The Pastor’s Dilemma of Balancing the Prophetic Voice with the Shepherd’s Hand

The prophetic voice of a pastor is forth-telling, speaking the truth even when it is difficult. The shepherd’s hand of a pastor is caring, gently dealing with issues in love. As a pastor, I find it challenging to balance the prophetic voice with a shepherd’s hand.

Truth alone can become dry orthodoxy. It’s painful, like scrubbing your kids with steel wool to get them clean. The dirt will be gone, but a gentler approach would accomplish the same goal. Conversely, love alone can become sappy sentimentality, which is deadly, like feeding your kids only cotton candy for sustenance. My oldest son would live off cotton candy if I let him, but he wouldn’t live well.

There are situations where a prophetic voice is needed more than a shepherd’s hand. For example, many years ago, a member criticized my wife in front of everyone for how she led worship.

“That wasn’t real worship! How terrible!” This member then added a few other choice comments about my wife.

I responded, “There are plenty of other dead churches in this town who would welcome another corpse if you don’t like it here.”

My words were more steel wool than cotton candy. Reflecting now, I was too harsh. Though a response was warranted, mine was overblown. How can a pastor be assertive—prophetic even—without losing the posture of serving others in love?

Too little assertiveness, and you lose your ability to inspire. The prophetic voice enables a pastor to give direction to a church. When you neglect this voice, people are no longer challenged to move. Inspiration lacks where forthrightness is absent.

Too much assertiveness, and you lose your ability to relate. The shepherd’s hand helps a pastor give comfort to the congregation. Gentleness enables healing. Shepherding protects and guards the flock. Without this gentle hand, the shepherd can weaponize the pastoral office and be the cause of hurt.

Balancing assertiveness requires high levels of discernment. One of the greatest dangers young pastors face is leading without longevity—because discernment, like wisdom, only occurs through the maturation of time. Such was my mistake. My quip about corpses and dead churches came from a clever wit detached from wisdom. My mind was working ahead of my heart. 

  • Without discernment, assertiveness is inconsistent in intensity. You can become too prophetic and lack a loving spirit. Love is sacrificed for a harsh truth.
  • Without discernment, assertiveness is inconsistent in frequency. You can become too gentle and lack inspiration. Truth is absent and replaced with mawkishness.
  • With discernment, assertiveness is clear. You gain clarity as a pastor by balancing the prophetic voice with the shepherd’s hand.
  • With discernment, assertiveness is helpful. You guide others to maturity when you balance a prophetic voice and a shepherd’s hand.

You likely have a default—or preferred—posture as a pastor. Some will use prophetic words before a loving presence. Others will do the reverse. The key is to be both assertive and discerning. What about the member who insulted my wife? She never returned to the church because of my retort. There’s something about a gentle answer turning away wrath, I believe.

Posted on October 5, 2022

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • I’ve found that a good way to make a prophetic message easier to absorb is to make sure I’m offering a prophetic message often. If a prophetic message is rare the congregation can have difficulty accepting the message.

    Likewise, I find that a way to make a prophetic message less strident is to make sure that I include myself in the group being offered the prophesy. The moment a prophetic message becomes “I tell you that you are falling short…” instead of “we all fall short, me included,…” it is those moments when my credibility as prophet can be called to account.

  • Deborah Murphy says on

    Speak the truth in Love. With lovingkindness have i drawn thee says the Word of God.

  • Hello, am Carolyn and I have to say this was word for me. Being a pastor’s wife I have gone through the same, a church member teaching me Infront of leadership in the church what to be advising my husband .. I thank God my husband never said anything but I was very hurt..
    You have inspired me today.

  • Rev. DaveDeppisch says on


    While the article is great food for thought, I have been challenging my congregation to live out the word of GOD.
    It’s one thing to have all the promises and gifts GOD has given us along with the assurance of salvation and then to live it like it’s some treasure to be stored away. We are exhorted to be disciples, to be witnesses, and to read His word and DO IT.
    I love my sheep but sometimes exhortation must be very strong and is best given not just from the pulpit but by leading them by example and doing those things which you know are the works which the Holy Spirit has prepared for us to do.
    Give it in love. Act on it as an example. Witness to them the blessings you have received.
    We’ve been doing prayer walks throughout our town of about 12,000. One lady who at first was terrified to participate is now urging others to do the same. It’s changing her walk with Christ and allowing her to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

  • Thanks. The Lord is working this in my heart already today. Grace AND truth came by Jesus Christ. I need to have both to share the gospel with others.