Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Mothering and Shepherding

Written by: on May 28, 2019

Ok folks. No satire here today.

I really like this book.

What Clergy Do: Especially When it Looks Like Nothing is an interesting and encouraging read for those in ministry. The thesis of the book was that an underacknowledged metaphor for pastoring a congregation is motherhood. And this analogy was helpful in many ways. In particular, Percy’s encouragement to pastors to be more present by understanding the depth of their valued contributions. Even when though it feels like nothing is being accomplished. This is a great analogy and I think Percy should be applauded for making the connection. Many can relate to the feeling of getting nothing accomplished, while in reality there was very important nurturing being done. Many times pastors themselves feel unaccomplished without the growth of the number of the three B’s in their church (budgets, buildings, and butts). But remembering the subversive value of soul care should encourage them to keep the main things the main things.

The highlight that hit me most from this book was Percy’s inclusion of the Phronesis in chapter 2. My dissertation is titled, “Learning in the Midst of Action: Phronesis in the Seminary.” Phronesis of course is a very important word for my argument, and this right away has become another source I can use to back up my claim that the church and seminary should consider Phronesis. It’s kind of like the wisdom to know where the exceptions are, and the wisdom to when to bend the rules. If knowledge is knowing the principle, then Phronesis is the wisdom to know when the principle doesn’t apply. Percy uses this word in talking about how mothers use this special type of wisdom as they discern which of their three primary tasks of motherhood offering protection, allowing exploration, and growing acceptability needs to be implemented at that moment. As Percy said, these three tasks can be in conflict with each other and it’s the mother applied wisdom (phronesis) which helps her decide the right on for that moment.[1] Percy’s main point by getting to this is to explain that even when a mother looks like she is doing nothing, a good mother is in fact actively engaging in phronesis all throughout the day.


One question I am left wondering, If pastors should be more mothering, how can seminary teach and grow that in it’s students?


These concepts fit so nicely with the what Eugene Peterson talks about being a relationally grounded pastor. This is topic that Peterson tended to talk and write about a lot in his later years, as he discusses in this incredible video[2]. It’s the anti-celebrity pastor mindset. It’s not that celebrity pastors are bad, but its when others begin to compare themselves to those ministries as the benchmark of fruitfulness. That’s when damage is done. This is the type of pastoring that Percy says pastors should strive for. We need more pastors as nurturers. I see many pastors do have a nurturing side but they are just more driven with holy ambition to plunder hell and populate heaven, so to speak. Ideally, I supposed it would be more of both of these qualities.


One point of contention I had with this book, is its lack of tie in to the chosen biblical metaphor for pastoring, which is the shepherd. For some reason God in his wisdom chose the shepherd to be the image to describe what he designed pastors to be. I deeply appreciate The biblical image that Percy has done by giving us a more familiar metaphor, but I would have liked to see more tie ins to the biblical metaphor. A few times on page 3,[3] Percy mentions the biblical image of a shepherd but only that we are not familiar with it, and then does not mention it again. Of course, the maternal and nurturing aspects of God are Biblical and Percy draws a lot from this in her theological foundation for the pastor as mother.


I don’t mean to be pushing back too hard against this book, because I really did like it, but… I wonder why, if this was the analogy God wanted to use, why wouldn’t he have done it? Mothers were just as well-known back then, and in fact there was probably a more consistent idea of motherhood then, than there is now.  I suppose some would say that perhaps God did not choose to do that since the biblical times were still far too hierarchical to have accepted the analogy of pastoring as mothering. Perhaps. I will be very interested in diving into the blogs this week from people who fall on both sides of the women in ministry debate.

[1] Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing (London: SPCK, 2014). Page 26.

[2] Navpress, “Peterson: In Between The Man and The Message,” YouTube (YouTube, August 30, 2016), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LaMgIvbXqSk.

[3] Emma Percy, What Clergy Do: Especially When It Looks like Nothing (London: SPCK, 2014). Page 3.

About the Author

Kyle Chalko

3 responses to “Mothering and Shepherding”

  1. Jay Forseth says:


    Where did the satire go? (grin). I am still trying to recover from the pulled gut muscles I got reading your satirical post from last week.

    As Superintendent, I have found three basic types of a local church Pastor–gifted preacher, organized administrator, or compassionate shepherd. Unfortunately, no one has all three components. They all have at least one, some have two, but NOBODY has them all.

    Emma Percy wants us to improve on the shepherding, like mothering. I get it, but I also resonated with your final paragraph. Thanks for pushing back!


  2. Great post Kyle! I enjoyed her book as well and thought her mothering metaphor was brilliant and very needed for pastors and ministry leaders. You are so right, pastors need to hear the message that their mothering is far more important than the 3 B’s (loved this little gem 🙂 ) I also wonder why we don’t have more mothering metaphors in the Bible, but I agree with you that the culture would not accept that at the time. Same thing I think about with the idea of the femininity of the Holy Spirit. Blessings friend.

  3. Dan Kreiss says:


    I too thought the metaphor of this book was powerful. As someone who completed seminary later in life than most I wondered at the time why so much emphasis was put on the academic and theological and so little on the pastoral (motherly) aspects of ministry. The M Div is one of the longest masters programs with all of the requirements that ATS mandates yet it seems that so many students end up learning much of what is actually necessary for enduring long term through the phronesis that you mention. Hopefully your dissertation will gain some followers in the ATS and they will take note of some of the more pressing issues facing people in ministry today.

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