Even the best of human leaders will eventually disappoint us and fail. Where then can we look to find the right leader?
Let’s understand what right leadership is and where it is to be found.
We will look at John 10:10-18 and its description of a Gentle Shepherd.
Indictment of National Leadership
In Ezekiel 34 is an indictment of political leadership, the shepherd kings of Israel, who feed themselves. The people are scattered. Self-indulgent leaders bring national disaster. They covet wealth and ignore the needs of the flock. Our national leadership crisis is caused by an oligarchy, “the fat and the strong” who neglect the starving sheep. Selfish leadership has created a national crisis. The powerful take the bulk of our national wealth. Tax law protects them and burdens the weak. Like selfish animals they leave fouled water behind. Ezekiel prophesies a new government with good leadership. Yahweh will be the good shepherd in Israel. The prophesied new king will be a descendant of David who will do what a shepherd should do, feed the sheep, creating abundant life for all (John 10:10). Yahweh will be Israel’s shepherd, God with us.
The Abundant Life
When we read that Jesus came that we may have life to the full, the abundant life, we may read into the passage a purely materialistic abundance. We may assume that this passage means accumulating things, when it actually refers to an abundant life (John 10:10). An abundance of things can actually detract from an abundant life. Jesus said that we ought to be on our guard against greed because life does not consist of an abundance of possessions (Luke 12:13-21) but in being rich towards God. So, what is the abundant life? It is a life filled over and above our necessary dullness. It is a superior life, a life that is remarkable, one that is lived with greater honor. It is life devoted to the things of God, a life guided by Jesus the Great Shepherd.
Addiction to Materialism vs the Abundant Life
What would be our society’s greatest addiction? When we speak of addiction, we may think of alcohol or drugs, but those are not our world’s greatest addictions. Our economy relies upon creating addictions to products. Two of our greatest addictions are unhealthy foods and materialism. Advertising deceives us that material goods make an abundant life and politics deceives us that fixing America begins with a materialistic solution. We are constantly lied to that materialism and degenerate foods will create the abundant life. Yet, Jesus warned against greedy materialism because that is not life (Luke 12:13-21). Jesus came that we might have truly rich and satisfying lives (John 10:10). It begins by being a faithful member of a church community where Jesus is taught. The church is the sheepfold where Jesus gathers his sheep to be protected and fed.
I grew up spending summers on my uncle’s sheep farm. Though I learned a lot about sheep, I did not learn much about shepherding. Later I became pastor of a rural church with many sheep farmers. Though I learned a lot more about sheep from them, I still did not learn much about shepherding until I met Robin. She was a shepherd. There is a difference. Sheep farmers have thousands of sheep, but Robin had a small flock and knew each one by name. Sheep often flee a sheep farmer, but when Robin took a small can of grain and shook it, they came to her and they knew her voice. That’s an advantage of small churches. Jesus is like Robin. He is the Good Shepherd and calls us into his flock to be cared for individually (John 10:11).
Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). Ancient shepherds were rugged weather-beaten individuals with rough clothing, carrying a wooden staff in one hand. Israel’s kings were also called shepherds after David who learned to fight by defending his flocks. Even Greek philosophers compared human leadership to the art of shepherding a flock. The Gospel uses the imagery of a shepherd, the sheepfold, knowing the sheep, and laying down his life for them, feeding the sheep. In Greek the word for good is kalos, meaning beautiful as an outward sign of honorable character. Several times Jesus says that he lays down his life for his sheep. He cares for his sheep and knows them. This is a contrast between good and bad human leadership in any field. A leader is good because he lays down his life for others.
Human pastors must sleep, have time for their families, and generally take good care that they do not overwork. In church life, there is always more work to do than can possibly be done by one person. So, every church should remember that we all have one Good Shepherd and the human pastor is not it. Unhealthy churches become dependent upon a human pastor instead of Jesus. While human pastors are shepherds, they are only assistant under-shepherds to the Good Shepherd. They are fallible and can only do so much. By laying down his life for the flock, Jesus showed us the love of God in a way that we could understand. Though living a self-sacrificing life is the model that Jesus left for us, there was only one life required for the salvation of the world (John 10:11).
Hired hands are quitters who leave us when the going gets tough. Jesus cares for his sheep, but not the hired hand. There is no greater love than laying down our lives for our friends (John 15:13). What is the danger? One danger is the wolf (John 10:12). False prophets are wolves (Matthew 7:15), enemies. A tactic of wolves is to enter the flock and deceptively appear like one of us, but they eventually attack. Every church has experienced those who only entered to get their way. They did not care for us, but only wanted to feed on us. We were fodder for their appetites, their political agendas, their desire for a following and for control. They were only here to destroy not to bless. The Good Shepherd lays down his life to save the sheep.
The Hired Hand
Who is your pastor? That person is not the Good Shepherd, but a hired hand. That is the terminology used in John 10:12-13. All pastors read those words and say to themselves, “I hope that is not me.” Yet it is all pastors except the one, Jesus Christ. We must face the fact that we are being described here. Even Jesus’ disciples ran away during difficult times. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can any of us stay and fight. Pastors often compare themselves by how big their congregations, how long they have served, how many books they have written or other egotistical comparisons. From this passage success as a pastor is not measured by such silly standards but by standing firm when the wolf attacks. A great pastor is one willing to die for their congregation.
The word pastor is one of the least used words for a church leader in the New Testament, but a very meaningful one. Whereas other words carry meanings like envoy, servant, elder, teacher and overseer, the word pastor means a shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:14), and every human pastor is an under-shepherd. In larger churches associate and assistant pastors or a pastoral care group become the hands-on pastors of the flock. Whatever level of pastoral care can be given is vital because there is nothing more important to Jesus than his flock. All pastors know that they are inadequate and totally incapable of providing what Jesus would, yet we count it a privilege to love and be loved by the flock of Christ. It is a privilege to bear scars from years of protecting the flock.
The One True Church
Official Catholic teaching is that it is the one true church. Official Orthodox teaching is somewhat alike. Official teaching of a number of denominations large and small is very similar. Yet, they cannot all be the one true church. Such exclusive thinking is not new. There were times that even Jesus’ disciples were caught up in such mentality. John 10:16 adds something interesting to this discussion. Jesus said that he had other sheep not of this fold or sheep pen. The “one true church” mentality on the human level stinks of politics and egotism. I like to call it “exclusive franchise” thinking. There certainly is one true church, but there is nothing in the Bible that specifically speaks of God having just one exclusive organization of human beings. It appears that God’s flock exists in more than one sheepfold.
Other Sheep Pens
John 10:16 speaks of other sheep not of this sheep pen. He says that it is necessary that he must also bring them, who will also listen to his voice, with the goal that they would all become one flock. These other sheep are not in the fold. They are elsewhere possibly in immediate danger. They need to be brought into the protection of the sheep pen so the shepherd can keep a closer watch over them. What distinguishes these sheep is that they will listen to his voice. How will they hear his voice if we do not preach his Word, what he taught? Christian unity begins among those who will listen to Jesus’ Word. Sheep are not individualistic. There is no such thing as a safe sheep of Christ outside of the sheepfold, the community of believers.
The Great Shepherd of the flock is the example of right leadership. We need no other.