Needs-Based Leadership

29 April 2007. Good Shepherd Sunday
John 10, 27-30 Needs-Based Leadership

A Jewish legend about Moses tells us why God chose him to lead them. One day, the legend goes, Moses was tending the sheep of his father-in-law when a kid ran away. Moses followed the kid as it went into a ravine where it drank from a pool of water. Moses then took the kid on his back and said, “I didn’t know that you were thirsty and that’s why you ran away. You must now be weary.” So Moses carried the kid on his back. God then said, “Since you took care of another’s flock, and you have shown great concern for one of them, I will give you my flock for you to tend.”

The image of the shepherd and its flock abounds in Scripture. God is known as the shepherd in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” The Messiah, God’s anointed, is also known as a shepherd who gathers his flock: “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering his lambs with his arm, carrying them against his chest, gently leading the mother sheep” (Isaiah 40, 11). The most famous image of Jesus is the image of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10).

But the legend tells us how a shepherd’s actions are determined by the need of his flock. If the flock is hungry, he brings them to grazing lands. If the flock is thirsty, he brings them to where there is water. The legend tells us that Moses’ first reaction is the realization why the kid left his herd and then he understood the kid. Usually, a person’s action is determined by their need. For example, if a member of the family has become rebellious, there might be a need which is not met in the house: perhaps he needs attention, or he seeks identity, or he seeks peace when there is strife in the family. Indeed, it is not the needs of the shepherd that is the focus, but the needs of its flock.

Christian leadership is thus like the shepherd. Christian leadership nowadays is called “servant leadership” — its image is the image of the good shepherd whose life is at the service of his flock. He serves their need. For example, the needs of the flock in 1965 are different from the needs of the present. Then we respond to the needs of today. Many ways of doing things sometimes have to be abandoned because they are outdated, and new ways should be introduced like “new wine for new wine skins.”

Focusing on the image of the shepherd: as we occupy positions of leadership — as public or private officials, as teachers and student leaders, as parents — we ask ourselves: Am I a good shepherd to my flock? Do I respond to their needs? Or am I quick-tempered to those who ‘run away’ or ‘rebel’ against us?

Finally, focusing on the flock: as we realize that all of us are members of the flock of Christ, do we recognize his voice? In Palestine, the rocky central plateau where flocks of shepherds graze often have flocks mixing with each other. How do shepherds separate them? Each shepherd had a peculiar call. The Palestinian shepherd just goes to a clear area and sounds his call. The sheep who belongs to him rush to its owner, recognizing his call. In the same manner, it presumes that the members of his flock — we — know Christ’s voice. Do we actually know His voice? Can we recognize his voice among the many voices in our hearts? If we easily recognize a person from his voice and the way he walks even from afar, can we recognize Christ too in people and in events?

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