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the Hills of Bible History
One Sunday, a
dear friend and member of my congregation cornered me after a
sermon in which I repeatedly referred to elders as
don't you find a better way to communicate this spiritual
leadership idea? No one in our church knows anything about
shepherds and sheep—especially the way all that stuff worked
in the ancient world. That picture just doesn't connect with
a modern church."
shepherd metaphor does sound strange in the cyber-world of our
daily experience. We don't normally see these picturesque,
rural characters rolling down the expressways or eating at our
local McDonald's. But, after carefully considering my
friend's suggestion and searching in vain for a contemporary
metaphor that would better connect the biblical notion with our
times, I finally had to explain, "I can't find any
figure equivalent to the shepherd idea in our modern, urban
world. Besides, if I drop the shepherd and flock idea, I would
have to tear about five hundred pages out ofmy Bible, plus leave
the modern church with a distorted—if not neutered—view
of spiritual leadership." God keeps pointing shepherds to
the pasture to struggle with sheep.
In Bible times,
the shepherds were as common and familiar to most Middle
Easterners as are telephones and supermarkets to modern-day
Americans. Almost anywhere in the Bible world, eyes that lifted
to gaze across the landscape would fall upon at least one flock
of sheep. As my friend Ted Waller reminds us, in antiquity,
often depended upon sheep for survival. A large part of their
diet was milk and cheese. Occasionally, they ate the meat.
Their clothing and tents were made of wool and skins. Their
social position often depended upon the well-being of the
flock, just as we depend upon jobs and businesses, cars and
houses. Family honor might depend upon defending the flock.
metaphor shows up more than five hundred times in Scripture,
across both Old and New Testaments. Without question, the
dominant biblical model for spiritual leadership is the shepherd
and flock. If we want to understand the biblical model for
leadership, we must embrace the concept of shepherd.
God as Shepherd
"olden days" of the Old Testament world, the watch-care
of God himself is pictured in the shepherd/sheep relationship.
Most of us can quote the familiar words, "The Lord is my
shepherd." The prophet Isaiah penned this less familiar but
equally eloquent picture of God, "He tends his flock like a
shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close
to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." What a
winsome picture of our God!
just envision the awkward and delicate little lamb, ears askew,
one gangly leg dangling near the shepherd's elbow? Notice
that the shepherd tilts his head so that his beard nuzzles the
lamb's cheek and his resonant voice murmurs gently to the
lamb as they move through the twilight toward the rest and safety
of the sheepfold. Old Testament readers would have pictured just
such a gentle, caring relationship between God and his
people—"the sheep of his pasture." And although
"we all, like sheep, have gone astray," we still have a
"good shepherd" who will love us and lead us gently
back to the fold.
Priests, and Kings as Shepherds
pictured his prophets, priests, and kings as shepherds. When God
chose David—the shepherd-king after God's "own
heart"—he "took him from the sheep pens; from
tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his
people. . . . And David shepherded them with integrity of
expected the prophets and priests of Israel to shepherd his
people, but they often failed miserably at their task. Although
many did not live up to their role as shepherd, God came back
again and again to the idea that the leaders of his people were
shepherds—even though some were bad shepherds.
these "false shepherds" in graphic language; and in no
uncertain terms, he pronounced woes on their heads. The prophet
Jeremiah blasted the "shepherds" of Judah for
misleading their flock, setting it up for captivity in Babylon.
My people have
been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused
them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and
hill and forgot their own resting place.
were responsible for the spiritual well-being of Judah shirked
their duties and instead indulged their own selfish desires. The
Lord's rebuke comes through loud and clear in this passage
Woe to the
shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not
shepherds take care of the flock? . . . You have not strengthened
the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not
brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled
them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered.
Then he spells
out their sentence:
Weep and wail,
you shepherds; roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock. For
your time to be slaughtered has come; you will fall and be
shattered like fine pottery.
metaphor for the leaders of Israel was not lost on the Israelite
people. Those ancient folks knew that the food on their tables
and the clothes on their backs—not to mention the family
honor—was inexorably linked to the way they cared for their
flocks. And thus, they understood that the very spiritual
survival of their nation hinged on the quality of work done by
It goes without
saying that the prophetic warnings against the unfit spiritual
shepherds of Israel hold implications for today's church
leaders. Today's leaders carry life and death responsibility
for their people, just as did the prophets, priests, and kings of
In the New
Testament, Jesus is our shepherd. In the Old Testament, God had
dropped hints of the coming shepherd through the prophet Ezekiel:
"I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and
he will tend them . . . and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be
their God, and my servant David will be prince among them."
