Various Biblical Metaphors for Leadership

In the prior blog post, the Shepherd metaphor was proposed as the most comprehensive biblical leadership metaphor and the most appropriate for guiding Christian leaders today with their core responsibilities.  But, the Bible has many other roles for leadership.  What value should be understood with these comparisons?  This may seem like an academic reflection but since it has proven to be a concern for several students of the Shepherd metaphor it is worth a short explanation.

In the Old Testament, a student immediately thinks of the roles of prophet, priest and king.  These were critical roles that mostly men (prophetess and ruling queen would be the exception) held while providing leadership for the nation of Israel.  They were critical because it was through such intermediaries that God exercised His sovereign rule.  There were also roles like chief or elder of the tribes who exercised leadership within a defined sphere of influence.  Military personnel also had leadership roles.  Spiritually wise men and women (like Simeon and Anna in Luke 2) were certainly present as well but not as national leaders.  As important as these roles were, they were limited in duration and function.

When we come to the New Testament, after the ascension of Jesus there was no longer a need for the king or priest (Hebrews 8-10). The N.T. function of the prophet is generally understood as distinct from the O.T. prophet (now more forth-telling than fore-telling).  We see emerge in the book of Acts the leadership roles of apostles, deacons, and elders within the church.  Although a strong case has been made in numerous recent books that the role of Apostle still functions today, many biblical students will agree that some distinction must be made from the original Twelve Apostles.  Apostle, along with the other four leadership roles (or callings) in Ephesians 4:11-13, are always acknowledged as an individualistic function and not characteristic of every leader.

This brings us to the two primary roles that the Apostle Paul expounds on in some depth in the books of First Timothy and Titus, namely, deacon and elder. I will only address the role (sometimes called office) of elder.

From a study of ‘elders” in the N.T. we learn that they were generally older and worthy of respect.  In Acts they are always referred to in a plural sense and seem to share advisory duties with Apostles.  In general, elders were men who were senior spiritual leaders of a local congregation.  There is no indication that an elder was a permanent position.

In Acts 20:28 we see the words elder and shepherd used together.  The Holy Spirit (not Paul) had made the Ephesian church leaders elders with the assignment to shepherd the congregation.  The implication seems to be that serving as an elder was a role and shepherding was the responsibility.  Whereas the elder role seems to be limited to the male gender, the shepherding function has no such limitation.  Priscilla (Acts 18:2, 18, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19) appears of equal status in leadership as her husband Aquila.

Therefore, the shepherd leader is a metaphor of one who exercises the responsibilities of ensuring that those being served are healthy in all ways (not just care needs).  Both men and women can serve as shepherds.  Shepherding is not linked to a formal role.  And, as will be shown in the next blog, to shepherd is to be like God.

For further study one would want to understand how the word shepherd (often translated pastor) appears in Ephesians 4:11 in parallel with the other four gifts or callings or roles.  Is in fact “the Shepherd” the best metaphor for a leader today who encompasses the responsibility of leading, developing and caring for those being served?  Let’s be like the Bereans and continue to search the Scripture (Acts 17:11)!

Next Blog: God as The Shepherd Leader

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Filed under Elder, Leader Metaphors, Shepherd

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