Leading Like Shepherds

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When we talk about good leaders in history we often think about glory. We think about their accomplishments, their strengths, and their greatness. We think about their renown and their authority. We think about standing on stages, accepting awards and accolades and names being written in history books.


We rarely hear the term “leadership” and think of a lowly shepherd wading knee deep in sheep excrement. We don’t think about the muck and filth clinging to the tread of their work boots or the stench of the flock stuck in their nose. We don’t think about the long hours of poking and prodding groups of anxious and obstinate livestock to safe heights or the meticulous preparation it takes before moving a flock of sheep to new pasture.


But we should.


The reality of good leadership looks a lot more like lowly shepherding than Rocky Balboa atop the stone steps in Philly.


The Bible mentions shepherding over 200 times and often as a metaphor for leadership. Good leaders are like good shepherds, caring well for their flocks. According to the Bible, a good shepherd is one who does the following:

  • Protects the sheep from wild animals
  • Makes sure the sheep don’t eat poisonous plants
  • Keeps the sheep fed and watered
  • Searches for the lost sheep until they are found
  • Bandages the wounds of the sheep
  • Breaks up fights between the sheep


A bad shepherd did none of those things and even worse, simply used the sheep as meat to appease their hungry stomachs.


It’s clear from that list that shepherding was not a job full glory. Rather, it was a humble job, one that required a lot of patience, consistency, understanding and well, love.


The reason a good leader is like a shepherd is because many people (myself included) often act like sheep. Consider the similarities:

  • We are often anxious and afraid of things, especially of change
  • We often have small disputes with one another that cause unnecessary tension and get in the way of accomplishing goals
  • We are prone to fall into hierarchal tendencies and treat others poorly to maintain status within this system
  • We don’t like to be hungry, tired or sick (duh) and when we are, it greatly impacts how we act
  • We wander (and sometimes unwittingly create problems) when we don’t understand what we are doing, why we are doing it, and who is leading us


So then, in turn, leading as a good shepherd looks a lot like the following:

  • Comforting those you lead, reminding them that they need not be afraid because you, as the leader, go with them and will take care of them. Sometimes this looks like simply listening to their fears or worries.
  • Creating peace between people, helping to settle disputes, having patience with people when they choose to argue and continuing to encourage them to love one another
  • Noticing the weak and helping to strengthen them, challenging those in positions of power or strength to be generous and thoughtful about others that they might help strengthen the weak as well
  • Helping to take care of basic needs and/or noticing when those you lead are having trouble getting these needs met. This might look like offering extra time off or encouraging rest or even having snacks available in the office.
  • Casting vision for the future, reminding your team of the shared goals, showing up as their leader, especially when they need you, and of course, getting those who veer off track back on track, no matter how much extra time or energy that might take


This is hard work. It’s messy and tiring. It means spending many more days with the sheep in the muck than on a stage accepting praise.


But, as you can see, leadership is a high calling.


For a sheep to lie down in a pasture, its needs must be met, the needs I mentioned above—to feel safe, to be fed, to be at peace with other sheep and to know that its shepherd is nearby.


A good leader is called to lead in such a way that their sheep lie down in the pasture. May we understand the humble reality of this kind of leadership and may we be such leaders.


Written by: Ashley Buenger






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