How often do you hear a leader of a Christian organization being called a shepherd?
Yet, all Christian leadership should look like shepherding. I mean every Christian who is acting in a leadership role. He could be a CEO, low-level or mid-level manager, church deacon or elder, committee member, or head of the home.
Jesus Christ is the ultimate leader. Here is what he had to say about his leadership:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
Do Nothing Selfishly
Underlying all leadership should be the understanding that I am looking out for someone else’s interests. In Philippians, the Apostle Paul seems to be amplifying Jesus’ words.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV)
There is always self-care: look not only to our own interests. We need to consider our own needs for emotional and physical safety. But Paul emphasizes looking outward probably because we are naturally inward-looking. We most naturally look out for ourselves…it takes work and a disposition molded by the Holy Spirit to consider the needs of others.
Who Are the Needy?
Who are the needy? They are the stakeholders of our ministry.
As a leader I am responsible for the needs of my subordinates in the organization and the recipients of my ministry. In addition, I am accountable to ministry donors. Unfortunately, in the broken world of service, there are sometimes competing interests at work between all of these stakeholders.
Toxic organizational leaders do what is necessary to get from these stakeholders. They consider their own needs as more significant than other’s.
As a result, all manner of manipulation and control of their employees, ministry recipients, and donors takes place by the leadership to achieve their goal of getting from them.
The leadership might hide behind such lofty goals as, “We are here to serve the empoverished [i.e. recipients of the ministry].” Or maybe, “We are accountable to those who give generously to our ministry.“
Image, Image, Image
But for the toxic leader, that is only a smokescreen for serving themselves as leaders. He cares little about the stakeholders God has given him.
The organization’s stakeholders are only cogs in his wheel of ego production. And he may care little but for the image of the organization to build his own ego or pocketbook.
The leadership of one mission organization for which I worked focused mostly on image-building in what appeared to be an attempt to keep the contributions rolling in and for their own sense of greatness.
When a donor agency sent a team to evaluate the educational ministry of the organization, the CEO instructed the science teachers to prominently display science equipment that was rarely used and never at that point in the students’ studies. The teachers were to have the students working with the equipment when the donors arrived. The equipment was immediately put away following the visit.
One student remarked, “I wish this was the normal, but obviously [the leaders] just want to make an impression.”
The deception was quite apparent to the students and the Principal of the school, who told me of it later. He was embarrassed by the duplicity.
In another sham, the ministry produced a promotional brochure to raise donors that featured two students on the cover. The brochure explained that the students were “orphans.” When it was discovered that they were not orphans, and were quite offended by the deception, the ministry leader shrugged it off and explained that the students had signed off on having their picture on brochures when they registered for the school.
We just scratched our heads.
Image, image, image.
The wiseman had something to say about this:
Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty,
but humility comes before honor.
Proverbs 18:12 (ESV)
Putting Our Foot Out
There is certainly nothing wrong with putting our best foot forward. We espouse our strengths in a job interview and we bring attention to our services as an organization to those with whom we seek to partner financially.
But “marketing” for the Christian is really about humbly making known the gifts God has given us so that we may have opportunity to minister to others with those gifts.
It is not about manipulating others for financial gain or ego gratifying image-mongering. When God has gifted individuals or a ministry with the ability to serve others, it is right to make that known that there be those who may receive the ministry the organization provides.
But it is important to make sure it is our foot we are putting forward, not someone else’s. We must act in integrity and consider all our “stakeholders,” whether they be our employees, donors, or ministry recipients.
Integrity, integrity, integrity.
Leadership is a work of shepherding. It is about feeding the sheep – all the stakeholders.
It means loving others. Considering others as more important than your own comfort or ego or image.
2600 years ago, God spoke through the prophet and priest, Ezekiel. [Jesus was likely referring to this bit of Old Testament prophecy as he spoke of his ministry as the true Shepherd of Israel – John 10]. God said,
“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.”
Amen and amen.