much more important it is for him to live consistently in front of them. Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, we have this recurring joke around our house. I’ve shared this at some our FamilyLife events. I say—and Mary Ann would say, as well—that she wants me to take the lead in our marriage and in our relationship, as long as how I lead is exactly what—[Laughter]

Dennis: Why did I start laughing?—because I could fill in the blank.

Bob: The way that I’ve illustrated this is—I’ll come and say: “You know what? Let’s go out and eat tonight.” I’ll say: “We’ll go out and get something to eat. Where would you like to go?” She goes: “I don’t care. You pick.” I’d say, “Okay, let’s do Chinese.” She’ll go, “No, I’m not feeling Chinese—something else.” I said, “Okay, what sounds good to you?” “I don’t know what sounds good. Pick something.”

Dennis: Well, see, in our house—see, you’re much more generous with Mary Ann than I am with Barbara—because I come home; and I say, “What would you like for me to fix”—

Bob: —“to cook for you, tonight?”

Dennis: —“for you tonight, Sweetheart?”

Bob: And she says?

Dennis: She goes, “I don’t care.”

Bob: Well, here we are, as men. We feel some responsibility to lead; and yet,—

Dennis: We try!

Bob: We try.

Dennis: Well, we’re going to equip you, ladies, to know how to encourage your husband in leading; and we’re going to encourage the men to better lead. To do that, Tim Witmer joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Tim, welcome back.

Tim: Thanks—great to be with you again.

Dennis: Tim has written a book called The Shepherd Leader at Home. That’s what we’re going to talk about—about leading. He’s a professor, a pastor—been married to his Barbara since 1975. He has three adult children and four grandchildren.

What’s the essence of leadership, as described by Jesus Christ? What should every woman and man know about leadership?

Tim: I think it’s very key for men, in particular, to understand that leadership is sacrificial leadership. This is the model that Christ has given for us—that the one who wants to be first, must be last.

Dennis: It’s not autocratic.

Tim: It’s definitely not autocratic.

Dennis: It’s not asking somebody to serve your needs; it’s serving their needs.

Tim: Exactly. So, for example, in Ephesians, Chapter 5, when Paul describes the role of the husband, he says that the husband is to love his wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her. Now, this whole idea of being a servant leader is key to our leadership position—really, anywhere in the Kingdom—but particularly, in the home—so that we have to be—what I like to call—loving leaders. That is demonstrated in the way we relate—the way we communicate to our wives, in particular.

I mean, thinking about—I guess I would ask your listeners to think, particularly the male listeners, “How do you communicate to your wives that they are the most important person in the world, to you?”

Dennis: You mentioned the submission passage in Ephesians, Chapter 5, verse 22. The verses that follow in verse 25 and following say, “Husbands, love your wives…” There’s the command.

Tim: Absolutely.

Dennis: “…as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” It is our assignment. We have to give up our lives for our wives. That means, practically, doing it in every-day terms. Now, what I want to ask you—you’ve been married 37 years.

Tim: Yes.

Dennis: Okay.

Tim: Now, you’re putting me on the spot, for sure.

Dennis: I’m going for the dirty stuff.

Tim: Alright.

Dennis: Okay?

Tim: Yes.

Dennis: You had to make some rookie mistakes when you didn’t love your wife—you didn’t truly lead her in a sacrificial way. Would you be willing to share one of your rookie errors that occurred, early in your marriage?

Tim: I think that, early in my marriage I was probably not as sensitive to my wife’s needs and concerns as I should have been. I certainly wasn’t interested in praying with her, for sure; but I think that it’s—that was just an early challenge—learning what it means to lead, learning what it means to be sacrificial. I mean, that’s something that still—my wife, as I like to say—maybe, you would say this about your wife—but I think my wife is the most selfless person, certainly, that I know. It’s easy to take advantage of that.

She has a servant motor that runs all the time. Sometimes, I’m perfectly satisfied to sit while she serves. I’m trying to overcome that.

Bob: You know, Tim, as I’ve heard through the years, about this need to be a servant leader—a sacrificial leader—to die to self, to prefer others ahead of yourself—here’s how I got messed up on that. I got messed up in thinking that if I was deferring to what my wife wanted or what I presumed she wanted in any situation, then, I was doing my job as a husband. So, what wound up happening, for me, was instead of leading—all I was doing was trying to defer.

Tim: Right.