himself as the loving shepherd, Jesus says that he leaves the
ninety-nine in the open country and goes in search of the lost
one. "And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his
shoulders and goes home." He drapes this stinky, wayward
sheep around his neck and carries it home. Think of it. Jesus
left the comforts of heaven and came into our universe, our
pasture, to smell like sheep! Jesus sweated like we do. He walked
our pathways, braved our wolves, faced our temptations, and
shared our struggles. The Holy One of Israel came in Jesus Christ
to be our good shepherd.
My friend Roy
tells a fascinating story about a trip to Palestine some years
back. One afternoon, he stood on a ridge overlooking a long,
narrow gorge. Below him, the gorge opened out into rolling
grass-covered pasture lands. A single trail meandered down the
length of the gorge floor, then branched out into dozens of
trails when it reached the grasslands. A group of shepherds
strolled down the gorge trail, chatting with one another,
followed by a long, winding river of sheep. At the forks of the
trail, the shepherds shook hands and separated, each taking a
different path as they headed out into the grasslands. Roy
recounted the fascinating sight that followed.
shepherds headed their separate ways, the mass of sheep streaming
behind them automatically divided into smaller flocks, each flock
stringing down the branch trail behind its appropriate shepherd.
When the various shepherds and their flocks were distanced from
each other by a few hundred yards, each shepherd turned to scan
his own sheep, noting that some strays had been left behind and
were wandering in confusion among the rocks and brush.
Then one of the
shepherds cupped his hands around his mouth and called in a
strange, piercing cry, "Ky-yia-yia-yia-yia." At his
shout, a couple of stray lambs perked up their ears and bounded
toward his voice. Then a second shepherd tilted back his head
calling with a distinctly different sound,
"Yip-yip-yip-yipoo-yip." A few more strays hurried
straight toward him. Then another called his strays with a
shrill, "Hoot-hoot-hoot!" Each shepherd, in turn,
called. Each of the strays, hearing a familiar voice, knew
exactly which shepherd he should run to. "In fact," my
friend Roy marveled, "none of the wandering sheep seemed to
notice any voice but the voice of his own shepherd."
This is what
Jesus meant when he said, "My sheep listen to my
voice," but "do not recognize a stranger's
voice." The sheep pick his voice out of a cacophony of
voices and follow it. The shepherd "calls his own sheep by
name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he
goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know
This is the
essence of spiritual leadership: sheep following a shepherd
because they know and trust him. This kind of trust and
allegiance can be gained only one way—by a shepherd touching
his sheep, carrying them, handling them, tending them, feeding
them—to the extent that he smells like them.
apostle Peter instructed church leaders on how to lead, he spoke
of Jesus as "the Chief Shepherd." We must not miss
Peter's point. Jesus, the Chief Shepherd is our model: he is
the archetype, the blueprint, for the way modern, Christian
leadership gets done.
contemporary believers instinctively warm to Jesus'
comforting words of sheep and shepherding. Because Jesus laid his
life down for us, he woos us and wins our trust, our affection,
and our loyalty.
shepherds today imitate the Chief Shepherd. Like him, they
attract flocks through loving service and authentic
relationships. Like him, they feed and protect their flocks. They
know their flocks and their flocks know them. They are trusted as
men and women who are committed enough to put their lives on the
line, daily, for the precious people they lead.
The Apostles as
shepherd leadership, Jesus passed the model on to the apostles.
Three times in one brief conversation, Jesus charged Peter
(possibly as a representative of the entire apostolate):
"Feed my lambs," "Take care of my sheep," and
"Feed my sheep." By implication he is saying,
"Adopt my spiritual leadership style."
Later, he told
the Father, "As you sent me into the world, I have sent
them." One would find it hard to believe that after three
years of watching Jesus and being coached by him—and now
commissioned by him—that these twelve men would invent new
leadership strategies. Jesus had modeled the shepherd style of
leadership, and this is what they used in their lives and modeled
Leaders as Shepherds
Both Peter and
Paul passed the shepherd model of leadership on to us. Paul
pleaded with the leaders of the church in Ephesus,
Keep watch over
yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made
you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought
with his own blood.
