What God spoke through the prophets about one of the most prevalent Scripture images of spiritual leadership doesn't resonate with many spiritual leaders today. Many of us don't, or more accurately won't, identify with the "Woe to the shepherds ..." admonitions God spoke to the leaders of his nation (note Jeremiah 23-25, among many others). Suburbanites and city folk view the shepherd motif in Scripture as worn and dated, an archaic role model rooted in the past and not useful as a biblical metaphor today. So, yes, the vivid word pictures of Scripture are drawn from another place and another time. It's true, I haven't seen a shepherd leading his flock of sheep and goats through the market district of old Charleston, SC lately. There haven't been any slaves auctioned off down there either, but it is an image I know and teach so we can perpetuate our past and learn from it.
The Management Zone is one of the most prevalent temptations of pastor and church leaders today, a substitution for the shepherding model. When we talk about the condition of the church today, the theological drift that defines the broad scope of Christendom, the impotent influence of the church on culture, government, morality, and the rest, there must be some dialogue about leadership. Somewhere in that narrative the idea of shepherding must once again be a bullet item. That we don't know more about the dynamics of shepherds and sheep and the many other agrarian references in Scripture speaks more about our poor educational preparation for leadership than the usefulness of such ancient realities. Give me a break!
This temptation zone is simple: it exists when we fail to shepherd the flock entrusted to our care and attempt to manage them instead. What exactly does that entail? Good grief, Solomon was right. Of the making of many books there is no end. And, there are volumes about shepherding, sheep, and the beautiful relationship that exists between them. I always recommend two: A Shepherd Looks at the Twenty-Third Psalm by Phillip Keller (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1970), and Escape from Church Inc. by E. Glenn Wagner (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2001). Many newer works are available and explore the topic with great scholarship and very relevant application. But, these two have been standards for me and I find myself turning to them over and over again. They're simple and to the point, and provide a strong biblical basis for understanding the role of shepherds as spiritual leaders.
There are several layers in this learning that can help us deal with temptation in the Management Zone.
(1) When shepherding is discounted as a valid biblical image because there are few of them in our surroundings and younger generations don't identify with them, we've already succumbed to the Management Zone temptation. One of the significant shepherding tasks is to educate the flock entrusted to our care. Faithful biblical exposition involves developing the context of Scripture and explaining that the connection of shepherd and flock is significant in understanding God's work in history.
(2) If we're not teaching and practicing the interaction of the shepherd and the flock, we're in serious theological error, already in the Management Zone. A foundational tenet of Christology is the beautiful characterization of Jesus as The Good Shepherd. Jesus said, "I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep" (John 10:11). Therefore, when we're overlooking the shepherding functions of leadership, we're robbing our learners of important Christological truth.
(3) Shepherding is too often narrowly defined. There's no indication that the biblical ideal of shepherds caring for their flocks was merely pastoral care. Many contemporary leaders use Acts 6 and the selection of the of the first servers as transference of pastoral care responsibilities from the Apostles to the new deacons. As a result of this stretch, many spiritual leaders confine their shepherd duties to the ministry of the Word and prayer. Surely biblical shepherding is broader in definition than pastoral care. But, it must include the protection and care of the congregation that have been called to lead. In the Management Zone, leaders are tempted to ignore this element of their assignment.
(4) The role of the biblical shepherd involved many leadership responsibilities. History has often portrayed the shepherd as a meek and mild individual with a caring heart and gentle spirit. But, there's more. The shepherd also protected the sheep. He carried a staff to rescue them from imminent danger and a stick to stave off predators. I remember a line in The Patriot, starring Mel Gibson. Reverend Oliver, the local pastor, was joining the patriot militia. He said, "A shepherd must tend his flock. And at times... fight off the wolves". It's a strong leadership role that is lacking in the congregational life of most churches today. If the pastor and spiritual leader aren't protecting the flock, they better get to the prayer rail to confess being in the Management Zone.
(5) More than anything, the shepherd leads the flock. He knew the locations of food and water, and the dangerous gorges and valleys. He kept an eye on the predators, and warned the sheep when danger was near. He directed their path, indicated where they were supposed to go, and he expected them to follow. He disciplined them when they did not. Today, thousands of pastors serve and minister in the Management Zone because they do not lead their flocks. Managers manage, leaders lead. Great spiritual leaders are therefore shepherds.
Peter learned shepherding, not management, from Jesus Christ. He later wrote, "...shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2). He watched the Chief Shepherd model servant leadership.
One day Jesus saw a multitude of ordinary people. The text indicates that he was deeply moved by the appearance. Do a word study on the word translated "moved" or "compassion" and get a sense of how their obvious distress affected him. Matthew noted the reason for his emotion: they were like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).
How moved he must be to see his people today in the same predicament...like sheep without a shepherd.