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LEADERSHIP (6): The Shepherd Model

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd

What happens to a group of people with no leader? You might even wonder if such a collection deserves the name “group.” They are more an accidental accumulation than a group. “Group” implies they are a cohesive body with something in common and that this body is doing something together. That demands leadership, even if the leadership is inadequate and ineffective.


Is it any wonder Jesus was moved with compassion when He saw Israel’s masses as “sheep without a shepherd”? As such, He said, they were “harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:36).

One of David’s prayers to God for Israel was that God “be their shepherd and carry them forever” (Psalm 28:9). David did not want his people to become “sheep without a shepherd.” As Israel’s covenant-king, “David shepherded them with integrity of heart, with skilled hands he led them” (Psalm 78:72). What David prayed for, God gave – in the person of David himself. In fact, the Old Testament collectively referred to all the priests, prophets, kings and other leaders of God’s people as “the shepherds of Israel.” Unfortunately, though, many of these “shepherds” were not capable caregivers.

Ezekiel 34:2-6 contrasts the non-care and abuse of Israel by their shepherds with the care the Lord would provide in the last days:

…. Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

A similar theme in Jeremiah 23:1-6 speaks prophetically of the time the Lord would replace these evil shepherds:

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture! Declares the LORD. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD. “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the LORD. “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.

Between them, these two passages vividly illustrate what some sneeringly refer to as church leaders who “fleece the flock.” Yes, there are such leaders. No, God did not send them. In fact, God himself will remove and replace any such “shepherds” as these.


In the New Testament, Christ is spoken of as “the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). Peter later, as he charges the elders to “be shepherds of God’s flock,” calls Christ “the Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:2, 4). The Greek word for chief here is arche, from which we get the prefix Arch as in Archbishop, or chief overseer. The expression Archbishop is not in the Bible. Instead, Peter called Jesus the arch-shepherd. Jesus spoke of Himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10:11).

Thus in many passages in many ways God speaks of the leaders of His people as shepherds. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd. As such, he provides the model for shepherding, which all leaders should follow. Unfortunately, many leaders take their leadership role models from worldly, carnal leaders instead of from Jesus. When they do, they tend to act as “lords” over God’s people instead of as shepherds. We need to look to what Jesus said about Himself as the Good Shepherd to find how we are to lead God’s people.

John 10 sets forth several principles that Jesus followed as the Good Shepherd – principles we should adopt if we would be good shepherds of those God has placed under our leadership and guidance.

1. Non-Devious.

First, the Good Shepherd “enters by the gate;” the thief and robber sneaks into the fold some other way (John 10:1-2). God’s leaders are not devious as they lead. They do not have to manipulate God’s people to get them to do God’s bidding, nor do they try to do so. This is true whether in the home or the church.

The Machiavellian machinations of the typical politician are not the methods used by God’s leader. He leads by persuasion, encouragement and example instead of by manipulation, maneuver and control. Truth is his ally, not his enemy. He sees half-truths as unworthy of his high standards for himself.

He agrees with Paul when he urged, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25). Respect for those he is leading keeps him from ever stooping to manipulative, less than open and above board tactics. Good leaders do not have to be sneaky to be effective.

2. Familiar.

Second, he “calls his sheep by name” and they “listen to him” and “follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:3). The Good Shepherd knows his sheep individually and intimately. The sheep also know and trust their shepherd because they have experience of his guidance and care. You cannot be an effective shepherd over strangers. When the sheep refuse to follow someone, it is a good indication he is a stranger whom they do not know, or someone they know but cannot trust.

Some “leaders” wonder why people will not follow them. They tend to blame the people when they should look first to themselves. How much time have they spent serving the people? How close have they gotten to them? The Good Shepherd is with his sheep at all times. They have learned to trust him. His hand has been gentle while comforting them. He understands their needs, and they know it. They respect him, will listen to what he says and follow where he leads – even if they do not know where the road is leading. They do not care as much for the road as for the one who leads them on it.

3. Active Leadership.

Third, “he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him” (John 10:4). You cannot lead where you will not go. The shepherd-leader does not direct; he leads. He goes before to show the way and to test it for hidden dangers. He gains experience himself so he can lead God’s little lambs safely.

Would you go to someone who has never played chess to teach you the game? If not, why should you go to someone who does not display the Spirit and character of Jesus to teach you how to be like him? By observation the sheep know and trust the experience of the Shepherd. That is why they follow him.

4. Non-Exploitive.

Fourth, he does not exploit the sheep, as do the thief and robber. Rather, he comes to bless the sheep with abundant life (John 10:10). The shepherds of Israel were condemned because they were exploiting those under their care (Ezekiel 34:1-3). When the shepherds begin to think the flock exists for the them instead of them existing for the flock, they have left the pattern for God’s pastors.

One of the qualifications to serve a church as an elder or pastor is that he not be “a lover of money” and that they are “not pursuing dishonest gain” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7. The shameful actions of many “tel-evangelists” in recent years are nothing short of scandalous. Unfortunately, there are others posing as leaders of God’s people who also “fleece the flock.” More need to have the attitude of Paul who said, “I will not be a [financial] burden to you, because what I want is not your possessions but you” (2 Corinthians 12:14).