Be shepherds of
God's flock that is under your care . . . eager to serve;
not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to
the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive
the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Let me grab the
modern church leader by the literary ears: this shepherd metaphor
was passed on to us intentionally! By the time Paul and Peter
call church leaders "shepherds," the shepherd motif had
gathered centuries of significance. A massive iceberg of divine
meaning had accumulated across the Bible and now lay below the
surface of this word. Peter and Paul are invoking a whole
theology of spiritual leadership, not merely throwing in a
colorful figure of speech.
So I told my
modern friend, who had trouble with ancient shepherds, "I
guess I'll stick with the shepherd idea. Seems better to try
and help us both understand what the shepherd model is about than
to butcher my Bible and run the risk of distorting God's
and its implications are worth pondering. No question: some spade
work lies ahead of those who unearth this pastoral, rural
metaphor and connect it with our hi-tech, urban experience;
however, a little digging is well worth the effort because what
we uncover is indispensable to a clear, biblical understanding of
Basis of Shepherding
While some may
not feel comfortable thinking of certain people as sheep and
others as shepherds, our discomfort will likely disappear when we
realize that the shepherding model revolves around the
relationship between the shepherd and his flock. It is not a
figure of strong over weak or "lords" over servants.
Quite the contrary. The shepherd figure is one of love, service,
Middle-Eastern shepherds lived in the pasture with the flock and
were as much a part of the land as the sheep were. Through a
lifetime of shared experience, shepherds nurtured enduring trust
relationships with their sheep.
When a tiny
lamb was born into the wilderness world, the shepherd took the
trembling newborn into his hands, warming it and caressing it.
Among the first sensations felt by the shivering lamb was the
tender hands of the shepherd. The gentle voice of the shepherd
was one of the first sounds to awaken the lamb's delicate
lived with the lambs for their entire lives—protecting them,
caressing them, feeding and watering them, and leading them to
the freshest pools and the most luxuriant pastures—day and
night, year in and year out. So by the time the lamb grew to
"ewe-hood" or "ram-hood," it naturally
associated the touch of the shepherd's hands and the sound
of the shepherd's voice with "green pastures" and
"still waters," with safety, security, love, and trust.
Each sheep came to rely on the shepherd and to know his voice and
his alone. They followed him and no one else.
Of course, the
lambs understood clearly who was in charge. Occasionally, the
shepherd might tap an unruly lamb on the ear with a
shepherd's crook. But this was a love tap, embraced in an
enfolding circle of relationship. The shepherd smelled like
day's grazing was done and night was approaching, the
shepherd would gather the sheep together and lead them into a
protective fold. Some were crude, makeshift circles of brush,
stick, and rocks, forming barricades four or five feet
high—safe little fortresses in the wilderness. Others were
limestone caves in the hillsides. Even today, in Palestine, one
can see roughly constructed, temporary sheepfolds dotting the
pastoral landscape. But each circle is incomplete, broken at one
place to form an opening into the fold. Beside this portal the
shepherd would take his place as he gathered his flock into the
fold for the night, at times physically becoming the
Part of the
nighttime ritual was the gentle inspection of each, individual
lamb. One by one, each lamb would come under the shepherd's
rod for review. Each would feel the shepherd's hands and
hear his voice speaking its name. Under the care of the shepherd,
the sheep would "come in and go out, and find pasture."
evening my friend, Yellow-Wool. You look tired. Long day?
C'mon inside and rest. And you, Ragged-Ear, let me pull that
tick from your cheek. Come in, Spotted-Face, Broken-Foot,
Shiny-Nose . . . " until all the sheep were snuggled inside
the safety of the fold for another night.
With the whole
flock examined and bedded down, finally, the shepherd himself
would lie down, stretching his body across the opening. So, the
shepherd literally, physically became the door! His body kept the
sheep in and the dangers of the night out. No sheep could wander
into danger because the shepherd's body held them in. Wolves
and robbers could enter to harm the flock only over the dead body
of the shepherd. Some claim that, even in modern times, morning
will occasionally find scattered sheep, without a shepherd. Upon
investigation, a bleeding, battle-worn shepherd will often be
found somewhere nearby—sometimes even a dead one. The
shepherd would literally lay "down his life for the
compelling and fitting model for leadership. No wonder the
shepherd metaphor is a constant theme of the Bible. And along
with the other two models we'll look at—mentor and
equipper—its root is in relationship and its model is Jesus.
pencil. Get ready to circle the next profound phrase. A shepherd
is someone who has a flock. As obvious as that may sound, it is
frequently overlooked—for many church "leaders"
function in name or office only and in reality have no flock.
naturally gather around food, protection, affection, touch, and
voice. Biblical shepherds are those who live among the sheep;
serve the sheep; feed, water, and protect the sheep; touch and
talk to the sheep—even lay down their lives for the sheep.
