As I take up my new responsibilittes as executive director of the Christian Reformed Church, the issue of leadership is often on my mind and heart. If the CRC is going to expend significant time and energy to develop and enable good leadership—and we are—we need to give some thought to what that means.
At synod I had the opportunity to share my thoughts on leadership with delegates and visitors. I have been encouraged to also share those thoughts with you.
Hundreds of books have been written on leadership. Some are good, some are less helpful, and some are best left on the shelf. After much study and reading, I have found what I think is the best model for leadership. It’s the biblical model that I see in Moses, David, and especially Jesus. It is the model of a shepherd.
Shepherds make unlikely leaders. In the Bible they represent the unskilled and uneducated. I find it interesting that though Moses learned at the feet of the finest educators in Pharaoh’s court, he encountered God in the burning bush while tending Jethro’s sheep in the desert.
When Samuel sought to anoint the king of Israel, it was not the oldest, tallest, or most handsome that attracted God’s attention. It was the runt of Jesse’s clan, of whom his father said, “There is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.” That youngest was none other than David, a man after God’s own heart.
And then there is Jesus, who described himself as the great shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep.
A true biblical leader is one who leads the church as a shepherd leads sheep. He does not drive the sheep from behind nor does he run ahead, calling the sheep to follow. Rather he walks among the sheep. They hear his voice and they follow.
Whatever way the shepherd goes, the sheep go with him. They have a relationship with him; they know
his voice, and he knows each of them by name. The shepherd is aware of where his sheep are, and if one wanders away he will secure the flock in the fold and go out to find the lost and wandering one.
The relationship between sheep and shepherd is one of trust and assurance. The sheep trust the shepherd not to hurt or desert them. Even when they feel the pain of the shepherd’s staff, they know that he cares for them.
But a shepherd’s work is far greater than simply walking among the sheep. Psalm 23, one of the greatest descriptions of biblical leadership, refers to the shepherd’s responsibility of preparing the pasture, even as enemies gather on every side. Even in the darkest of times, in the very shadow of death, the shepherd walks with the sheep.
If you were to ask me what the single biggest challenge in my new ministry will be, I would say it is trust. We live in a generation when trust has been undermined and replaced by fear.
It is my prayer that as the Christian Reformed Church moves forward, we will do so in trust. We will need shepherd leaders who seek to serve God and God’s people. Such leaders will speak the truth in love in ways that people will hear and trust.
It is my prayer that God will provide shepherds who, like Jesus, are willing to lay down their lives for the church.