Voluntary, Sacrificial Living.

Fifth, “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (John 10:11). Jesus did this literally by going to the cross for us. We lay down our lives by giving the care those in our charge need, regardless of what it may cost us personally. The husband lays down his life for his wife (Ephesians 5:25ff). Parents give themselves for their children. Elders care for the church at cost to themselves. All these are examples of the shepherd laying down his life for his sheep.

Parker Henderson paid tribute to my father and mother at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration by observing that for any congregation to exist and do well, someone has to die. He said that their years of service in that church, where Dad has been an elder for many years, is a living example of someone dying so the church can live. The church universal exists because Jesus died for it. The local church prospers because someone dies to self for it.


When we lead as the Good Shepherd leads, two things will follow. First, the sheep will follow the shepherd. They will not be rebellious (though some stray goats may be included in the flock, and they will rebel!). Second, the flock will care for the shepherd. Children will care for their parents when they are old for they will continue to honor them all their lives. A husband who loves his wife as he loves himself will find that she will reverence him. Elders who rule well are considered worthy of “double honor” (1 Timothy 5:15). But none of this will be a burden to the sheep; it will be their pleasure.

In God’s plan there is no tension between the leaders and the led. They move together as one in their service to God. A flock without a shepherd is scattered and destroyed. A shepherd without a flock is no shepherd. They complete each other as part of a common entity: one flesh, one family, and one body.

It is bad to be a flock without a shepherd. This results in anarchy, division and the loss of much of the flock. It is equally bad to have a “shepherd” who exploits the flock. This will also end with the loss of many of the flock. God’s way is for his leaders to follow the example of Jesus.

God’s leaders are not dictators. The monarchial episcopacy, which is rule of a congregation by a single bishop that began in Asia Minor near the beginning of the 2nd Century A.D., did not come from God. Ignatius, an early proponent of this form of church government, declared that nothing could be done without the bishop, thus making the bishop an absolute  ruler, even if his rule was benevolent. From this beginning, eventually there was a Universal Bishop or Pope. God’s leaders are true shepherds who rule with integrity and skill.


  1. What duties are expected of a shepherd (see Ezekiel 34:4-6)? How does Jesus perform these? How do shepherd-leaders perform these?
  2. What is the difference between a shepherd exploiting the flock and a shepherd being supported by the flock? How does this apply in our different areas of leadership?
  3. Can the “under-shepherds” use the same standard of shepherding for themselves that Jesus said he followed in John 10?
  4. How do the shepherd of Psalm 23 and the Good Shepherd of John 10 compare?
  5. When trouble exists between elders and the congregation, between husband and wife, or between parents and children, how can shepherd-leadership help correct the problem?
  6. What can we do to ensure that Christian leaders use the shepherd model of leadership?

– (7) I Have Made You A Watchman
PREVIOUS – (5) Saul & David: Contrasting Leadership Styles


8 Responses

  1. Hi,

    I want to learn how to solve a problem in my life.
    I’m a natural visionary. I have pastored, etc.

    Each time I lead, a tension develops with a strong or aggressive woman.

    I don’t know how to compete with women. A diasagreement and tension arises. I usually resign and move on, because stress affects my health.

    This pattern emerges everywhere I go.


    I s there a Christian Psychologist or Counselor in San Antonio, TX, where I can get Counseling?



    • Carl, Thanks for your question. This is, in a way, what the Lord said to Eve in Genesis 3:16.

      I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

      In the next chapter, God said to Cain,

      If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.

      Sin’s desire for Cain and Eve’s desire for Adam are similar. Each wants to dominate. Just as Cain could have (he did not, but could have) overcome the sin at his door, you can overcome the aggressiveness of the women of whom you speak.

      Peter said that the beauty of a woman was not to be in her outward adorning, but “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4). You may need to do some teaching in this area. Asking a woman to have a gentle and quiet spirit is not the same as telling her to sit down and shut up!

      A good source of material on “the battle of the sexes” is at http://oneinjesus.info/books-by-jay-guin/buried-talents/.

      Thanks for dropping by. Come again soon.


  2. Carl,
    I am not familiar with Christian counseling services in San Antonio.

  3. thanks for the material. I’ve learned LOT.
    I have been serving in the Church for nine years and now doing my Master’s study at UBS Pune. I have a burden for my people as well as a heavy burden to educate my vernicular friends (Pastors) in the churh. For which Im planing to write my thesis on Jesus’s model of Shepherding. therefore i’ll be grateful if you can kindly send more relevent materials on this particular subject. thanking you.

    • Toluho,

      Thanks for your kind comments. I really do not know what “scholarly” works I could recommend. Are you able to use material from internet blogs? Or must it be published material or “unpublished scholarly work” (e.g., someone else’s thesis or dissertation)? One book I could recommend is one by Lynn Anderson, The Smell Like Sheep, if you can access it. This book is written at a popular level, which is where I spend most of my reading time anyway.

      Again, thanks for your kind words.


  4. “harassed and helpless” (Matthew 9:6). That is not the reference, rather Matthew 9:36.

    • Tony,
      I’ll have to hire you as an editor! Thanks for letting me know of the typo. It is now corrected.

  5. very insightful! thanks for sharing your expertise….

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