SHEPHERDING THE SHEEP
By Mark Anderson
Leadership is a popular topic today both in the Christian and secular worlds. People want to be successful, and to climb the corporate ladder which requires effective leadership qualities. Unfortunately, many secular leadership principles are being applied to the church, when actually it is the church, which should be modelling biblical leadership principles to the world around her.
When the Lord Jesus Christ ascended to Heaven, He provided leadership for His people.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-15).
The church needs leadership. Each member needs to be perfected for the work of the ministry to build up the body of Christ. In practical terms that means every member being mobilized for ministry. There are no exemptions and no exceptions. Everyone must be stirred into service. Today there are various winds of doctrine blowing about and questionable practices and heresies which seek to captivate and enslave the people of God. Leadership is given to grow the believer from the child state to that of an adult. It gives the body of Christ discernment and exposes that which seeks to deceive and lead her astray. Godly leadership helps brings the church to maturity by feeding her a diet of solid and balanced bible teaching.
In seeking to help us in our understanding of leadership, it is imperative that we first draw our principles from the right model. For example some will use the analogy of a coach and a football team to instill leadership qualities. God is like the coach while each believer is a team player. However upon reading the Old and New Testaments, one definitive picture of leadership emerges which is one of a Shepherd and His sheep. This I believe is the correct model to draw leadership characteristics and qualities from which the church should adopt and cultivate. In Ephesians 4:11 the word translated Pastor perhaps could be more accurately rendered as shepherd. If you were to close your eyes and think of a pastor, you would most likely think of a man standing behind a pulpit preaching on Sunday. By the same token, if you were to think of a shepherd, images of a man on a hillside surrounded by sheep would inevitably spring to mind.
Psalm 23 paints a vivid picture of the relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. The psalm however is written not from the shepherd’s perspective, but from the sheep’s.
The sheep is not wanting for anything, but is totally content in the shepherd’s care. Believers in Christ should be content. The Apostle Paul said that he learned how to be content in every situation. A godly leader can help facilitate this climate of contentment by providing love and security while taking pleasure in those entrusted to his care.
A sheep can only lie down if it is free from fear. Not only does it need to be free from fear, but also free from friction with other sheep. It also needs to be free from flies and parasites. Such care needs to be given by the godly leader, who can instill a sense of security and help resolve tensions with other members of the body, and at the same time be an instrument for the Holy Spirit to bring healing from the irritations inflicted by the parasites of life. Lastly, sheep can only lie down if they are free from hunger, and the onus is on the godly leader to feed his flock with a balanced diet of the word of God. In addition to being fed, sheep need water to drink and the shepherd’s responsibility is to lead them “beside still waters.” Rushing waters could drown a sheep, so the shepherd would be diligent in searching out the best watering places. Sheep tend to get a lot of their water intake by grazing early on the wet dew on the grass and so the shepherd will rise early to ensure that his flock takes advantage of the early morning dew. By analogy, the godly leader will rise early to pray for his flock and wait upon God in seeking how best to lead them.
Sheep can become easily distressed and one common way is when they roll onto their backs and can’t get up. 'Cast’ is the term used to describe such a situation. In this state it is not only distressed, but vulnerable to attack. The godly leader like a good shepherd will regularly count his sheep, and if one is missing, will go in search of it until it’s found. Upon finding a cast sheep, the shepherd stands it on its feet while rubbing its legs to stimulate circulation. This is the picture of the Lord restoring our soul. When a believer has become ‘cast’ he or she is immobilized in his walk with God. A godly leader will not only seek them out, but will help revive them and get them restored and moving again.
Sheep are creatures of habit and will tend to graze the same area over and over again until there is no grazing left. Left to themselves, sheep will damage their own grazing patch by eating grass to its roots and polluting it in the process. They require skilled care and handling, and so the shepherd will keep them on the move, leading them to various pastures for grazing while allowing well grazed pastures to recover and grow again. Human beings can be stubborn at times and have that tendency to follow their own habits even if they are destructive. The godly leader will wisely and skillfully lead, and challenge his flock to move out of their comfort zones and aspire to greater heights. He will lead his flock in the paths of righteousness even if such paths create discomfort.
‘Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ heralds the arrival of summer, when the shepherd leads his sheep away from home and onto higher ground. To get to the higher ground necessitates traversing through valleys. Valleys provide essential watering places and often the best pastures for grazing, en route to higher ground. The shepherd will lead the sheep over rugged terrain, coming into close proximity to rivers, landslides, falling rocks, poisonous plants and predators. It’s a dangerous passage, but the sheep need not fear because the Shepherd is with them and leading them. The godly leader is with his sheep through every trial, disappointment and danger. He provides comfort and support in the midst of sorrow and pain. Sheep are comforted by the Shepherd’s rod and staff. The rod symbolized power and authority and was used to destroy any potential enemies of the sheep. Another use for the rod was to administer discipline to any wayward sheep. Any sheep going astray would feel the prodding of the shepherd’s rod to steer it back to the flock. Shepherds would use the rod to count and examine their sheep. Certain wounds inflicted upon sheep could be undetectable to the eye, and so the rod would part the wool on the sheep’s back to reveal whether or not such wounds were present. The staff symbolized concern and compassion. It had a hook or crook at one end carefully designed for the shepherd’s use and he would actually use it to lean on as a source of comfort. It was used to lift a lamb back to its mother should they become separated. The staff was used to lift the lamb so it would be free of any human smells thus preventing rejection from its mother. The shepherd would also use the staff to pull in any timid sheep for a closer inspection as well as using it to gently guide and keep the sheep on course. As the staff was carefully crafted for the Shepherd’s use and comfort it’s important to note that leadership is a definite call by God upon certain individuals. Like the shepherd leaning on his staff for comfort, so too the godly leader can comfort himself in knowing that God called him to that position. The godly leader will show concern and compassion for his sheep and gently prod them should they be prone to straying.
The shepherd prepares a table for the sheep in the midst of their enemies. In the summer season, the shepherd leads his sheep to higher plains called ‘tablelands.’ It’s a time of preparation on the shepherd’s part as he goes ahead to scout out the land. He will be looking for good grazing, a supply of water while watching for predators and poisonous vegetation. He is preparing a ‘table’ for his sheep in the midst of potential dangers. The godly leader will take such care and provision and preempt any potential problems, deceptions, strife and heresies which may unsettle and divide his flock. When the sheep arrive safely on the tablelands, the summer season brings the arrival of flies and insects which can deposit eggs and cause irritation to the sheep. To address this, the shepherd rubs oil on the sheep’s head which brings about a noticeable change in the behaviour of the sheep. The godly leader will seek to encourage his flock to be rubbed/anointed continually with the Holy Spirit. Being continually filled and full of the Holy Spirit will bring about a change in behaviour with the fruit of the Spirit blossoming in individual lives. The shepherd’s wise and careful care of his sheep ensures their continued well being with them enjoying the benefits as they submit to the shepherd. Their cup truly runs over.
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” Psalm 23:6.
In addition to the sheep enjoying life under the shepherd’s care, the sheep is content and has no desire for change. May godly leaders so lead their flocks with excellence, wisdom and sensitivity, that the people of God will be content and not buying into the notion that the ‘grass is greener on the other side.’