Biblical shepherds smell like sheep.
who smells like sheep is my wife Carolyn. Carolyn frequently
"adopts" lonely young singles who move to our area.
"Tim" was one of them. Our circle of friends loved Tim
for his fun personality and his servant heart. We all quickly
became very attached to him. Eventually, Tim confided to Carolyn
and me that he had a serious, life-threatening illness. As the
illness progressed, he and Carolyn became especially close. She
spent countless hours with him in his final weeks—often just
hugging and holding him like her own child. Outside of his own
loving family, she was one of the very last to touch Tim before
he died. The following note from Carolyn was read at Tim's
Sunday, when I kissed you on the forehead, you looked into my
eyes and said, "Thank you."
But it is I who
should thank you. Thank you for the way I saw your life grow in
Christ. Thank you for sharing a day last year helping me decorate
my Christmas tree. Thank you for the blackberry cobbler on my
birthday. Thank you for the Weatherford peaches you brought by
early one morning. Thank you for asking that I be present when
the elders called a special meeting to pray for your healing.
celebrate, and I ask everyone who loved you to celebrate with me.
This was true
shepherding by a lady who touches her flock personally and deeply
and is touched by them as well.
who shepherd well will foster congregational infrastructures that
leave them plenty of time and opportunity for flock-building. A
good deal of their leadership will be hands-on and
personal—for this is how flocks are formed.
and flock relationship eloquently implies at least three
qualities of spiritual leadership: availability, commitment, and
trust. This is how spiritual flocks are formed today.
Two of my
warmest memories of "available" shepherds find Wally
Bullington walking around in them. Wally was a football coach; he
is now retired, but is still known by most people as
"coach." Wally shoots straight, but always with love
and warmth and follow-through.
comes from a church-wide father/child canoe trip on the Guadelupe
River. Two kids came along who had no dad at home. Wally spent
hours with them—teaching them to tie flies, paddle canoes,
catch fish, set up tents, and more.
memory involves the son of a single-parent mother. When this
young boy's parents were accused of a crime, he felt
socially cut off from everyone. In addition, it appeared that he
might have to drop out of his much-loved private school. Many
afternoons found Wally throwing a football with this boy on a
both boys, now men, still see Wally as a father figure and stay
in touch with him for counsel and love. He touched many others as
well. Shepherd Wally built long relationships with these lambs
and earned their trust, affection, and loyalty. Because he made
himself accessible and available, these sheep know Wally's
voice and follow him. Authentic, spiritual bonding like this is
as real as family blood ties—maybe more so—and in some
ways, just as irreplaceable. Around this shepherd, a flock
gathered across the years—a flock that authentically loves
him, depends on him, follows him, and listens to his voice.
sheep requires a long-term, costly commitment of self, time, and
energy and the building of open, authentic relationships.
Shepherding is no easy task. Jesus, the "Chief
Shepherd," exemplified this commitment in his relationship
with the Twelve. Jesus chose them so that "they might be
with him," and for three years, they went everywhere he
went. They went with him to weddings, temples, villages, fields,
synagogues, and sickrooms. They even went fishing together. Jesus
changed them by his touch. He taught them, ate with them, and
protected them. He talked with them until they began to hear his
voice way down in their souls. Eventually, people could tell by
being around them that "they had been with Jesus."
shepherds rarely have the opportunity to spend such constant time
with their sheep; but the intentionality of Christ, his
relational approach, his commitment—these we can emulate.
absolutely unavailable on Wednesday nights to anyone outside room
222. Why? Because he has committed this time to a Challenge group
led by Dr. Jan Dunn, which gathers in that room. Challenge is a
special group hosted by our church. It began as a divorce
recovery group, then broadened to include any persons struggling
with painful relationships, whether divorced, married, or single.
At first, Jim
went to encourage Jan. Jan is an experienced professor and
practitioner of marriage and family therapy, but she felt unsure
about whether her efforts would be affirmed by the church or
whether they would even help people. Jim committed his Wednesday
evenings, for an entire year, to being an affirming presence to
the Challenge group—and the group has flourished! Over this
past year, many have found recovery and healing—and God.
