On a recent flight, I watched the rebrand of the movie, The Magnificent Seven. Without throwing out spoilers, the movie is a western about a town being overrun by an unjust, ruthless business tycoon. Desperate for help, a widowed young woman (whose husband was killed by the tycoon) seeks the help of an outlaw who ends up recruiting six other outlaws to take down the "army" of the wicked man's empire. I love westerns because no matter the plot line, invariably, there is a horse, a saddle and wide open territory. One of the staples in a western movie is the "cowboy."
The cowboy is a loner. He doesn't need anyone--but everyone seems to need him from time to time. He knows the names of his associates and the names of each river and trail--but doesn't bother to name the cows. He isn't interested in caring for the cattle but seeks to drive them from point A to point B in order to receive a profit from them. He drives them from behind with fear, intimidation and a skilled lasso. The cowboy gets the job done--one way or another.
The shepherd, on the other hand, is never isolated from his flock. He spends time with his sheep. The sheep know his voice, and he takes the time to name them and care for them. The shepherd doesn't want to eat the sheep but protects them from predators who (without his protection), otherwise, will. The shepherd's profit comes from their wool--not their meat. As they grow and are healthy, they produce something that can be offered back to care for the shepherd--but it isn't an offering that takes their life! The shepherd doesn't drive them from behind--he walks out ahead of them and leads them, calling them by name and taking them places they would never venture alone. The cowboy may drive the herd, but the shepherd leads his flock.
As an undershepherd of Jesus, I want to be a good shepherd, not a good cowboy.
As one who keeps watch over the flock and family of God, it is so critical that I look to Jesus constantly for my example of how to love and lead well.
As followers of Christ involved in a congregation, we desire leaders who oversee us exemplifying the qualities that Jesus intended. All too often, we are disappointed in our leaders because they fall short or worse--they act like cowboys. Scripture seems to be filled with examples of poor shepherds who were only interested in themselves.
Jesus tells us in John 10 that He is the Good Shepherd who will lay down His life for the sheep. According to 1 Peter 5:2, pastors/elders are to be Jesus' undershepherds, who serve the flock by overseeing the spiritual needs of the church: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly...”(1 Peter 5:2).
Peter's analogy would have come from his encounter with Jesus after the resurrection in John 21. There, Jesus told him three times to "feed My sheep" and to "tend My lambs." This analogy stayed with Peter throughout his ministry to the extent that his admonition to future leaders was that they would continue to be skilled shepherds (not cowboys) for Christ.
King David understood the importance of shepherding and leadership. According to Psalm 23, David likened the Lord to being his shepherd. As a young boy with this experience, David recounts what good shepherds do:
1. A good shepherd helps people to eat good green grass.
That's why it is so important to place a high priority and emphasis to teach the whole counsel of God. Our churches should be the best-loved and best-fed sheep in our community. Cowboys get the cheapest feed at the best price. They aren't concerned with the cattle being well fed; they simply want the cattle to move along quickly. Being led into green pastures is significant; maybe that's why David listed it first.
A.W. Pink observed:
“It is because so many untaught men, unregenerate men, now occupy the pulpits that ‘another gospel’ (Galatians 1:6) is being so widely and generally disseminated. Multitudes who have neither ‘tasted that the Lord is gracious’ nor have ‘the fear of the Lord’ in them, have from various motives and considerations invaded the sacred calling of the ministry and out of the abundance of their corrupt hearts they speak. Being blind themselves, they lead the blind into the ditch. Having no love for the Shepherd they have none for the sheep, being but ‘hirelings.’ They are themselves ‘of the world’ and therefore ‘the world heareth them’ (1 John 4:5), for they preach that which is acceptable unto fallen human nature and as like attracts like, they gather around themselves a company of admirers who flatter and support them. They will bring in just enough of God’s Truth to deceive the unwary and give an appearance of orthodoxy to their message, but not sufficient of the Truth, especially the searching portions thereof, to render their hearers uncomfortable by destroying their false peace. They will name Christ but not preach Him, mention the Gospel but not expound it.”
2. A good shepherd leads his flock beside still waters.
A flock (or church) needs to be led into times of refreshment and rest. Cowboys don't bother with the scenic route. They want the most efficient one. A recent study found people are more stressed out than ever, with some experiencing a situation of "extreme stress" within the last year. We need to have regular intervals of waiting upon the Lord and being refreshed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
3. A good shepherd helps restore people's souls.
That may mean effectively counseling those who need restoration. Shepherds would be willing to stoop down and pick up a lamb that had broken a leg and to place that lamb upon his shoulders. Do we ever see a cowboy with such compassion? We aren't to run people off who disagree with us or who are struggling with knowing Jesus, but we are to restore them to Him.
4. A good shepherd leads people in paths of righteousness.
He points the way and then leads the people. Cowboys drive the cattle from behind. They crack the whip and intimidate the sheep. They make threats and loud noises. Shepherds say. "This is the way," and then they begin to walk in it and the flock follows. Is your pastor an example in word, faith and deed to the body?
5. A good shepherd helps people navigate death and evil and fear by being present in prayer and in person.
Pastors bring guidance and correction, both resembled in the staff, to bring comfort to the flock.
6. A good shepherd is aware of the dangers around them and doesn't allow the evil to infiltrate the church.
Pastors who still prepare the Word at the table and who aren't afraid to preach against sin in the presence of enemies are becoming more and more rare. We need doctrinal and theological clarity in days where it is easier to stay silent or quiet about divisive issues.
7. A good shepherd will dwell with his flock in unity.
The Bible says it is like anointing oil. Cowboys would never spend time with the cows, hang out with the cows, laugh and play with the cows. But shepherds took time to learn and understand their flock. Just the voice of the shepherd was enough to distinguish who they would follow. We need men who don't arrive at service with an entourage and hang out in the “green room” the entire service. We need men who love and spend time among those God has entrusted to their care.
8. And finally, according to Psalm 23, a good shepherd presents the Gospel often.
So people can be assured they will be with Jesus, in His presence, forever. Does your church give regular invitations for people to know and follow Jesus?
Cowboys want to get something from their cattle. But a shepherd is there to pour his life into his sheep and perhaps even die for them. Which of these leadership models does the church need most? Which example will most effectively reach our lost communities? I'll take the rod over the lasso any day.