Bob: I was thinking, “If I’m sacrificing,”—if I’m thinking, “Well, I know what I want; but I’ll die to self and I’ll do what Mary Ann would want in this situation,” that I was being what a husband’s supposed to be. In the process, I wasn’t stopping and asking the question: “Lord, what would You have us do? Lord, how should we go, as a family?” Do you know what I’m talking about?

Tim: Yes, I think that one of the blessings of marriage is God bringing together two people with different strengths and different weaknesses. A key to leadership is understanding your own weaknesses and how your wife complements them and vice-versa. When you yield to one another’s strengths, and support one another’s weaknesses that way—that helps you walk through the difficult decisions.

I’ve never really had a time in our life where we’ve had to—where I, for example, had to put my foot down and say, “Well, this is the way it’s going to be.” Rather, there has always been this conversation together. After the conversation, there is a mutually- agreeable decision, which I think is really good. Now, everybody hasn’t had that experience; but I believe experiencing the strengths and weaknesses of one another is very important.

Bob: So, at some level, when you’re talking about leadership—you are talking about the responsibility for where you are going, and how you are getting there, and what you’re going to do. It, ultimately, rests with us, as husbands; right?

Tim: Right. Yes.

Bob: And why is that—biblically? Why is it that God has put that burden—some people would say: “Oh! That is not a burden. That means that you get to make the decisions. That puts you in the driver seat,” but there is a responsibility burden that comes with that. Why is that on us, as men?

Tim: Well, when Paul talks about this in Ephesians, Chapter 5, he reflects back to creation—that man was created first—but creation wasn’t satisfactory until the female was created—but she was created as a helper for him. She was created out of him; and then, Adam named her. So, God established this order, in creation itself.

In Genesis 3, when the Fall comes—not only do we see the tendency of people to usurp authority that God has established—but also, we see the tendency of those who have that responsibility to abrogate. That’s the impact that we see. That’s the push-me/pull-you that we see—not only in families—but also, in culture, where there is a true misunderstanding of the very nature of authority.

The way I like to say it is, “That as a Creator, God has taken the prerogative to identify the team captains in society, in civil government, in the church, in leadership, and also in the family, with the husband.”

Dennis: Yes; and it seems to me, Tim, that when men hear that—that they kind of abuse or misuse their authority. You share a story about a tour guide in Israel, that’s a great—that’s a great illustration of how we can confuse true shepherding leadership.

Tim: Right. True shepherding leaders always lead from the front. I talk about this in the context of leading by example, which is absolutely crucial as we relate to our children, in particular.

But there was a person who was on a tour of Israel. The Israeli tour guide was telling the folks on the bus: “Now, we’re going into Bedouin country. Soon, you will see shepherds and flocks of sheep. What you’ll always see is the shepherd is always leading from the front, always leading the flock.”

So, they travelled down the road for a few minutes. They looked out the window, and they saw a flock. There was man, behind the sheep, driving them along. The folks quickly called this to the attention of the tour guide. He stopped the bus. He got out, and he talked to the man. When the tour guide got back on the bus, he had a very sheepish grin on his face—if you’ll excuse the expression. He said: “That wasn’t the shepherd. That was the butcher.”

Dennis: Oh my!

Tim: Right! So, there truly is a difference. Sometimes, men can misconstrue the nature of leadership as being some authoritarian, autocratic—

Dennis: Yes.

Tim: —“Do what I say;” rather than, as we’ve spoken earlier about, sacrificial, servant, loving leadership.

Dennis: I’ve made a lot of mistakes in our marriage. I mean, far too many to admit here. It would take the rest of the broadcast and several other weeks to start admitting them, but I don’t think I have ever pulled out the card where I’ve told my wife—

Tim: Right.

Dennis: —“Submit.”

Tim: No.

Dennis: And really, if I’m talking to a guy who is doing that or has done that, you really need to apologize.

Tim: He needs to apologize, and he needs to repent. Also, not only apologizing on the horizontal level but also—

Dennis: Yes.

Tim: —repenting on the vertical level—for misunderstanding and misapplying Scripture.

Bob: And you’re talking about repentance looking like—first of all, having a change of mind—that this is not the right way to be leading—and then, secondly, having a change of behavior that follows that change of mind so that you’re not being what Jesus described in Mark 10—as the lording leader. “The rulers of the Gentiles,” He said, “lord it over you. It should not be so with you;” right?

