Have you ever served in an environment where you truly thrived?
The word itself brings visions of flourishing … of prospering and developing, growing and progressing, succeeding and advancing … of bearing fruit in such a way that a person’s service is a sincere pleasure, a deep delight and a true joy.
In his wisdom, Solomon speaks in Proverbs 11 of the righteous thriving like a green leaf. Like nature moving from dormant winter to vibrant spring, this analogy provides a glimpse of what it could look like for us, as well as our work, ministry, and volunteer teams, to reach full potential. As spring arrives, the brown, barren branch of a tree, nearly over night bears the first bright, green leaf of the season. Then another. And another. Until it’s branches are full, and the tree is bursting with sheer beauty. It thrives as it grows to provide shelter from its trunk or food from its branches, protection from the sun in its shade, and the simple beauty of its presence.
The Father intended for us to thrive – as leaders, as team members, and as his body. He came that we might have life and have it to the full! Since the Good Shepherd came to give us life abundant, those who follow him should demonstrate that fullness in how they lead. An inevitable effect of an abundant-life leader is an abundant-life team! The question is this: What does abundant-life leadership look like?
As always, the answer lies in Scripture – both in the wisdom of the ancients and in the metaphor of The Good Shepherd.
Jesus’ sermon outlined in John 10 was his response to the poor leadership of the Pharisees when they excommunicated the formerly blind beggar. He used the metaphor of Good Shepherd to illustrate leadership at its finest – that of a shepherd – and provide a living example to us of how to lead.
A true shepherd risks everything for the safety, comfort, and well-being of the sheep. Whether concerned with provision by traveling ahead to scout the terrain and assure there’s a water source available, with protection by considering and understanding the habits of the predators in the area, or with presence by being available to ensure the entire flock is accounted for, an effective shepherd leads well. And his or her flock thrives.
The role of shepherd as leader was paramount to Jehovah. After all, the sheep are sacred to him … and they should be to us! Through the Old Testament prophets, God outlined how leaders mistreated and neglected the sheep – his sheep – and then delineated the grave consequences associated with such behaviors. Those prophecies make available to us the specific behaviors that God desires in his shepherds.
“A true shepherd risks everything for the safety, comfort, and well-being of the sheep.”
In addition, God has outlined the responsibilities of a shepherd through David in Psalm 23. Although a passage we most often turn to during difficult times, this song describes the perfect shepherd leader as one who fully provides, wholly protects, and is deeply present for the sheep. According to David, a shepherd leader supplies rest, peace, spiritual guidance, direction, vision, safety, discipline, comfort, sustenance, the sense of being set apart for a purpose, abundance, goodness, mercy, grace, a steadfast love and a secure future for the sheep.
Phillip Keller, in the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (Zondervan, 2007), notes that David knew “from firsthand experience that the lot in life of any particular sheep depended on the type of man [woman] who owned it. Under one man [woman], sheep would struggle, starve and suffer endless hardship. In another’s care, they would flourish and thrive contentedly.”
Jesus went beyond David’s description by capturing the essence of a shepherd: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) Jesus was illustrating how a good shepherd would lay across the one opening of the sheep’s pen, or sheepfold, at night to ensure that sheep do not exit and that predators do not enter … risking his or her life for the sheep. Sacrifice. Service. Sheep above self.
Imagine how the sheep in our lives would thrive under the abundant-life leadership of a shepherd CEO, Board member, supervisor, manager or team leader.
Imagine how your team would perform differently or work more cohesively … or thrive … if you shepherded as David described, and sacrificed as Jesus illustrated?
What does abundant-life leadership look like? Serving the sheep through the provision, protection, and presence of the shepherd … the same way The Good Shepherd leads us.
Holly Culhane is founder and CEO of Presence Point, Inc., an organization focused on developing and supporting shepherd leaders, in every walk of life, all over the world. Contact Holly at Holly@PresencePoint.com, and learn more about the efforts of Presence Point at www.PresencePoint.com.