The Lord is my shepherd . . . (Psalm 23:1)
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10–11)
The Bible has many references to shepherds and sheep. While there were cities, most of the people lived in an agricultural community. They knew the ways of shepherds and sheep so this was a familiar analogy when God talked to them about their leadership and the needs of the people. I know that Jesus laid down His life for His sheep, but what else describes a good shepherd? Is a poor shepherd as easy to identify as a thief who steals and destroys?
Most of the time, the people who were leaders in Israel were not very good shepherds. God used the prophets to judge them with harsh words like these . . .
Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them . . . As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord . . . Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. (Ezekiel 34:1–10)
Have I ever done something for others and boasted about it? Or used people in some way to build my ego or make myself look good? Have I ever used others to satisfy my own needs? Sadly, yes.
Instead of caring for the people, these leaders were using them for their own profit. I can relate to this. Even though I’m not in a position of leadership at the moment, I can abuse relationships and be a people-pleaser so that I profit from others rather than others receiving a blessing because of me.
Shepherding is taking care of people, but it is also setting a good example, even when there is no title and position attached. When people do that, they are often called natural leaders because of their good example. For me, the example I set is important. For this, I have the example of Jesus to follow. He is not only the good Shepherd who cares for His sheep, but He goes ahead of me and shows me how to behave. Yes, I am to take care of others, even suffer for them, but that is not all that is on the to-do list for being a good example . . .
For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:20–25)
Jesus endured suffering even though He never sinned or deserved mistreatment. This is leadership. He was never deceitful, but always honest, faithful, trustworthy, and a person of integrity. He did not manipulate people for His own gain. Jesus did not talk back when insulted or abused. He did not make threats either, not aloud nor under His breath. This also is leadership.
The keys to His ability to set this kind of example are 1) He trusted His heavenly Father completely and 2) He was and still is totally committed to the sheep who need His care, even when it cost Him His life. This is leadership . . . and I fall short.