Sheep Seldom Know What’s Best for Them
Every shepherd must occasionally make his sheep do something they don’t want to do. It’s an unpleasant but necessary part of leadership. A good shepherd doesn’t take a poll to see where the sheep want to go. He finds out where the sheep need to go, then leads them there. Then he makes them lie down.
Our sheep seldom know what’s best for them. If they did, they wouldn’t need shepherds. When we force them to do something they don’t want to do, they tend to get angry, post crazy stuff on social media, and complain about it to all their friends. It’s what frustrated sheep do.
If you want to be a shepherd, you’d better get used to it.
It reminds me of what a modern-day shepherd has to do when there’s an outbreak of lice. The only way to keep it from spreading is to plunge each lamb into a cleansing chemical solution. They must swim in it for at least thirty seconds, and then the shepherd has to dunk their head under the water by pushing it back and down at the same time. And he must do it twice.
Shepherds Can’t Speak Sheep
But here’s the worst part from a shepherd’s perspective. There’s no way to explain what just happened. The sheep will always be in the dark. Shepherds can’t speak Sheep or whatever it is sheep speak.
The same thing holds true in ministry. There are always going to be things you will have to do but no one will understand. It might be remaining faithful to a biblical precept that everyone wants to ignore. It might be a ministry vision that no one else sees. It might be spiritual cancer that needs to be cut out while everyone wants to pretend it’s not there.
It’s one of the most painful parts of leadership, especially for those of us who want everyone to like us.
Real Shepherds Don’t Keep Their Sheep on Edge
There are some shepherds who relish the idea of tough love. They seem to like forcing their sheep to lie down and taking them places they don’t want to go. They don’t shy away from conflict; they run to it.
But I want to be clear. A good shepherd will put the need of the sheep first, even at the risk of being misunderstood and maligned. But he doesn’t enjoy it.
Those who enjoy keeping their sheep on edge aren’t shepherds, they’re spiritual bullies.
They remind me of a pastor I once knew. He was bright, passionate, and a strong communicator. He was also a bit of an idealist. By his own admission, he didn’t like many of the people in his church. He thought they were uncommitted, lazy wimps.
When he took the lead pastor role in a large church that had been in decline for a number of years, he thought he’d have no problem turning things around. At first, it looked like he was right. The crowds swelled, thanks to his strong communication skills. Some good things were done.
But the longer he was there, the more impatient he became. Whenever something needed to be changed, he ignored the softer sides of leadership. He went right into “makes me” and “leads me into the valley” mode.
Heart of a Hireling
After a few years it became evident that he had two fatal leadership flaws: (1) he was too impatient to slow down and earn the trust of his flock and (2) he found a perverse joy in shocking and scaring the sheep he thought moved too slowly. It’s no surprise that he didn’t last very long.
But it wasn’t because he didn’t know where the green pastures were or how to make his sheep lie down in them. It was because he had the heart of a hireling. He didn’t know the difference between being misunderstood and maligned and being distrusted and despised. He was a spiritual bully, not a shepherd.
Those who learn to lead with a shepherd’s heart won’t always be loved and understood. But they’ll wish they were. Those who lead with a hireling’s heart won’t give a rip—at least not until they find themselves in the unemployment line.
- Excerpt from Lead Like a Shepherd, by Larry Osborne
How to Use This Book
Larry Osborne says, “Tragically, I’ve known more than a few pastors and leaders who spent their lives focused on the size of their flocks rather than the health of their flocks, the task of leadership instead of the heart of leadership.” In Lead Like a Shepherd, Osborne helps pastors and church leaders understand the power of the metaphor in 1 Peter 5:1-4 where leaders are exhorted to shepherd the flock among them. Many of the implications of tending sheep that were well understood when Peter penned these words are lost on today’s reader. Gather your leadership team and go through this book together to refocus on the health of your church and the heart of your leaders.