Review: “They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century” by Lynn Anderson

This book is an easy read, but there are profound insights to be found here. I don’t think the author intended to give us an exhaustive analysis of biblical church government. (For this, Strauch’s Biblical Eldership is the standard.) In fact, when Anderson strays too far into exegetical territory he begins to get into trouble. But where this book really shines is when he’s showing us the heart of what it means to shepherd God’s people. The wonderful nuggets of wisdom throughout the book are not only worth the purchase price, but worthy of repeated reading. Even for those of us who may be very familiar with these principles, this is a healthy, refreshing reminder of what this leadership thing is really all about.

Anderson divides the book into two parts. In the first part, he presents three interrelated models of spiritual leadership (especially true of church elders). These models are shepherding, mentoring and equipping. This is definitely not a book on theory. He writes with the pressures of the real world in mind, to elders who have families and demanding careers to maintain. Anderson gives us vivid pictures of the three models, and makes clear the necessity of each. Again, many elders may already be aware of these principles, but it’s so easy for us to begin to lose our priorities. This book helps us bring our ministries back into proper focus.

The second part of the book describes elders and what kind of people they are to be: men of experience, men of character, and men of vision. As I noted before, his exegetical work is the weak point of the book, but thankfully it’s not his main focus. He rightly brings out the plurality of pastors (elders) in each church, but many of his illustrations seem to show a distinction between himself and the elders. Since this book isn’t primarily about the doctrinal aspects of eldership, this lack of precision may actually make the book more accessible to people with different understandings of eldership. But if you use this book in a church that has a biblical form of eldership, you’ll need to add some clarification to certain parts of the book.

I thought the stories Anderson sprinkled through the book were a valuable addition rather than a distraction, effectively illustrating the relevant principles. I found many anecdotes sticking with me even after I was finished with the book, such as the man who resigned as elder so he would have time for shepherding(!), or the stories showing the problem of ineffective assimilation (ouch). His accounts of the wonderful men who had mentored him reminded me of the godly men who modeled Christian leadership and shepherding for me, and also that I need to be doing the same for others.

As I already mentioned, Strauch’s book is best for examining the biblical teaching on church elders. And for nuts-and-bolts books on ‘eldering,’ I’d recommend Christ in Church Leadership by Paul Winslow and Dorman Followwill or Eldership in Action by Richard Swartley. But for a book on the heart of shepherding, with many gems of wisdom and practical insight, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better book than this one.