CHRISTIAN LEADERSHIP IS: PART OF THE FLOCK

July 18, 2012 — Leave a comment

Today’s post is the third part of a six-part series exploring the question: What makes Christian leadership distinctly “Christian” and what makes Christian leadership distinctly “leadership?”. This week we will study this question and I hope to receive feedback from you in the comments section.

What makes Christian leadership 'Christian' and what makes christian leadership 'leadership'

PART OF THE FLOCK

The second distinction of Christian leadership is that Christian leaders are part of the flock.[1]

Contrary to that, American culture has “come to believe that good leadership requires a safe distance from those we are called to lead.”[2] Often it is said, “It’s lonely at the top,” or “Leadership is lonely,” or “Don’t get too close to those you lead.” That is the view American culture has about leadership, but it is very different than Christian leadership. In his article, “Distinctives of Christian Leadership,” William D. Lawrence comments, “Christian leadership is different from other kinds of leadership because no Christian leader can assume the position of being ‘number one,’ that is, the leader. This is true because those who believe in Christ know there is only one ‘Number One,’ namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[3] It is interesting to note that the Apostle Paul, who is well known for his leadership in the young Christian church, “never describes pastors as leaders of congregations, presiding over church activities and services and as being the head of a complex organization.”[4] Instead, the imagery of a shepherd is a much more biblical representation of what a Christian leader should be. In an article titled, “Shepherd or One of the Sheep: Revisiting the Biblical Metaphor of the Pastorate,” through careful exegesis Quentin P. Kinnison, Ph.D. shows that Christian leadership it is not being a shepherd over a flock of people; it is being a shepherd within the flock.

There are several important implications for our understanding of the [shepherd] metaphor and its practical application to the life of God’s people. First, God reserves sole claim as shepherd of God’s people. . . . Second, the OT and NT both emphasize the Spirit’s presence in the lives of leaders. . . . Third, for pastoral leaders, this means empowering others to hear and respond to God’s promptings as they move onto God’s agenda and become witnesses of God’s missional activity in the world. . . . Finally, pastoral leaders must be embedded participants in the congregation. These primarily lead by example. Shepherd elders are sheep in the flock helping others follow the shepherd.[5]

Kinnison’s definition shows a way of Christian leaders being part of the flock while leading the flock.

God talks about himself as the primary shepherd throughout the Bible and Christian leaders simply as part of his flock. This changes the traditional worldly view of leadership. But how does a Christian leader lead the flock while being part of the flock? Research into the physical practice of shepherding reveals, that shepherds often placed bells on specific sheep who reliably followed the shepherd.[6] According to Kinnison, God is the true shepherd and Christian leaders are undershepherds—those sheep within the flock wearing bells to help guide the other sheep the direction the shepherd (which is God) wants to go.

Having acknowledged oneself as a sheep and part of God’s flock, the Christian leader’s job is to help the other sheep be on God’s plan and move in the direction of God. Since “spiritual leaders understand that God is their leader”[7] they are “someone who knows where the Lord is going and can get others to follow him as he follows the Lord.”[8] This means Christian leaders “don’t get to create the vision, we just get to follow it”[9] because “God’s purposes are the key to spiritual leadership—the dreams and visions of leaders are not.”[10] Henri Nouwen defines this as, “Leadership . . . means to be led.”[11] While being part of the flock as bell wearing undershepherds it is imperative that Christian leaders relinquish their vision for God’s vision in an effort to follow him. Being a Christian leader as part of the flock is leading the way as an example the entire time following God with the hopes that others will see, hear and follow the way. Joshua is a biblical leader who modeled this. Several times throughout the book of Joshua he makes a specific commitment to follow God. The verse often quoted is “Chose today whom you will serve. . . . But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”[12] With that personal commitment to follow the Lord, Joshua also calls others to serve and follow the Lord primarily out of his own example (as an undershepherd wearing a bell) “me and my family, we will serve the LORD.”[13] Joshua is not saying, “I am your leader, follow me.” Instead, Joshua is saying, “God’s our leader, let’s follow him.” Another great example of a Christian leader being committed to God and undershepherding God’s people is the Judah king, Hezekiah.

In the very first month of the first year of his reign, Hezekiah reopened the doors of the Temple of the Lord and repaired them. He summoned the priests and Levites to meet him at the courtyard east of the Temple. He said to them, “Listen to me, you Levites! Purify yourselves, and purify the Temple of the Lord, the God of your ancestors. Remove all the defiled things from the sanctuary. . . . But, now I will make a covenant with the LORD, the God of Israel, so that his fierce anger will turn away from us. My sons, do not neglect your duties any longer! The LORD has chosen you to stand in his presence, to minister to him, and to lead the people in worship and present offerings to him.”[14]

King Hezekiah was not perfect and made mistakes like most Christian leaders. But the important thing to note is that King Hezekiah was committed to being part of the flock and leading God’s people. With part of the flock faithfully following God, he pointed the people he ruled over back to following God.

Question: Do you believe Christian leadership is about being part of the flock?


                [1] Most of the insights and comments on the “shepherd” language derives from Quentin P. Kinnison’s article, “Shepherd or One of the Sheep: Revisiting the Biblical Metaphor of the Pastorate,” Journal of Religious Leadership 9, no. 1 (Spring 2010). I will cite directly when I am able, but please note most of shepherd language stems from his article.

                [2] Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York, Crossroads Publishing, 1989), 61.

                [3] William D. Lawrence, “Distinctives of Christian Leadership,” Bibliotheca Sacra July—September (1987), 317.

                [4] Derek Tidball, “Leaders as Servants: a Resolution of the Tension,” Evangelical Review of Theology 36, no. 1 (2012), 33.

                [5] Quentin P. Kinnison, Ph.D., “Shepherd or One of the Sheep: Revisiting the Biblical Metaphor of the Pastorate,” Journal of Religious Leadership 9, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 90.

                [6] Ibid., 68, 89.

                [7] Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on God’s Agenda (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2001), 28-29.

                [8] William D. Lawrence, “Distinctives of Christian Leadership,” Bibliotheca Sacra July—September (1987), 319.

                [9] Quentin P. Kinnison, Ph.D., “When is the leader not ‘in front of’, but ‘in the midst of’?” (lecture, Fresno Pacific University North Center, Fresno, CA, May 31, 2012).

                [10] Henry Blackaby and Richard Blackaby, Spiritual Leadership: Moving People on God’s Agenda (Nashville, TN: B&H Books, 2001), 19.

                [11] Henri J.M. Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership (New York, Crossroads Publishing, 1989). 75.

                [12] Josh. 24:15.

                [13] Josh. 24:15.

                [14] 2 Chron. 29:3-5, 10-11.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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