Friday, February 8, 2013

The good shepherd and incarnational leadership

When speaking of himself as "the good shepherd" (John 10:1-10), Jesus may very well have had in mind a contrast between himself and "the shepherds of Israel" against whom Ezekiel prophesied (Ezekiel 34:1-6). These were worthless shepherds who fed themselves instead of the sheep. They neglected their duties to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, and seek out the lost. They ruled by lording it over the sheep forcefully and harshly, scattering them instead of gathering them.

Jesus, the good shepherd, came to do all those things "the shepherds of Israel" had neglected. He strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured, brought back the strays, and sought out the lost in order to save them. He laid aside his authority and took the form of a servant, leading by example, incarnating the love of God for the last, the least, and the lost.

A church whose shepherd is in it for himself, and not for the sheep, will have terrible difficulty fulfilling its mission. The faithful shepherd cannot be authoritarian. He will lead incarnationally, identifying with the sheep, being among them as one who serves. He will look to Jesus as the perfect shepherd and seek to emulate him, however imperfectly.

Incarnational leadership is essential to empowering the church as a community in mission, incarnating the Gospel as it seeks to transform its surrounding community and culture.