The Shepherd Leader

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. (1 Peter 5:2-4)

Among the oldest occupations is shepherding, which began some 5,000 years ago in Asia Minor. A shepherd is a wage earner, being paid to tend, herd, feed, or guard the herds or flocks of sheep belonging to others. In order to maintain a large flock, the shepherd needs to ensure that the sheep entrusted to him are able to move from pasture to pasture. It is the duty of the shepherd to keep that flock intact, to protect it from predators, and to guide it to the market in time for shearing.

When it comes to the church, leaders are like shepherds. In fact, when referring to those to whom leadership of God’s people is entrusted, Scripture often refers to them as shepherds. Jesus even referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, a shepherd leader who was willing to lay down His life for His sheep. So, for those in any form of leadership in the church, it is important to model the Good Shepherd while caring for the flocks that have been entrusted to them. This is true for pastors, for elders, for deacons, for ministry leaders, and even for small group leaders.

Being placed in a position of leading God’s people is an awesome responsibility. So, how are we to lead? The apostle Peter gives some excellent advice in 1 Peter 5:2-14, where he gives us the what, why, and how of leading the people that God has placed in our care.

In verse 2, Peter gives us the “what” when he writes, “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you.” Just like a shepherd, a leader has been given oversight over a flock. It could be a church congregation, a ministry team, or a small group. The size of the flock is not important. What is important is that God has entrusted the leader with that flock, and what the leader needs to do is to care for it. Just as a shepherd must keep his flock intact, those God has placed in leadership have a duty to care for the flocks entrusted to them by keeping those flocks intact. They do this by helping the flocks to stay focused on their walk with Christ. And as the shepherd must protect the flock from predators, leaders must protect those in their flocks from the enemy by helping them to recognize spiritual attacks and false teachings, and to know how to stand in the face of these things. And finally, as the shepherd must guide his flock to the market in time for shearing, leaders must guide their flocks, through the Word of God, so that they reach their destination, eternal life with Jesus.

The “why” of leading God’s people is also found in verse 2, where Peter points out that those entrusted with leadership of God’s people should do so willingly and not for personal gain, for what they will get out of it. Doing so can easily lead to watching over the flock grudgingly and when a leader watches over the flock grudgingly, it can have negative results such as resentment or burnout. Rather, leaders should watch over the flock willingly and because they are eager to serve the God who has placed them in leadership.

Finally, the “how” of caring for God’s flocks is found in verse 3, where Peter writes, “Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own example.” Being placed in leadership over God’s people doesn’t mean that a leader is better or superior to those under his or her leadership. Leading with an iron fist, or by looking down at the people being led, is not the way that God wants the shepherd leader to lead. A shepherd leader should lead by example. But, in doing so, leaders should be a reflection of the example shown by Jesus Christ, the true servant leader, a leader who came not to be served, but to serve.

Leaders need to lead like Jesus, the Good Shepherd. When they do, they will experience something that is worth more than all the gold on earth. Peter tells us in verse 4 that “when the Great Shepherd appears,” those who lead well, who lead like Jesus, will receive “a crown of never-ending glory and honor.”

Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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