Leader: steward, servant and …
Thus far, I have cited two ways in which the Bible employs the word “servant” to highlight the contrast between leaders of His people and worldly leaders. A steward leads by virtue of delegated authority and with a sense of accountability to the one who appoints. A servant repudiates the trappings of power and position and instead leads from a lowly posture toward those over whom the leader has been given charge.
Biblical metaphor #3: shepherd
A third pervasive Scriptural metaphor for leaders is shepherd. Shepherds devote themselves to the duty of providing for the welfare of their flocks by offering nourishment, guidance, and protection. Leaders who shepherd well are emulating the greatest Shepherd of all–the Lord Himself.
The ultimate shepherd
Jacob, in offering a patriarchal blessing to Joseph from his deathbed, acknowledges that God, “has been my shepherd all my life, to this day” (Gen. 48:15).
Psalm 23 stands as the most endearing and memorable portrayal of this metaphor with reference to God. In this brief and oft-memorized poem, David echoes his ancestor Jacob in affirming that Jahweh leads him as the perfect Shepherd. The relentless, merciful love of the Shepherd ensures that his charges lack nothing that is required for their flourishing. He feeds and shelters, renews and guides, accompanies and protects, defends and regales, welcomes and secures. Later, Isaiah characterizes David’s antecedent and descendant, Jesus Christ, as One who will, “tend His flock, like a shepherd” (Isa. 40:11).
Called to emulation
Leaders of God’s people are also called shepherds. As such, they are expected to emulate the most divine Shepherd. Speaking through the prophets—Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah in particular—God rails against the obstinate, abusive, parasitical behavior of Israel’s priests. They are guilty of perverting God’s truth, indulging in idolatry, engaging in hypocritical moral decadence, failing to protect the weak and vulnerable, and profiting from exploitation.
Bad shepherds, really bad shepherds
Jesus went on notice early in his ministry that such corruption of the sacred obligations of shepherding among leaders of God’s people would not be tolerated. He repeatedly confronted the entitlement culture and all its manifestations among religious leaders of His day, culminating in his virtual impeachment of the rogue Jewish priesthood at the Feast of Dedication (see Jn. 10). He infuriated the Jewish priests and elders by asserting that He was the authentic Good Shepherd and that they had proven themselves to be imposters.
The Good Shepherd
In a claim both to His deity and legitimacy as a leader after the pattern of Jacob’s and David’s and all Israel’s divine Shepherd, Jesus proclaims, “I am the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:11, 14,). In so doing, he is of course proclaiming His deity, but also he is declaring in no uncertain terms how a legitimate godly leader behaves.
So, to what extent did this shepherd leadership image get through to Jesus’ disciples during the early days of the church? We’ll explore the answer next time …
*Note: This post is excerpted from my 2013 book, The Leader’s Palette: Seven Primary Colors
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
I wish I had said that but, like most things, whatever wisdom I communicate comes through others. In this all time top-40 Leadership Journal classic, Henry Nouwen reflects on a clear pattern in Jesus’ ministry, one we so often violate: moving from solitude to community to ministry. Now that’s a disciplined life—making space for God to act.
Educational entrepreneur, Seth Godin, founder of the revolutionary altMBA online program, lines up higher education’s most sacred cows—lectures, tests, accreditation, mass-production, efficiency—for the merciless slaughter of his stinging critique. There is a lot to ponder here. No doubt some of Godin’s thoughts will disturb and anger you. But it seems to me that some of Godin’s views are consonant with educational values you will readily affirm. There are links in the article to Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams eBook and TedTalk.