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Practical Theology | The Ideal Leader

  • July 2021 Issue
Practical Theology

“Shepherds and their sheep have mutual responsibility. The church’s shepherds are to lead like Jesus. And the sheep are to hold their leaders in high regard.”

If you were asked to name an inspirational leader, whom would you name? Perhaps you might mention a personal mentor or a great leader from history. But for those in the church, our ultimate role model is Jesus Christ. Jesus is called the Chief Shepherd in 1 Peter 5:4. And although this term appears only once in the New Testament, it is worth noting. Jesus is the ultimate Shepherd, the One who all church leaders should imitate and the One to whom they will be held accountable.

In recent days, the news has featured disturbing accounts of notable church leaders who have abused their responsibility. Some have been accused of bullying those under their charge. Some were more interested in taking care of themselves than in protecting and guiding their flock. Jesus compared such leaders to a “hired hand” who doesn’t own the sheep and so is unwilling to risk his life to protect them (John 10:12). In Ezekiel 34, the prophet speaks against false shepherds who enriched themselves at the expense of those under their guidance. These “false shepherds” may think that they lead but their actions prove otherwise (John 10:13).

These examples stand in sharp contrast with Jesus, who calls Himself the Good Shepherd (v. 11). During His time on earth, Jesus set an example of self-sacrifice, even to the point of death (vv. 11, 15). Jesus demonstrated sacrificial love for those under His care (v. 14). As the Chief Shepherd, Jesus will one day call all leaders to give an account for their actions (Heb. 13:17). Those who follow Christ’s example and serve the church faithfully will be rewarded with a “crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:4). Those who violate their leadership trust will lose this reward. The apostle Paul warns that “their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light” (1 Cor. 3:13).

Shepherds and their sheep have mutual responsibility. The church’s shepherds are to lead like Jesus. And the sheep are to hold their leaders in high regard. Both must give an account to Christ (Heb. 13:7, 17).

For Further Study

To learn more, read Shepherds After My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions and Leadership in the Bible by Timothy S. Laniak (InterVarsity).

BY Dr. John Koessler

Dr. John Koessler, who retired as professor emeritus from Moody Bible Institute, formerly served in the division of applied theology and church ministry. John and his wife Jane enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan. A prolific writer, John’s books include Dangerous Virtues: How to Follow Jesus When Evil Masquerades as Good (Moody Publishers), The Radical Pursuit of Rest (InterVarsity), The Surprising Grace of Disappointment (Moody), and True Discipleship (Moody). John is a contributing editor and columnist for Today in the Word.

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