By Kendall Faull
A shepherd is a leader, but he is not like other leaders. It might be helpful to compare and contrast a shepherd’s duties with the duties of other types of leaders.
A shepherd is not the same thing as a manager.
A manager manages workers, and the workers perform tasks assigned to them. A manager protects and grows processes, programs, and production; a manager does not protect and grow people.
A shepherd does not manage how a sheep grows wool. Healthy sheep produce wool naturally. A shepherd serves sheep, guards them from predators, cares for them, and watches over them. A shepherd provides nourishment and protection so the sheep can grow and produce wool on their own.
A shepherd is not the same thing as a coach.
A coach is a spectator who instructs others in how to play the game. A coach gives commands and directions while he watches from the sidelines.
A shepherd, however, leads. He doesn’t point in a direction and tell sheep where to go. A shepherd loves and cares for the sheep, so the sheep follow the shepherd. A shepherd leads by example. Sometimes a shepherd is among the sheep—touching and feeding them—and the next moment he is in front of the flock guiding the sheep to greener pastures.
A shepherd is not the same thing as an elected official.
An elected official surveys the will of his constituents and makes changes based upon the consensus of those who elected him. In this way, an elected official retains his popularity and is re-elected. An elected official is not concerned with what is best for the constituents, only what the majority of his constituents want.
A shepherd, on the contrary, serves the needs of the sheep, not the will of the sheep. A shepherd is aware when sheep are hungry and hurting—and that sheep cannot care for themselves. Sheep, if left alone, will walk off a cliff (if one is nearby) because they don’t always understand what is dangerous and what is safe.
Sheep, if left alone, can fall prey to disease, pests, starvation, pitfalls, and predators. A shepherd helps sheep avoid and overcome such unseen dangers. A shepherd provides what the sheep cannot provide themselves. He helps sheep avoid dangers they don’t see and leads them to provisions they cannot find. A shepherd builds trust by lovingly providing for the needs of sheep so, when necessary, he can lead the sheep where they don’t want to go, but need to go.
A shepherd is not the same thing as a lord.
A lord commands subjects and creates laws. A lord is in the royal class. He imposes his will on the peasant class, sometimes with the threat of force. A lord dictates decisions from on high and guides people by threat and intimidation.
A shepherd is at the other extreme. He humbles himself and gets down on the same level with the sheep. A shepherd serves the sheep and gets dirty doing it. A shepherd doesn’t boss, command, or make laws. He humbles himself and cares for the needs of the helpless sheep in the hope that they will follow willingly.
A shepherd knows that barking commands and intimidating sheep will only scatter the flock and drive many away to certain death. Yes, a shepherd carries a rod and a staff, but these are used ONLY to gently pull back a sheep heading toward danger or to fight a predator that is attacking. The rod and staff are never used to beat the sheep into submission. A shepherd never forces or intimidates sheep into compliance; he calls to sheep with a trust built by the shepherd’s good character.
A shepherd, or group of shepherds, is not like a board of directors.
A board of directors doesn’t do the actual work. The board sets policies and makes choices. It hires administrators to do the work. A board of directors is concerned with hierarchies and chains of command. It conducts many, many meetings where items are voted upon and actions are recorded. The board can exercise its authority only when all of the directors are together. A board is usually slow to react and is virtually never proactive. A board demands reports and updates, because the directors are not on-site; board members need the hired administrators to keep them abreast of what is actually happening. A board’s main function is to assign tasks to workers, but its second and more common function is to micromanage and overrule decisions of any hired administrator it doesn’t like.
But shepherds are out among the sheep. Shepherds don’t require a steady stream of reports because they oversee the flock from within. Shepherds are not interested in managing details; they are interested in the lives of the sheep. If a shepherd attends a meeting, it is with the sheep. Shepherds work in the field, not the boardroom.
Shepherds can lead whether one is present or many are present, because they don’t lord over the sheep with commands but guide them with their loving character. Shepherds don’t lead by issuing decisions from boardrooms, but by working among the sheep they are serving.
Shepherds can react at a moment’s notice, because they know the needs of the sheep by personally serving among them. Shepherds see danger from afar and intervene before damage occurs.
Shepherds are far removed from directors who assign tasks to hired hands and constantly second-guess them while not spending enough time among the sheep to know their real needs. A shepherd is an on-site overseer of sheep. A group of shepherds is connected with the sheep, not disconnected from the sheep as a board of directors is.
First Peter 5:1-3 says, “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
Kendall Faull ministers with Jerome Christian Church, Greentown, Indiana.