“I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding” – Jeremiah 3:15
I’ve just finished my third book in the New Studies in Biblical Theology Series. My goal this year (+next year?) is to get through all 41 books. So far I am loving this series. Each book in the series traces a specific theme throughout all of Scripture. It is some good ol’ Biblical Theology, at its very best! The first theme I worked through was idolatry (previous blog post here) and the second theme was adultery (previous blog post here). I needed a pick-up after those first two (gee, really Mike?) and figured this one by Timothy S. Laniak (Professor of Old Testament at Gordon-Conwell) would hit the spot. If humans are so prone to adultery and idolatry (which we are), then what does it mean to be a pastoral leader in this world?
In this book, “Shepherds after My own Heart: Pastoral traditions and leadership in the Bible” Timothy Laniak wonders,
“At a time when books on leadership are being published at a dizzying pace, one wonders if the Bible has anything to say about it” (21).
Hmm, good question.Well, it turns out it does. Scripture has a LOT to say not only about how to be a good leader, but also, how NOT to be one. About 100 pages in I started circling two very different terms that kept coming up: “scatter” and “gather.” I then found these two opposites everywhere. Typically, a Godly leader will work to gather the people together while an ungodly leader is happy to scatter God’s people all over. That point alone got me thinking, a lot…
At over 250 pages of careful exegesis this is a tour de force. I learned something new on virtually EVERY page and thus its impossible for me to summarize my favorite parts. Reading this book was like taking a well-timed vacation – I can’t remember it all, but I know that it was really good for me. I do however remember how I prayed right before opening the book, “God, please show me what YOUR picture is of Godly leadership, and make me into that kind of a person. Help me resist all the other recommendations America gives…” I’ll include a few observations I needed to read as Laniak traced the Pastoral tradition from Moses all the way through Revelation:
- Scriptural Leadership includes Gentle Leading (Page 84): The same term used in Genesis 33:14 for Jacob’s slower pace for his flocks and in Psalm 23:2 for being “led by quiet waters” is the Hebrew word [nhl] which means “gentle leading.” In Isaiah 40:11 it us used as YHWH “gently leads the nursing ewes of his flock” and in Exodus 15:13 – “In your strength you will guide them.” Kind of like the king who shows up in Zechariah 9:9 as “gentle and riding on a donkey.” As God leads His people gently, so should we.
- Scriptural Leadership includes Humble Identity (Page 114): 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.
- Scriptural Leadership is always Delegated Leadership (Page 121): God’s leaders have delegated authority and thus can never claim to be more than a servant of the Lord. These are precisely the emphases we find in the Psalms. Or, like in Ezekiel 34 where the sheep are continually called “mine” by God (vv. 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15, 17, 19, 22). Another example is Jesus’ emphasis on “my” sheep (three times) which prohibits Peter from treating them as his own. We must never treat the sheep as our own – our position is a delegated position.
- A Scriptural Leader Never Abandons the Flock (Page 168): Desertion is the one thing a good shepherd would never do and what God repeatedly promises he would never do (cf. Deut. 31:6, 8).
- Scriptural Leadership is Self-Sacrificing (Page 179): Jesus sends his disciples out with the authority to teach, heal and exorcise demons (Mark 6:7-13). Twice they are given the job of serving miraculously multiplying bread to the crowds. But now, just as they are becoming aware of their powerful place in the new kingdom, Jesus will insist the the essence of their role as leaders is to follow the Lamb of God to his death (Mark 8:34-38). Self-sacrificing service is the hallmark of the Lord’s deputy shepherds (Mark 10:45). The messiah’s greatest act of shepherding is becoming the sacrificial Lamb of God, and thus “to serve this shepherd requires laying down one’s life in the service of his flock” (page 187). John 10:11 states it perfectly, “The good (model) shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
***It should also be noted how innovative this thought is in Gospel shepherd traditions. Risking one’s life was occasionally necessary as an expression of protection (cf. LXX Judg. 12:3; 1 Sam. 17:34-37). However, deliberately dying for one’s flock pushes the metaphor to (beyond?) its limits. The contrast is drawn sharply: Life for the predator entails death for the flock; life for the flock requires death for the shepherd. Like in John 15:13 where Jesus explains that laying down one’s life for others is the model expression of love*** (Page 216).
- Scriptural Leadership is Merciful-Healing Leadership (Page 188): One of the consistent themes in Jesus’ teaching is that mercy is not only prioritized over legalism; it is the heart of the law itself. Mercy and compassion, central features of pastoral leadership, involved setting people free from their burdens. God’s leaders are the type of leaders (as in Luke 15) who are “persistently compassionate” (Page 206).
- Scriptural Leadership is an Ethnically-Mixing Leadership (Page 217): Another novel entailment of the pastoral metaphor is teased out in John 10:16 where Jesus sees himself taking his own sheep from among the flock of the Jewish fold and adding to them “other sheep” (verse 16) presumably Gentile believers. Mixing two herds can create conflicts in the natural world and mixing ethnic groups was certainly a major source of tension in the early church. But this is the messianic mission evident in Matthew’s Gospel: to the Jew first, and then to the Gentiles (cf. Rom. 1:16). These Gospel writers stand in the tradition of Isaiah, who anticipated a day when foreigners would bind themselves to the Lord (Isa 56:6). YHWH promised that after gathering the exiles of Israel, he would “gather still others” (Isa. 56:8)…As John 11:50-52 states,
“…You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish…Not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.”
- Scriptural Leadership is To Be a Suffering Leadership (Page 229): See especially I Peter 2:21-25 and I Peter 4:12-14 for statements such as: “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example” and “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Lastly, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…”
- Scriptural Leadership is a Willingly-Humble Leadership (Page 233-234): I Peter 5:2 shows us that the hard work of oversight must be done “willingly” (hekousios). The emphasis exceeds voluntarism to include a joyful embrace of God’s will in contrast to self-seeking interest in financial gain. The nature of leadership among Jesus’ followers is to be that of eager (prothymos) service and not one that is overbearing or one that “lords it over” anyone (I Peter 5:3). In all of this, “Humility is the distinguishing mark of their service (I Peter 5:5-6).
A few of Laniak’s concluding observations:
- Shepherd leadership is comprehensive in scope. It represents a diverse and changing role-set. So, “Pastors” are generalists. This underlying paradigm of ministry contains within it references to authority, tender care, specific tasks, courage and sacrifice. The decisions and behaviors of the leader benefit the flock “often at great personal cost” and must be described as using a “subtle blend of authority and care.” After all, authority without compassion leads to harsh authoritarianism. But compassion without authority leads to social chaos. So, the work of the shepherd “involves as much toughness as tenderness, as much courage as comfort.”
- Bad or “false” shepherds are those who use their position to serve their own needs. They forget whose flock they serve. All of God’s shepherds are meant to see themselves as “under-shepherds.” As God’s co-workers (cf. 1 Cor. 3:9) we are always in a supporting role.
- Sheep easily “wander,” “scatter,” and “get lost.” Don’t ever forget that!
- God’s leadership is often depicted in wilderness settings. This isn’t an accident. God’s leaders walk through the desert because God is bringing us to our final home.
- Notice: The Bible’s predilection for ordinary metaphors. There is a deliberate divine choice to use the common elements in our world as revelatory vehicles. If the images for our leadership are common – how much more so, are we?!
I’ll conclude with this quote which came at the beginning of the book – it’s so good:
“A good shepherd is one who sees what the Owner sees and does what the Owner does. He is a follower before he is a leader. He is a leader because he is a follower. The shepherds whom God judges in the Bible are those who forget that the people in their care are not their own” (22).