When Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd,” He was using one of the most beautiful metaphors in the Bible. Those living in the Holy Land are well aware of the endearing relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. This loving caregiver lives with his sheep, and he knows each one by name. He goes before his flock, and leads to green pastures and still waters. The dependent and helpless sheep learn to recognize the shepherd’s voice, and a voice of a stranger they do not follow.
The shepherd’s hands-on approach heals the wounded and searches for the wayward and the lost. The shepherd protects his flock from danger and literally guards it with his own life. This leadership model was clearly in Jesus’ thoughts, when He made His profound statement. (Jn 10:11)
In the Old Testament, God challenged his prophets, priests and kings to be shepherd- leaders to His people. We read that God took the shepherd David “from the sheep folds… to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart…” (Psalm 78:70-72) Both Ezekiel and Jeremiah address Old Testament leaders who failed to be the shepherds that God called them to be.
The dominant biblical model for spiritual leadership in the New Testament church is also the shepherd. After modeling shepherd leadership, and just before returning to heaven, Jesus charged Peter: “Feed my lambs.… Take care of my sheep….. Feed my sheep.” (Jn 21:15-17)
The Apostle Peter later wrote to the leaders of the church: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3) And the Apostle Paul instructed the church in Ephesus: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the Church of God, which He bought with His own blood.” (Acts 20:28)
God’s use of this metaphor means that the Biblical spiritual leadership model is not CEO; neither is it rancher, sheriff, lord, or hired hand. It is always shepherd. Whether ones spiritual leadership role is parent, Sunday School teacher, small group leader, discipleship leader, pastor of a local church, or overseer of several churches, the model is clear. God works in the context of close, loving relationships.
Spiritual leaders in the church of God feed the Word of God, lead by example, pray for healing and restoration of his sheep, search for the one that wanders away from the safety and protection of the church, and is so committed to the sheep, that he is willing to lay down his own life, as required. The promise to the faithful shepherd or shepherdess is exciting: “And when the Chief Shepherd (the Lord Jesus Christ) shall appear, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (1 Peter 5:4)
Jim and Judy Vaught are ministers at Calvary Assembly of God in Mount Airy.