The average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is just 4.6 years, and it’s even shorter for many pastors (average of 4 years.) This statistic could be explained by burnout, but it could also be a reflection of a shadowy tendency of human nature. People sometimes leave when the going gets tough, when the honeymoon is over. By changing positions frequently, it’s possible to keep one’s life and leadership in a constant “honeymoon phase” and leave the problems to someone else. However, this isn’t the kind of leadership Jesus modeled and advocated.
Jesus talked once about the mentality of the shepherd versus the hired hand. He said, “The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it” (John 10:12). Jesus highlighted the difference between someone who acts like a shepherd/owner and someone who acts like a hired hand. The shepherd has ownership of his flock, is invested in their wellbeing, and is connected with their destiny. Jesus describes himself as “the Good Shepherd” who knows his sheep and lays his life down for them. When it comes to that which God calls us to do, he wants us to imitate Jesus and be shepherds/owners and not like hired hands.
Although it has taken me some time, I’m now grateful for a leadership crisis I experienced at an early age. I had to face my own inclination to run away. I experienced new levels of grace through the grueling, soul-refining work of conflict resolution, forgiveness, and team-building that test a leader’s character. Crisis, portrayed in Jesus’ parable as the wolf’s intrusion and attack, has a way of revealing motives and prompting reactive behavior. We all have a mix of pure and impure, selfish and loving motives, but crisis often strips us of our facades and breaks down for us what is really important. Crisis clarifies why we are doing what we are doing and to what extent we are committed to the “sheep” entrusted to us. Crisis is a tremendous way to grow in intimacy with the Lord.
Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” -1963
When crisis comes, let’s trust our Jesus-shepherd and be faithful to the task and to the people who look to us for leadership. Let’s allow the hard times to take us deeper with the One who loves us and gave His life for us.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
The Lord is my shepherd, I have all that I need.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
From the perspective of our personal stories, sometimes this famous psalm of David just does not resonate. Lack nothing? Shall not want? Have all that I need? I lack the family of my dreams, I need more money to pay the rent, and I wantwantwant so many other things….
When trying to understand the seeming discrepancy between the words of the psalm and our experiences of need, we might consider that when we pray this psalm, we are participating in a much larger story than our personal stories alone can tell. We are being brought into the story of the people of God. The psalm is framed in metaphorical language, which means that it isn’t designed to be read literally. Rather, the psalmist David is conveying an impression–through a series of striking images–of a general truth: God’s relationship to his people is like that of a shepherd with his or her flock of sheep. This is the first time David uses shepherd imagery to describe God in the psalms. Prior to the 23rd psalm, we read about Yahweh as a more distant “king” or “deliverer” or the impersonal “rock” or “shield.” But here David uses the personal and intimate metaphor of a shepherd who is always with his sheep and who prioritizes their wellbeing. Like a good shepherd, the Lord cares for his people.
It’s the identity of the shepherd – not the perspective of the sheep – that takes center stage in the psalm. A shepherd’s heart and mind are focused on making sure that the sheep are fed and safe, provided for and protected. This is true in the collective sense of God’s people across time and geography, and it is true in our personal lives. “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake…” When we find ourselves in need, we can trust that our shepherd sees and knows our circumstances. We can “bleat” our prayers in confidence that our shepherd will lead us well, even through the valley of the shadow of death. We can come to love and trust our Shepherd so completely that our needs diminish in the light of his presence with us.
I am delighted that we are joining with The Church in Denver (a group of 10+ churches) to study this psalm during the month of July. My hope and prayer is that we will not just learn about this psalm but that we will experience the loving Shepherd in new and intimate ways. Perhaps we could spend the entire series…or better yet our entire lives, just praying that those first two verses of this psalm might be true in our daily lives.
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.