The best study on Christian leadership I’ve ever read is Timothy Laniak’s book, Shepherds after My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible (IVP, 2006). Where many leadership books derive principles from business or bureaucratic settings, Laniak derives his from the heart of God, as expressed in the Biblical narrative.
He begins with the cultural setting of the shepherd metaphor among Israel’s neighbours. They used the image for their rulers (including their gods). Then he identifies two streams of the shepherding image in the Old Testament:
pp.24-25 Most of the Bible’s pastoral imagery is embedded in two traditions. … The first is the exodus/wilderness complex. Looking back on this time in Israel’s history, inspired writers saw YHWH revealing himself as protector, provider and guide, the ultimate Shepherd of his flock. In this setting Moses functioned as God’s undershepherd. When Israel subsequently requests a king, another major tradition emerges that is associated with the shepherd king David and his dynasty. Many messianic promises are situated in this latter stream. These two traditions provide prototypes for the leaders who follow. Moses and David are prototypical leaders. More importantly, YHWH reveals himself as the true Shepherd Ruler of Israel.
That’s crucial: anything on leadership that doesn’t begin with God as “the true Shepherd Ruler” lacks foundation.
Moses literally was a wilderness shepherd when God called him to shepherd his people in the wilderness:
p.87 The ways in which YHWH is represented as the Shepherd of Israel correspond to the ways in which Moses is represented as his under-shepherd. Moses is the extension of God’s rule in their lives, the means of their provision, the agent of their deliverance.
David was literally a shepherd of his father’s flock when God called him to shepherd his flock:
p.114 Psalm 23 is a reminder that even the king—especially the king—was dependent on the God of Israel for personal nurture and guidance. Israel’s kings had to understand that being a member of the flock of God was more fundamental than being an appointed shepherd over that flock.
When the kingship fell apart, later prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah) blamed Israel’s bad shepherds, and yearned for the day when YHWH would shepherd his people again through his anointed ruler (Messiah):
p.115 The divine Shepherd of Israel will regather Israel from their dispersion and renew his covenant with them in their wilderness.
These promises find fulfilment in Jesus. Each Gospel writer portrays Jesus as shepherd:
p.25 The Gospels depict a shepherd who has come to lead God’s flock in the promised new kingdom. Mark focuses on the shepherd of the second exodus. Matthew reveals the compassionate Davidic shepherd. Luke presents the seeking and saving shepherd. John describes the self-sacrificing shepherd.
The final section of Laniak’s book covers how we follow and serve “the Shepherd-Lamb.”
His concluding observations (pp. 247 – 250) include these insights:
Shepherd leadership is comprehensive in scope. … It calls for the benevolent use of authority.
Bad or ‘false’ shepherds are those who use their position to serve their own needs.
… the ‘divine preference for human agency’ … The God of Scripture passionately seeks humans to enlist in his mission, risking it regularly in their hands.
Leadership can only be understood in terms of a fully integrated theological vision of God and his work on earth. A comprehensive pastoral theology engages leaders in this rich vision.
Pastoral imagery is part of a larger redemptive-historical narrative that depicts God’s leadership in wilderness settings.
Shepherd language is … integrally connected to the metanarrative of Scripture.
That’s the perfect perspective of what the kingdom of God means:
- God is king — the Great Shepherd of the human flock, and the rest of creation.
- Jesus is the Shepherd-Lamb, the one who brings the kingdom back together within himself.
- We are sheep and undershepherds, kingdom agents led by the Lion-Lamb.
We are sheep and pastoral agents of the Great Shepherd. This defines leadership:
p. 92 Biblically speaking, a human leader is none other than God leading his own people through an anointed servant.