Isabella was abandoned at 14 years old. Her parents vanished beneath the haze of drugs and alcohol. She lived the next two years in isolation and secrecy. The authorities learned of her discarded condition and sent her to live with an uncle hundreds of miles away. But her uncle resented her, and his family was cruel. Isabella was on the rocky path to despair, until one person showed her a better way.
That person was Isabella’s High School teacher. Isabella didn’t tell me her name or what subject she taught. But she was a teacher who cared and helped Isabella know her life mattered. She inspired the girl, forsaken by the world, to live a meaningful life.
As extreme as it may sound, Isabella’s story is ours! Without someone to point us in the right direction we are bound to despair and destruction. The person who points is a leader. Our world is desperately in need of good leaders.
Our need for leadership is rooted in our nature. Physically, emotionally and spiritually God created us as desperately dependent beings. From the moment we are born we need the wisdom, guidance and example of others, or we will die.
Our need for direction ultimately points us to the Lord. The call of the gospel is, “Come follow Me” (used 21 times!). Jesus alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). We need his leadership, or we will spiritually die.
Our rebellious hearts need to swallow our pride and accept our need for leadership. Our need for leadership is urgent, but what does a good leader look like?
Throughout the Bible the language of leadership is not spoken in terms of power, wealth, charm or glamor. God’s predominant picture of leadership is the lowly shepherd. The leadership of the patriarchs and prophets, priest and kings, apostles and elders, and even God, Himself is described as a shepherd.
Moses was not called to lead God’s people when he sported the wealth and power of an Egyptian prince. He was only ready to lead after he spent forty years in the sandals of a shepherd.
When David became king, he didn’t leave his shepherding ways in the pasture but took them into the palace. The Lord said, “You shall be the shepherd of my people Israel” (2 Sam. 5:2; 7:7; Psalm 78:70-72).
Amazingly, the leadership of our Lord Jesus is constantly pictured as a shepherd! He is the good shepherd who saves us (John 10:11-18); the great shepherd who guides us (Heb. 13:20-21); and chief shepherd who is coming to take us home (1 Pet. 5:4).
We all need shepherd leaders, because we are all like sheep: dirty, aimless and vulnerable (Isa. 53:6; Psalm 23). It is only when we recognize our “sheepy-ness” that we will look for good shepherds to help, and it is only when the qualities of our chief shepherd become ours that we are ready to lead our fellow sheep.
Our Need for Shepherd Leaders
Jesus explains our need for shepherd leaders in John 10. However, the language he uses originated centuries earlier in the messages of Jeremiah and Ezekiel (Jeremiah 23:1-6; Ezekiel 34; take the time to read these chapters). In their days, Israel was scattered among the nations like lost sheep. Why? A failure of shepherd leadership! Israel had people in leadership positions, but few with a heart of a shepherd. The reason we need shepherd leaders is because there are so few, and without them people will be lost!
We need leaders who care for people. Most leaders are in it for themselves (John 10:8-13). They steal status, favors and wealth from the people they are supposed to help. They feed their ego and clothe their ambitions while those they lead starve to death (Ezek. 34:2-4).
Shepherd leaders understand those they lead are “the Lord’s sheep” (In Ezekiel 34 God calls the people, “My sheep” 13 times!). People are not theirs to fleece, but the Lord’s people to love.
We need leaders who care more about people than position. Who know their sheep by name and lay down their life them (John 10:3-4, 14-15; Phil. 2:17). They “search” for those who are hurting, and they “seek” those who are straying (Ezek. 34:11-13). Shepherd leaders spend their life among the weak, sick and lost because they care for people (Ezek. 34:4). They do not simply wear titles; they love souls. A revolution in leadership is unleashed by one word, “Love!”
We need leaders who know the Lord. Loving leaders point people to the Jesus they know. They have something to say about him (Deut. 6:4-9; 1 Tim. 3:2). They reflect his ways in how they live (Matt. 5:14-16; Eph. 5:1-2; 1 Thess. 1:7; 1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:3).
The first work of a loving leader is not to act, but to learn! They must spend time listening to the Lord, before they can lead others to him (John 10:3-4; Ezek. 34:13-16). However, knowledge is not enough (1 Cor. 8:1).
The second task of a loving leader is to live what they learn. Sheep are led, not driven. Ultimately, actions speak louder than words (1 John 3:18; James 3:13).
Our world is starving to know what Jesus says from loving people who are living it. This is the leadership that is lacking! Homes, communities, and churches are falling apart because of the absence of shepherd hearted leaders. Are you willing to become one?
Over the next two months Focus Magazine Online will present seventeen studies entitled, “Leadership by The Book.” These Biblical studies will equip you to influence the people in your life to walk more closely with God. Share these resources with others, because our world needs leaders like the ones the Lord will make of us! Someone needs you to be their shepherd leader.
“Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:10)
Exercises for Further Study
Read Ezekiel 34:1-10; Jeremiah 23:1-2; John 10:10-13 and make a list of the qualities of defective leadership.
Read Ezekiel 34:1-10; Jeremiah 23:1-2; John 10:10-13 and make a list of the consequences of defective leadership.
Read Ezekiel 34:11-31; Jeremiah 23:3-6; John 10:1-18 and make a list of the qualities of a good shepherd leader.
Read Ezekiel 34:11-31; Jeremiah 23:3-6; John 10:1-18 and make a list of the consequences of a good shepherd leader.
How can shepherd leadership be expressed in a family?
How can shepherd leadership be expressed in your friendships and among your coworkers?
How can shepherd leadership be expressed in a local church?
What quality of a shepherd leader do you need to work on the most?
Do you have a shepherd leader, other than the Lord, in your life? If not, why not? If so, who are they?
Kingdom Leaders. Max Dawson. Max Dawson’s book on leadership is Biblical and practical. Don Truex wrote, “I have both read and taught this material. I have seen first-hand the impact for good that the implementation of these principles can have.”
“Few books on church leadership include anything about love.” writes Alexander Strauch. He seeks to right this omission in a book entitled: Leading with Love. Alexander Strauch. Lewis & Roth Publications. 2006. Read with discernment, but it can help bring “love” to your leadership (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Consider his companion volume: Love or Die, Christ’s wake-up call to the church. Alexander Strauch. Lewis & Roth Publications. 2008.