One of the passages of scripture which define the relationship between church members and church leaders, or more specifically the example church leaders should be to the church, comes from John 10: 1-18. Throughout the bible the picture of the shepherd and his sheep is one that is repeatedly found as the example of our relationship with God. In the Old Testament many of the main characters were shepherds at some time in their lives. Moses, Jacob and probably best known was David who penned Psalm 23, one of the most well known passages of the Old Testament. Shepherding was one of the main ways that these men of God learned their leadership skills.
When we come to the New Testament we see Jesus describing himself as the Good Shepherd. The shepherd is recognised by the sheep who hear his voice and follow. It is very interesting to note that for anyone who has been to the area, that now, as in the time of Jesus, shepherds did exactly what it says in John 10: 4 they called the sheep and lead the way, followed by the sheep. If you look at shepherds in our country, today, it is far more likely that the shepherd will stand by and his dogs will persuade and bully the sheep from behind to try to move them from place to place. If I was a sheep, and metaphorically we all are, I know which I would rather prefer, a shepherd who leads the way forward, not pursued by dogs!
At whatever level of leadership in the church we are, we should follow the style of leadership modelled by Jesus himself. This is namely to lead the way, in the direction we see God the Father moving, and leading by example, and to invite others to follow. We are not asking people to follow us as leaders, but to follow Jesus. Luke 9: 23-25 (CEV) Then Jesus said to all the people: If any of you want to be my followers, you must forget about yourself. You must take up your cross each day and follow me. If you want to save your life, you will destroy it. But if you give up your life for me, you will save it. What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself or waste your life?
Being a shepherd also has another characteristic. It is best described as ‘servant leadership’. This is found in John 10: 14-15. (CEV). I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me. Just as the Father knows me, I know the Father, and I give up my life for my sheep. There is a side to leadership that most people do not realise until they experience it. We know that Jesus actually, physically gave his life for us, to take our punishment, and provide for us a way back into relationship with God. There is of course no way that anyone else can or needs to add anything to what Jesus has done for us. However as Christians there is a sense that we will have to lay down our own life’s ambitions in favour of the life that God has laid out for us, and leaders find that this is especially true as they put the needs of the church above their own.
Mark 10: 42-45 (CEV) But Jesus called the disciples together and said: You know that those foreigners who call themselves kings like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over the people they rule. But don’t act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be everyone’s slave. The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people.
But when we follow our Good Shepherd the life we gain is so much more fulfilling than the life we give up. Although we should be ready to live the life of a servant, Jesus himself does not look on us like that, but he calls us his friends. Jesus says: John 15: 13-15 (CEV) The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them. And you are my friends, if you obey me. Servants don’t know what their master is doing, and so I don’t speak to you as my servants. I speak to you as my friends, and I have told you everything that my Father has told me. As we listen to what he says to us we will, through the help of the Holy Spirit, live a life that is pleasing to our Father God.
These scriptures apply to us all. Romans 12: 6-8 (CEV) God has also given each of us different gifts to use. If we can prophesy, we should do it according to the amount of faith we have. If we can serve others, we should serve. If we can teach, we should teach. If we can encourage others, we should encourage them. If we can give, we should be generous. If we are leaders, we should do our best. If we are good to others, we should do it cheerfully.