Many of us are familiar with that pithy little saying. Preachers have probably been peppering their sermons with that proverb for hundreds of years. Is it factual? Does it accurately represent the labors of shepherds and their wooly flocks? I can’t say for sure. I can say, however, that it is true of pastors and their flocks.
Those who lead by shepherding lead. Their flocks follow them not because they’re forced to do so. They follow because they want to go. They follow because they trust their shepherd. The shepherd casts a vision. He calls for action. He makes his case. He sets his course, and he says, “Follow me!” Then, he leads the way. Only when one is being followed is one truly leading.
The other leadership paradigm is starkly different. This type of leader casts his vision, charts his course, and then moves out only to quickly find himself alone walking spiritual point. He stops. He encourages. He cajoles. He browbeats his Christian soldiers to follow him. When they don’t, he returns to the ranks, passes the troops, and proceeds to get behind them, driving them forward in the direction only he desires to go. Now they are on point and, if the leader’s direction is flawed, it is they who will be slaughtered when problems arise.
Admittedly, there is a time and a place for both types of leadership. There are theological and ecclesiastically battles that must be waged and it takes a determined and brave individual to lead the charge. Joshua found himself in such a place and God told him three times to be “strong and courageous.” But, when leaders apply this principle in peacetime, it leads to revolt. The people dig in and the leader becomes the enemy. At that point, he has surrendered his flag and lost his command. He may still be the pastor but he’s no longer the leader. Thus, too many churches suffer today not from a lack of leadership but from leadership of the wrong kind.
The wise man must determine his context. Does the church need an Admiral Farragut who’s willing to d@#n the torpedoes or does it need a shepherd to protect the flock?
It almost seems too obvious to say, but we must. Jesus modeled leadership for us. What kind of leader was he? He was a shepherd. He called the sheep. They knew his voice. They followed him. He was a leader and because of that he had followers.
Time after time we have pictures of Christ leading in the New Testament. He’s leading the disciples on the march to