In the secular understanding of leadership, more often than not, leadership is defined by the results obtained while the leader’s character is not given much, if at all any, prominence. However, in the church, this should not be the case. Character should be the most important criteria if not the most. That is why we should give it prominence by looking at it first in our study. The character traits that we see in an outstanding leader stems from his identity and the best model to form our identity as a pastor-leader should be Christ. In the Bible, the two clearest images that we see of Christ are servant and shepherd.
A. A SHEPHERD'S HEART
A Christian leader must have a heart that is attuned to his followers’ needs and welfare. In secular society, we often hear the maxim “you need to break some eggs to make an omelet.” The implication is that it is justified for lives to be broken and people hurt in the attainment of an objective. Yet Jesus never saw it that way which is why he introduced the concept of the shepherd-leader.
When Christ painted a picture of the relationship of himself with his followers as shepherd and sheep (John 10), it was a picture that his listeners could relate to. Even in the Old Testament, God is seen as a shepherd (Gen 49:24, Psalm 23) respectively by Jacob and David. What was the shepherd’s duty in those days? In a dry and rocky land, he had to look for grass and water; he had to protect his flock from the weather and from bandits and wild beasts. He also had to look for and recover any sheep that had strayed away. Sometimes in carrying out his duties, he had to travel far from human company living alone with maybe just a bag containing his necessities. Very often, the sheep pen was a cave in the hills with only one opening and the shepherd himself slept across the opening. Robbers and wild beasts had to go through him if they wanted to plunder the flock. This paints a picture of what a true shepherd is - devoted, selfless and fearless at the same time.
Thus, while the leader seeks to advance God’s Kingdom, as a shepherd-leader, he should be willing to move at the pace of the weaker members. Sheep, by nature, suffer from defective vision as well as stress and fear. That is why Christ portrayed his followers also as such so as to affirm his own shepherding vocation. From the shepherd’s image given earlier, we can see that compassionate love should be the distinguishing mark of the shepherd. In Mark 6:31-34, we see Jesus modeling this example of a shepherd-leader. He had asked his disciples to come away for a retreat with him to find rest. However, many people got wind of his destination and so, Jesus finds even more people clamoring for help as he reaches his destination. Yet Jesus “had compassion on them” (Mark 6:34). The implication for a shepherd-leader is that success in ministry is not to be at the cost of people’s lives. Instead, my belief is that the leader should be willing to subjugate his own interests to the needs of his followers and be willing to even slow a project’s pace if it means that the weaker ones can also partake of the vision and share in its success.
Stowe in ‘The Ministry of Shepherding’ describes shepherding as a challenging opportunity but paints an interesting outcome – like shepherd, like sheep. He tells us that “the godly shepherd can produce an exemplary godliness in his flock. His faithful discipleship will be mirrored in theirs. His ethical patterns will become theirs. Through shared concerns for this common cause, they will be welded in a spiritual union until the commander and unit are almost one and the same thing.”
B. A SERVANT’S SPIRIT
The Bible describes the church as a living organism, the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27, Eph 4:12). That means Christ is the head and all believers, including the pastor-leader, simply his servants, playing equally important parts to build up the body toward maturity and extending God’s Kingdom. Thus, the leader does not lead but serves Christ by leading, i.e. his primary objective is to serve his master.
In the Old Testament, all the great men of Israelite history are called servants. Although secular society rejects the idea of a leader as servant, biblically it is not an inferior calling. In fact, in the New Testament, Jesus makes it very clear that leadership is about serving and not being served (Mark 10:45). He then models it (John 13:1-17) showing that leaders are servants who stoop to minister from the servant’s position and bring cleansing to the body.
In the following examples, we can observe some secular presumptions of leadership that should not be carried over into our theology of pastoral leadership. The study is based on Matt 20:25-28.
1. Relationship with the led. The ruler is ‘over’ those he leads. He is above and distinct from those that he leads.
2. Command. The secular leaders ‘lord it over” and “exercise authority” over their followers. This is a command-type authority telling others what to do, demanding conformity of behaviour.
3. Mode. Secular leadership involves issuing orders and passing on decisions the leader has made.
4. Power. Behavioural conformity is obtained by levying sanctions and coercive means.
Instead, the example of the Lord shows that the pastor-leader should be humble in heart and submissive to God. According to Finzel in ‘Empowered Leaders’, the servant-leader’s purpose is not his own glory but to make the worker successful. He should consider that the church members are there not to serve him but the mission of the church and that his role as leader is to facilitate their effectiveness in the fulfillment of the church mission.
Finzel emphasizes that servant-leaders must be willing to live lives filled with submission on many levels: submission to authority, submission to God, to principles of wise living, etc. Inability to understand submission indicates arrogance and self-sufficiency. Again the best model held before us is Jesus who always acknowledged his submission to the Father’s Will (John 5:30). Another biblical example of submission to emulate is Joseph, who was totally submitted to God’s Will no matter what circumstances, prison or privilege, he found himself in. “The Lord was with him” (Gen 39:3, 21) and this enabled him to serve God well. In fact, even after his elevation to Prime Minister of Egypt, Joseph remained submitted to God’s Will. As a result, he could forgive his brothers and reassure them of his forgiveness, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50:20)