Jim's role is low profile; he rarely says anything except
when requested to lay hands on some specific anguishing person
and pray for him or her. However, his shepherding presence has
legitimated the whole effort. One in the group said, "Gosh.
Just the nonjudgmental, compassionate presence of an elder in the
room is as healing as anything else the class offers." Jim
gets sheep smell all over himself on Wednesday nights, and he
loves it. Jim definitely has "gathered a flock."
their shepherd "because they know his voice." Through
hours and days and weeks and years spent with their shepherd,
sheep come to know from experience that they can trust him. Trust
is earned, not demanded, and it is built over time.
We trust Jesus
because he keeps his promise to be with us to the end of the
world. When we first come to him as trembling, newborn lambs, he
caresses us in his gentle, firm hands. His love warms us,
protects us, and feeds us. His spirit waters us, and he
continually talks to us. He never abandons us or misleads us. We
trust him because he is trustworthy.
So it is with
modern-day shepherds. Men and women who would lead a flock must
earn the trust of the sheep. When the lives of leaders are
invested in the lives of sheep, the sheep come to know and trust
their voices. This is what Jesus meant when he said that a
shepherd's sheep "follow him because they know his
Not only do the
sheep know the shepherd, but the shepherd also knows the
sheep—intimately. "He calls his own sheep by
name." Biblical leaders know faces and names—and
personal stories. Because the shepherd knows and serves them all,
they trust him, and he "leads them out."
Being placed in
a leadership position does not guarantee a following, but a trail
of sheep will usually follow the voice of a trusted shepherd.
successful in business, visible in the community, had been a
deacon for years, and was loved by many people. But friends saw
alcohol sneak up on him, until his world began to
unravel—business, health, family. Finally, through an
intervention initiated by my wife, Carolyn, Jack checked into a
treatment center. Now aided by a twelve-step group, Jack has been
sober for more than eight years. Throughout the process, Jack
gained a whole new vision of God and a life of flourishing
Back on the
fifth anniversary of his sobriety, the shepherds of Jack's
church threw a huge "dinner party/sobriety
celebration." This did wonders for Jack and his family. And
the positive shepherding implications spread out from that
gesture—like circles from a rock thrown into a
pond—reaching the far corners of their 2,000-member church
and beyond. That one evening instilled hope and inspired trust in
those shepherds on the part of many more Christians who were
struggling with alcohol addictions. Acceptance and healing flowed
through one key shepherding act.
In a society
where trust is rarely extended or deserved, the
"shepherd" style of leadership—by its very
nature—inspires trust. God's design fosters trust in
church leaders and nurtures loyalty between church members.
Even after this
brief look at the biblical metaphor of shepherd, it's easy
to understand why God chose such a model for spiritual
leadership. Its implications are as applicable today as they were
two thousand years ago. When godly, loving, gentle shepherds
first build authentic relationships with their flocks, then rise
up and "lead out," sheep hungry for biblical leadership
and wise guidance will willingly follow.
Excerpted from They Smell Like Sheep by Lynn Anderson Copyright © 1997 by Lynn Anderson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Introduction: Stepping into the Pasture|
|Part One:||A Biblical Look at Spiritual Leadership Principles:
The Sort of Things Leaders Do
|Shepherds on the Hills of Bible History|
|Distorted Leadership Models|
|Fast-Lane Flocks and Cyber-World Shepherds|
|1||Those Who Have Walked a Long Time in the Same Direction|
|2||How to Mentor|
|6||"Use 'Em or Lose 'Em"|
|7||How the Chief Shepherd Equipped His Flock|
|Equipping through the Shared Life|
|Part Two:||A Biblical Look at Elders:
The Sort of People They Are
|Section One:||A Character Sketch|
|9||Just What Is an Elder?|
|10||Men of Experience|
|11||Men of Character|
|12||Men of Vision|
|13||The Biblical Language of "Authority"|
|14||The Authority of Moral Suasion|
|Epilogue:||A Stroll into the Morning|
Posted November 5, 2005
With sufficient depth for any theologian, but as down to earth as the parables of Jesus, this is a book that will inspire and challenge church leadership. The premise is startling in its simplicity -- The true shepherd spends a lot of time in the field with his sheep -- so much time that he smells like them. The true leader who models his life after Christ spends a great deal of time wherever his people are. Shepherding, according to Dr. Anderson, includes the dust and sweat and smell of the field. This is an easy book to read, a difficult and challenging book to implement.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 28, 2010
No text was provided for this review.