The Call of the Wild: Feeders of the Sheep

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Serving the Lord and Well-being of Those Under Your Care

It is the Father’s pre-Fall plan that mankind should excercise authority on His behalf. [Servant’s Guide to Leadership]

And that “authority is designed to serve the well-being of those under its care.” [Shepherd Leader]

Those words are life to me after following a leader who sought his own well-being over that of his sheep.

The Motivations

Timothy Witmer, author of “Shepherd Leader,” says good shepherds of God’s people are motivated by two things: Love for the Lord and the well-being of God’s people. What is glaringly absent is the leader’s self. As a leader I am to be motivated by a love for God and a love for people.

A Leader is not a leader for his own benefit.

Unfortunately, in our broken state, there are many ways a leader may be motivated by self:

  • Financial: Even the leader who is simply seeking financial provision for his family [ie. not to get wealthy] may be driven to compromise in order to keep his job when he should turn in his keys.
  • Success: A person’s desire for success and respect can become a powerful driving force behind his job performance. That success or respect is generally the seeking of other people’s approval and can drive him to moral compromise and image building at the expense of his sheeps’ well-being.
  • Organization = Leader: A leader can be propelled by the image of the organization or church he serves. He may see the image of the organization as reflecting self. How the organization goes, so goes his own image. So, he will do anything to build and protect that image. “You know that in the end, what matters is not your personal success or the success of your organization.” [David McAllister-Wilson in Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge]

In the “Leader’s Journey,” authors Herrington, Creech, and Taylor say the effective leader can “galvanize individuals and groups” and can “transform society.” But, in order to do so, he must “know and do the right things.” The authors are not speaking of making the right decision about the color of the bulletin.

A leader must have character developed by God to make moral decisions. They must love God and love neighbor, which means they do God’s bidding and seek the good of all stakeholders, including employees.

They are motivated by a love of God (looking to Him for their standards) and love of people (living the Gospel in their context).

The Authority

Witmer says authority “does not arise from a leader’s position or title but originates in the trust built up on the basis of character, competence, respect, and consistency.” Though God ultimately gives authority, as explained in Romans 13:1, the reception of that authority by followers is developed.

A Christian leader cannot force his God-given authority upon followers. Followers follow because of their leader’s character and his competent use of God-given talent. They will respect him if he is consistently following Christ in these areas.

The rejection of God’s ultimate authority by the leader results in an abdication of his authority. In a Christian organization, he has forfeited the respect of his followers. Witmer says, “Leaders are not simply those who impose their own wills but are individuals from whom opinion is sought.” Their “respectfulness” and “competence” will draw followers to seek them out.

If a Christian leader wants followers, he must acknowledge and intentionally follow the ultimate authority of God and his followers will want his leadership.

The Healthy Differentiation

Some may immediately come to the conclusion a leader must do his follower’s bidding. Make them happy.

“Jesus cared for the crowds, but he governed his relationship to their needs on the basis of principle, not their demands. He would serve them, but they would not determine his decisions.” [The Leader’s Journey]

When Witmer says the leader must be driven by love for those under his care, he is not speaking of a “people-pleaser.” Richard Rardin, writing in “Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge,” asks the question,

How do we serve the needs of those we lead without, on the one hand, becoming their lackey, and on the other, serving them only to be well liked and accepted?

It is a difficult balance and leaders will frequently fail. Their personalities and gifts – exhorter or merciful – will greatly affect their ability to remain in balance.

As a general rule, a leader who is gifted in exhortation will tend towards the “authoritarian” mindset. We have seen these leaders over and over. Strong. Courageous. “I don’t care what anyone thinks…I know what is right and damn the torpedos .”

As one who sees the failure in others, he will tend to “tell it like it is.” He will let them know what is what and rule with authority. He will tend to lead from top down, rather than empowering those under his care.

On the other hand, the mercy-gifted leader will more likely be the mamby-pamby type who wants everyone to be comfortable under his charge. He will have a harder time making those difficult calls that make his employees uncomfortable and even sometimes dislike or disagree with him.

“Henri Nouwen observes how those temptations of Jesus remain the essential temptations of men and women in a position of spiritual leadership: the temptation to be relevant (turning stones to bread), to be spectacular (jumping from the pinnacle of the Temple), and to be powerful (compromising in order to rule).” [The Leader’s Journey]

How do we differentiate ourselves from those under our leadership? And love them all the while.

The Personal Battle

A leader can make strides towards the differentiation necessary to lead God’s people in a focused lifestyle of Godward motion.

“Prayer, fasting, solitude, silence, and worship are but a few disciplines that, when engaged, allow the leader to reflect on his or her life.” [The Leader’s Journey]

I was told once of a pastor who effectively pastored a new church, seeing significant growth both numerically and spiritually of his flock. He was loved well by his congregation. However, within a short time he had an affair and was “defrocked” by his denomination. According to one of his children, they saw him studying scripture for the purpose of preaching and teaching, but rarely for his own edification.

“…preaching alone is ineffective and can be dangerous to the soul. Preachers can often spend their whole ministry in the pulpit, casting their thoughts in front of them like a golfer hitting into a fog bank, having no idea whether their ideas are on-target. They can come to think that they are themselves the source of divine wisdom, substituting their vision for God’s. That’s why in the secular world when an ineffective leader delivers a one-way, top-down harangue, it is referred to as ‘preaching’.” [David McAllister-Wilson in “Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge”]

If the leader’s continual devotion is to preaching at his sheep and not to his own soul, he may become a hollow core himself.

The issues of the heart matter more to God than performance, in the sense that performance really starts from the heart’s hidden motives.” [Rardin in Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge]

There must be self-devotion – a continual looking at ourselves in the light of God’s Word through the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment and transformation. As leaders, we cannot be constantly looking outward at those people. Rather, we must see our own hearts. The only way to move beyond self is to know ourselves. And that can only come through careful self-assessment in light of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit’s leading.

The process of being chosen, blessed, broken, and given out is another way of saying that the servant of God must die to self before he or she can be of much use to the Father.” [Rardin in “Christian Reflections on the Leadership Challenge”]

The Conclusion

We must be broken before we give out. We must be humbled before we lead. Ken Blanchard [“Christian Reflections”] says that people who work from a sense of “calling” understand “all they have is on loan” from the Lord. There is a humility in their position. If not, they are simply “driven” to succeed at all costs.

I recently sat in on a “order for protection” hearing with a woman who was abused for years by her husband. It was extraordinary how many lies he told in order to present himself righteous. Bold faced, image-building lies.

Nancy Ortberg says it best:

As I think about which values of the Christian faith are most important to a godly leader, the list quickly narrows to four things: integrity, authenticity, joy, and dignity of work. If you as a leader can build an environment around those four values, you will create a place where people want to work. [Christian Reflections]


Herrington, Jim. The Leader’s Journey: Accepting the Call to Personal and Congregational Transformation. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2003.

Maxwell, John C. Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge. Edited by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. 1st ed. San Francisco, CA.; Chichester: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

Rardin, Richard. The Servant’s Guide to Leadership: Beyond First Principles. Albany, OR: Selah Publishing, 2001.

Witmer, Timothy Z. Shepherd Leader. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010.

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