Tim: Right. And let me get back to that idea by way of an example. I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—Amish country. My dad was rural mail carrier. He would go to work, six days a week. He had to be at the post office at 7 o’clock in the morning. He worked until three. A couple of days a week, he did another job. So, if there was ever a guy who could have said: “Sunday is my day. I’m not going to church,” it would have been him.

But no, every Saturday night, we heard the swish, swish, swish of shoes being shined because we knew we were going to church and Sunday school. Now, I’ll tell you. I really regretted that and resented it, then, as a kid; but as I look back, it’s such a great example to me of—you know, men really show their families what’s important by what they do—not just by what they say.

Bob: You make a point of that as you talk about the need for a leader to lead by example, not just by precept—not just by word. In fact, you talk about a guy who was giving the wrong kind of example—showing up at church—looking one way, in the community—but looking a different way, at home.

Tim: Yes, that was a very sad situation to me. Of course, you can see it many times; but this man, in particular, was so enthusiastic about the church. He was very enthusiastic about my preaching—which, of course, we always like; don’t we? And yet, I always asked, “Why doesn’t your family come along?” I got the answer when I went to visit him in his home, one time; and I got to meet his family. It turns out that he was a very abusive husband and dad. Unfortunately, he died before his family could really embrace the Gospel.

Dennis: Talk to a wife who is married to an abusive man. He is misusing his responsibility, as a leader of the family; and he may be physically, emotionally, abusing her. What counsel would you bring to her?

Tim: Well, I believe that in a most severe case, a wife has to protect herself—and sometimes, may need to call in civil authorities for protection. I know that that is something that many resist; but in some ways—in some cases—that’s the only time to get the attention of a husband.

Dennis: There is a point.

Tim: There definitely is a point.

Dennis: There is a point where you call the police or you call the sheriff.

Tim: Yes.

Dennis: Ephesians 5 teaches that a man is to be the head of his wife, but he’s to do that as Christ did it. Christ never abused the Church.

Tim: He loved her to the point where he gave Himself for her. He was killed—of course, rose again from the dead—for our well-being. That’s the attitude that a husband should have. I think that that’s an absolute abuse of Scripture—to take this wrong way.

Dennis: Yes, Tim, just a few minutes ago, a new video series for men, Stepping Up, a ten-part video series. There is a clip that I’d like to play right here—not, obviously, the video—although, let’s put it on the website, too, because I think some folks will want to pass this on to their friends—but it’s a piece done by a pastor, up in the Northwest. His name is Mark Driscoll.

In this clip, he turns to the guys. Rather than spoil it—this is some of the strongest exhortation I’ve ever heard any pastor give any flock, under any circumstance.

[Audio clip from Stepping Up]

Mark: Some of you guys—it’s just so frustrating. Some of you guys have been coming here for years—you’ve still got your hands all over your girlfriend. Some of you guys have been coming here for years—still, not praying with your wife! Some of you guys have been coming here for years—you’re still single and having sex!

Some of you guys will even—even as I’m preaching this sermon—some of you will be sitting next to your girlfriend, your fiancé, or your wife—some of you guys have already given her that look: “Don’t cry. Don’t let them know they’re talking about me. Just hold it together.” You’ve already intimidated her, right here. Some of you have already whispered in her ear: “I’m sorry. I’ll do better. Trust me. Let’s just move on real quickly.”

[Yelling] How dare you!—abusing a woman, neglecting a woman, being a coward, a fool! Who do you think you are?! You’re not God! You’re just a man! You’re not an impressive man! You’re not a responsible man! You’re not a noble man! You’re not a respectable man! You’re not a responsible man, in any regard! I don’t care how successful you are. In this area, if you are a failure, it clouds all of your dignity! It robs all of your masculinity! There is no excuse for any man, who claims the name of Christ, to treat a woman in a dishonorable, disrespectful way!

Some of you, right now—you guys will get all angry, “Oh, how dare he yell at me!” That’s the Holy Spirit telling you: “It’s you! You change now, little boy.” You change right now. You shut up. You grow up; and maybe, one day, you can love a woman. It’s for men, not for boys.

Those of you men, who are here, and your wives are suffering under your folly and failure, shame on you. Shame on you if you say you’re a Christian, and shame on you if you’ve been surrounded by good men and have pursued none of them. Shame on you if you show up to put communion in your hands—representing the body and blood of your murdered Savior—and then, go put them on your girlfriend, or download porn from the internet, or raise your hand in a threat to your wife. Shame on you! You guys are a joke.

