Jeremiah and Ezekiel identify corruption within the “shepherds” of Israel (Jeremiah 21-23 and Ezekiel 34) and in doing so, show the justice and mercy of the chief shepherd. Laniak points to the fact that, in Jeremiah’s day, the abuse of power by “shepherds” was “fundamentally, a failure to understand the character of YHWH” (Laniak, 2006, p. 135) “Ezekiel depicts shepherds who show no regard for the obvious needs of the flock, and they appear oblivious to the expectations inherent in their role as undershepherds” (Laniak, 2006, p. 152). Revealing the shepherds’ corruption in their leadership shows the nature and character of God’s leadership in how He punishes those shepherds. Their abuse is in direct contradiction to the character of God and lacks submission to the chief shepherd. Add to this metaphor what we find in Psalm 23, that “the condition and growth of a flock depends greatly on the care, attentiveness and skill of the shepherd” (Laniak, 2006, p. 53), we find a God who shepherds with great concern for the flock and thereby requires His “undershepherds” to lead accordingly.
The shepherd metaphor has strong validity in pastoral leadership. The biblical narrative defines the character of God within the framework of this metaphor, giving present leaders a definition of leadership that can be helpful in “tending the flock that God has given”.
As a pastor of a larger church since last October, it seems to me that megachurches have done much to diminish the shepherd metaphor in pastoral ministry. Many large church pastors are great communicators, visionaries, type A personalities and a common thought is that these characteristics are opposed to those of a “shepherd”. At worst, the metaphor speaks against the idea of a highly charismatic leader who is alone at the top of a mega-organization; at best, it speaks to a lowly, meek and slow moving leader of a small flock. I think megachurch pastors are also leery of defining their ministry as a shepherd because the sheep will immediately think they should be readily available to them as their shepherd. Laniak helped me process this in his writing. “While a competent shepherd can handle as many as 500 sheep and goats alone in open pasturelands, the comprehensive work of animal husbandry over the course of a year requires a number of able workers” (Laniak, 2006, p. 51). We need to redefine this imagery to be more reflective of what Jesus meant by being “the good shepherd”. Jesus led thousands, but He was a shepherd. Again, it comes back to a study of theology to help inform us leaders about why the Father had Jesus describe Himself as a shepherd and His followers as sheep. There is something very powerful in this imagery if we can recapture the heart of it.
Laniak, T. S. (2006). Shepherds after My own heart: Pastoral traditions and leadership in the Bible. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press.