Leadership = Leader Sheep

Christ as the apocalyptic Lamb. Santi Cosma e Damiano, Rome. Chancel mosaic, C6th.

Over my lifetime and experience of Christian life (in many forms and denominations) I have learnt many things about leadership with some great… and not so great examples of leaders within the Church. They are also often things that members of a congregation, or those outside of the church family, should remember about those standing in front week after week. All of them center around the truth of leadership being mainly about being the leader sheep and not the Good Shepherd, and here’s why:

1. The Good Shepherd was Jesus.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
John 10:11, NIV

A great example to follow it is, but the Good Shepherd has often been used to describe ministers and pastors of church forgetting that the label was given to God, not to the disciples who led the church in the New Testament. It is Jesus who gives His life for His flock; it is Jesus, and Jesus only, that can save the sheep; it is Jesus who is the gate for the sheep to enter through. To expect the same from a church leader is to expect too much and to be ultimately disappointed. The leader is not God, but should point to Him, point to the one who gave His life, point to the saviour, point to the gate.

2. Leader sheep are fallible.

Part of being one of the flock, of being human, is being fallible. I have often been frustrated by those who suggest any human can be infallible particularly in regards to God’s will, because the gift of omniscience as far as I can tell hasn’t been given to a person ever. Therefore, although our leaders will often try their best, attempt to guide their congregations, learn as much as possible through training and study and prayer, they may not always get it right. They should be forgiven this. They should, of course, also be humble in accepting this limitation because they are human. Being willing to debate, to study together, to learn more, and be open to wisdom from God and others. This can be difficult but it is necessary.

3. Leader sheep can (and do) stray.

Although sad, it does happen that the leaders of our churches stray themselves. Again it should be emphasised that they are human, and hence just as prone to temptation (sometimes more so) as anyone else. In these situations it can be hard for the congregation to know what to do, and why support of a team within a church is incredibly important. It can also be hard to remember their humanity and need for forgiveness when trying to trust them again – it has become far too easy to demonize those who we (wrongly) put on a pedestal when they fall.

We can pray for repentance and forgiveness, attempt to move past the sin in a way that helps them, but it is unhealthy and deceptive to deny the potential in those leading us. God can lead them back as sheep and we should pray for Him to do so.

“Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.”
1 Peter 2:25, NLT

4. Leader sheep require help.

I once witnessed a church, and almost an entire town (or at least the Christian part of it), suddenly fall into panic when the minister became terribly ill and almost died. The questions around how the church would cope, what would happen to the number of projects they were involved in, who would take the leader’s place, and whether a number of groups would survive the loss, were seriously worrying. It was disturbing to think that the loss of one person could threaten the existence of so much, that there seemed to be so much placed on just one life, that there was so little trusted provision in place to continue without this minister (however good they were at their job). Thankfully the church did survive, so did the minister, and thankfully the leadership team came together to work very well.

Ultimately it was a lesson well-learnt that every leader needs others, needs to be able to step away and see their church continue, needs to trust that God will still be worshipped and listened to without the leader’s solitary face at the pulpit. Each and every member of a church can have a place and be involved in how it runs, and in being a part of it you protect it from falling apart. By being dependant and dependable we protect each other.

5. Leader sheep follow God…

as best they can, and sometimes reluctantly. Every other sheep must know that sometimes following God isn’t easy, so we shouldn’t be surprised that some of our best church leaders are often the most reluctant (although not officially a church leader, C. S. Lewis was clearly a reluctant convert but became one of the most respected apologetic Christian writers of the 20th century). This is why they can’t be the Good Shepherd, but instead attempt to follow His lead: if they were the Good Shepherd they wouldn’t follow at all, they would only rely on their own will and others would follow them. A leader sheep follows God and will often go against the culture they are in, or the easy path, to do so, and it is actually this that makes them leaders worth following: they have put their own will second to God’s.

“Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will…” Hebrews 13:20-21, ESV

6. Leader sheep are not better than other sheep…

but they should be trying to provide a good example to the rest of the flock. Being a leader doesn’t make someone less prone to sin, stronger, more intelligent, or more blessed; in fact it tends to be those who have struggled with much weakness and those to whom God has forgiven and shown grace. However, this doesn’t mean they have the excuse to sin and ignore everything God asks of them – much is expected of them, and they are meant to aim to be the best possible example so as not to tempt other sheep into sin. It would also make very little sense when trying to lead others out of the darkness of sin whilst heading into the deepest dark yourself; hypocrisy does not a good teaching tool make.

It is also the best way to push people away from God, because whilst I write about how leaders are not God and should not be treated as such (in good or bad ways), there will be at least a dozen others condemning God based on His church, His bride, and those who lead it. The leaders who betray and harm those in their congregation are not special, they are still just sheep, flawed human sheep.

Leader sheep are still sheep, but God is the Good Shepherd.

“For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
Revelation 7:17, NIV

So the main lesson from all this: listen to your leaders, show them respect but don’t expect too much from them. They will hopefully be trying their best and taking wisdom where they can get it, but sometimes life is hard and they will not live up to the high standards set by the Good Shepherd (they may even need your help). That’s hardly surprising because only one man ever lived a sinless life, and He gave it all up to show us grace: Jesus.

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