Category Archives: Leader Metaphors

Leaders as Under-Shepherds

In 1 Peter 5:2-4 we read: So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.  And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (ESV)

Peter identifies Jesus here as the chief Shepherd.  John identifies Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10:11, 14).  The writer of Hebrews identifies Jesus as the Great Shepherd of the Sheep (13:20).  Christ-like leaders are best identified as shepherds who submit to the good and chief and great Shepherd and are thus under-shepherds.

Space will not allow for much comment on this passage but a few key concepts are critical for every shepherd leader to understand and practice.

  •  Shepherding is a role with responsibilities. Do these responsibilities apply to any follower of Jesus or just those in a category of elder? Although anyone can serve in a shepherding role (leading, developing, and caring as was suggested in a prior blog post), those seeking to lead like Jesus over a flock of His followers have some special requirements.
  • Under-shepherds should expect serving with effort and even hardship (sufferings). I cannot think of any leader in the Bible, in history, or contemporary life that does not experience difficulty when seeking to lead like Jesus. It just comes with the territory.
  • Under-shepherds are commanded to serve like Jesus. When someone senses a calling (an appointed assignment) to lead a flock, he or she must do so in a prescribed way.
  • Under-shepherds must shepherd intentionally, willingly, and according to God’s will or pattern. The leader does not decide the standards for leading—they are clearly conferred with the assumption of compliance.
  • Under-shepherds must have as their motive to receive their reward not from financial income but from joy when seeing that the flock is healthy. Jesus’ followers led well should be our eager expectation.
  • Under-shepherds, those leading like Jesus, must take the servant posture. Jesus addressed this issue multiple times with the disciples since it was so critical to the growth of His Church. There is no place for domineering. Jesus’ example is the only way to shepherd well.

At the transfiguration Peter had a foretaste of heaven.  He was absolutely confident that Jesus would return and when He did, he, and all under-shepherds, would be rewarded.  Crowns were the honor bestowed on victors.  In games only those who go through the discipline of rigorous training and living will win.  Under-shepherds live to win by serving those they lead well.

The Shepherd metaphor for leadership is the primary one in the Bible.  It is rich with meaning and worthy of our emulation.  May we who lead as husbands, mothers, fathers, teachers, managers, supervisors, etc., commit afresh to lead like the Good, and Chief, and Great Shepherd!


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God as The Shepherd Leader

The Lord is my Shepherd!  The man who penned these words knew something about shepherding.  In fact, that seems to be all he knew during his early years.  Whereas his brothers had graduated to other roles and responsibilities, David, the youngest, was “out with the sheep.”  What could David have been implying by this famous statement?  That is the focus of this blog.

Psalm 23 was most likely written in David’s latter years as he reflected on what was most important to him.  God is trustworthy!  Timothy Laniak in his outstanding and well-researched book, While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks, distills the functions of a good shepherd to provision, protection, and guidance.  These gracious acts were exercised with the animals under David’s care.  He guided the sheep to where they could flourish, he protected them from harmful predators, and he provided for their health needs.  From all we know about David, he was good to his sheep as any shepherd should be.

David also recognized a direct correlation to how God guided, protected and provided for him.  We don’t know why God chooses the sheep He does.  We do know how undeserving we are to be His children.  If we only saw how God shepherded our lives we would be overcome with humility and gratitude.  In Psalm 23 David writes about his awareness of God’s amazing shepherding of him.  We would do well to take time to reflect on how God has exercised shepherd leadership in our lives!

I am the Good Shepherd!  The God-man who spoke these words also knew something about shepherding.  Although He grew up as a carpenter’s son, he was surrounded by shepherds.  He was such a diligent student of the Old Testament that He was intimately familiar with the Father as Shepherd.  Jesus chose this metaphor above all else to identify His leadership.

John 10 gives us a glimpse of how Jesus related to His disciples and how He expected His disciples throughout the ages to relate to Christ followers. By Jesus adding the word “good” He pointed to His attractiveness and admiration.  He was worthy of the term by His thoughts, words and deeds toward sheep.  We learn of His perfect self-sacrifice for and His perfect knowledge of His sheep.  His model is a challenge to every shepherd leader today to provide, protect and do whatever is best for the healthy development of the sheep.

When a leader today seeks to live out the spiritual DNA of the Father and the Son, he or she has a sacred responsibility.  In Ezekiel 34 we read a chilling chapter about how leaders abused their shepherding responsibility.  “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel.  Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord God, Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves!  Should not the shepherds feed the flock?’”  (verse 2) Leading, developing and caring for God’s sheep is not to be taken lightly.

Whether we shepherd our family, our children, our work team, our church congregation, or any other individual or group, we have the privilege of living as a shepherd like our Father and Savior.  Who are you specifically serving as a shepherd?  How well are you doing?  How well would your “sheep” say that you are doing?  If you are not shepherding as well as you ought, what changes should you make?  May God help us to shepherd well.

Next Blog: Leaders as Under-Shepherds

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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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Shepherd Leader

When one thinks of an airplane, there is some picture in mind of a specifically-designed flying object.  It can differ in size and style, but every plane has many aspects in common, perhaps most important is the transportation component that gets people from one place to another.

When one thinks of a leader, the pictures envisioned can vary greatly.  But, like a plane, a leader helps to get people from one place to another.  The means of transportation is that of relationship and influence (see blog post #5 on leading well).

Mental models help us remember and communicate.  When leadership models can be simple yet complete they crystalize vital concepts.   They enable one to live and lead more effectively by focusing on the few responsibilities that matter most out of perhaps hundreds of possibilities.

Metaphors are something regarded as representative or symbolic of something else, especially something abstract.  Leadership is clearly one of the more abstract concepts, seen by the multiple definitions promoted.  Once an image is grasped, a person can generalize that picture into other settings.

As followers of Jesus, we should first look to the Bible for our models and metaphors of worthy leaders and on outstanding leadership.  Such a study will force us to encapsulate insights and principles to identify who a leader is at the core.

Of all the leadership roles in the Bible, only one begins in Genesis and is woven throughout until Revelation.  In Genesis chapter four we learn that Abel was a shepherd, a keeper of flocks.  In Revelation chapter 7 we see reference to Jesus, the Lamb, as the Shepherd who guides.  The Bible Gateway internet program indicates 104 references to shepherd.  A study of this word “shepherd” throughout the Bible lists many good and bad character qualities as well as many responsibilities that either bring good when performed well or harm when neglected.

Shepherd Leader is a metaphor for godly, biblical leadership.  As a shepherd exercises the proper responsibilities toward those under his or her leadership, people thrive.  Just as sheep and other domestic animals need to be led, nurtured or developed, and cared for, so people need the same leadership for health and safety.  Although leaders in the Bible go by many names, none is more comprehensive in scope and affirmed in value than that of a shepherd.

When many people think of the term “shepherd” in religious settings, the default is usually that of a caregiver.  Certainly providing care is an important responsibility of a good shepherd, but a good shepherd is much more than that.  A godly, biblical shepherd both leads and develops or nurtures the flock so all can flourish.

So, from a study of the word “shepherd” in the Bible, one can conclude that the primary metaphor of a leader is that of a shepherd.  In the next few blog posts consideration will be given to other biblical leadership metaphors, the significance of Jesus being The Good Shepherd, and how leaders serve as under-shepherds.

Next Blog: Various Biblical Metaphors for Leadership

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