There are a handful of good men who are tired of picking up your mess. So, you step up. You shut up. You man up, and you use all of that anger you have toward me right now to repent. You do business with God!


Bob: You know, as guys hear Mark Driscoll, in the Stepping Up video series, with that kind of a challenge for them—they’re paying attention. And I hope—I trust they’re doing some self-examination—some reflection.

Tim, I’d just be curious—if a guy recognizes: “I’ve not been the right kind of leader. I’ve been too critical. I’ve been harsh with my wife, with my kids. I’ve been authoritarian. I’ve been”—

Dennis: Abusive.

Bob: Yes. “And I want to be different than that. At the same time, I know I’m supposed to lead. So, how do I turn things around in my home? How do I become a different guy? And then, how do I ever earn the privilege of being able to lead again?”

Tim: Well, I think the key here is, again, to have that important conversation with one’s spouse and to ask for forgiveness. Maybe, he’s asked for forgiveness before. The key, this time, I think, is going to be to have that accountability—to have someone come alongside him—to meet with him on a weekly-basis to talk about this—and understand it’s going to be a slow-growth process.

Dennis: You know—the passage that precedes the command for men to love their wives and wives to submit to their husbands ends with this statement, “Submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” There is a certain strength when men submit to other men, and bear their souls, and admit they’ve got a struggle—a challenge, a failure—and they need help. That’s the beginning, I think, of a repentant heart—as we’ve talked about earlier. It’s the beginning of a man, ultimately, being instructed—perhaps, by other men—and knowing how to get it right.

If there’s a guy listening, right now, and saying, “That’s me,” first of all, you need to repent. Secondly, you need to get involved in a small group of men, where you’re accountable—where you are learning and growing about what it means to be a man, husband, and father.

Your book certainly does that—The Shepherd Leader at Home—but also, our new Stepping Up video series. I’m telling you—a lot of men are finding it to be very practical, very helpful. It helps facilitate the accountability because it has a workbook that each man has who goes through it.

I just appreciate you, Tim, being on the broadcast this week. Thank you for writing your book and for exhorting men to fulfill their responsibility, as leaders, because there is not enough of that taking place today. I’m just grateful for your courage, and for sticking to the Scriptures, and calling men to do what is right.

Tim: Thanks. It’s been a great privilege to be with you this week.

Bob: Well, and we’re hoping that a lot of guys will get copies of your book, which is called The Shepherd Leader at Home. Maybe, get a group of guys together this summer and go through it. Take a chapter each week and work your way through the book, and just pass it around. Let different guys lead. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. So, you can go to to request The Shepherd Leader at Home by Tim Witmer. Again, the website is; or call if you’d like to order by phone. The number is 1-800-FL-TODAY.

Let me also mention that we’ve got copies of Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up: A Call to Courageous Manhood. Our team has decided that, here in advance of Father’s Day, we will send you a copy of this hardback book, free. All you have to do is cover the cost of the postage and the handling, and we’ll send you the book. Along with the book, we will send you a DVD that includes all of Session One from the Stepping Up ten-week series and the first half of Session One from the Stepping Up one-day event resource.

That way, you get a chance to look over what we’ve included in the Stepping Up series—maybe, get a group of guys together and just watch the DVD. Then, you guys can decide if you want to go through the whole ten-week series or if you want to plan a one-day event for other guys at your church. But the deal is—the book and the DVD come to you free—all you have to do is cover the cost of the postage and the handling. So, go to to request Dennis Rainey’s book, Stepping Up, with sampler DVD; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY, and we’ll get Dennis’s book and the DVD out to you.

Now, as we wrap up this week, thanks to all of you who help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. Thanks to our Legacy Partners—those of you who help provide financial support each month. We really appreciate you and those of you who get in touch with us, from time to time, to support FamilyLife Today. We always love hearing from you, as well.

In fact, this week, when you make a donation, we’d love to send you, as a thank-you gift, a CD—a message from Dennis Rainey about how dads can more effectively guide their children—especially, during the adolescent years. Go to, click the button that says, “I CARE,” to make an online donation; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make your donation over the phone. Just ask for the CD from Dennis Rainey when you get in touch with us. Again, thanks for your partnership. We appreciate your support of this ministry.

And we hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend. And I hope you can join us back on Monday. We’re going to talk to a couple of guys who understand the dynamics as men huddle up with other men—who understand what it takes to get guys to be real with other guys. We’ll talk more about that on Monday. Hope you can tune in.

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 next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.

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