I have mentioned before that I think there are three primary biblical metaphors for leadership in the Bible: servant, shepherd and steward. The servant aspect is mainly about a leader’s relationship towards God. The metaphor of a steward primarily relates to the management of the resources God has entrusted to a leader. And then there is the metaphor of a shepherd. Scripture actually has a lot to say about this one. Certainly shepherding was powerful imagery in the Ancient Near East because all could relate. But the very nature of shepherding and sheep make a powerful image for today too-when properly studied.
Its always a little unsettling to me that we as Christians, and people in general, are referred to as sheep in the Bible. Sheep aren’t real bright creatures. They have to be led to food and water. They have to be protected from predators. And they have a built in delimiting trait-their wool never stops growing, making them occasionally susceptible to falling over and suffocation. This is not a picture of independence, but dependence. Therefore the shepherd becomes a very critical person in the communal life of a herd of sheep.
Yesterday I was doing some reading in Zechariah 11 and I noticed some timely tidbits on shepherding-thus on spiritual leadership. This part of Zechariah’s prophecy is powerful but challenging stuff. There is certainly messianic material as we read about 30 pieces of silver being paid as a slave’s wage toward Zechariah-sound familiar? But in verses 16-17 Zechariah recounts some direct words from God towards foolish shepherds-in reference to Israel’s leaders. God states, through the mouth of Zechariah, “Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, and his right eye utterly blinded!” God pronounces woe, which is the same as condemning this leader-and then he makes reference twice to his arm and his eye. Why? Thomas McComiskey in his commentary has some helpful insight by contrast to what a good shepherd-or spiritual leader-should do. The arm and the eye of a shepherd must be well trained and actively used to properly lead sheep. The arm and the eye are the tools of an ever vigilant shepherd. The eye to constantly be aware of the environment and condition of the sheep-the arm to utilize the crook to prod and protect. I think it could be summed up in three ways.
1. Seek to heal those who are broken. Sheep are naturally frail and prone to being sick or maimed. A recurring image is of a shepherd carrying the needy sheep, caring for them until they are well.
2. Provide for those who are well. Sheep must be led to food and water. It is up to the shepherd to provide the daily diet necessary for healthy sheep to stay healthy. In our case I think it is pointing people to Christ through the Scriptures as their common sustenance.
3. Search for those who are lost. In Luke 15 we have the New Testament equivalent to this principle. Jesus gives us three parables about diligently searching for lost things. The story of the Prodigal caps it off. The lost sheep are dear to our Savior’s heart.
If you read earlier in Zechariah’s account you will find that there were spiritual leaders in Israel who were only concerned for their own glory-resulting in the opposite of what was stated above. They were labeled foolish shepherds.
To be a good shepherd you need your arms and your eyes. You need to remember that you too are a sheep. Don’t forget-our only hope of living this out well is in dependence upon the Chief and Good Shepherd Himself. Lead well.