Chapter One

The Objective of A Congregation's Leadership

The early morning mists rose lazily from the pasture. The coyote had watched for four days as two huge white dogs nonchalantly led the flock of sheep from their night pen to begin their day of grazing. The weaned lambs recently rejoined the flock. Daily the flock scattered as they began to graze. The coyote planned to unexpectedly dart in, quickly kill a defenseless lamb, drag the dead lamb to a waiting partner, and retreat with more than the two of them could eat in one meal.

The coyote left his cover full of confidence. Several yards from his cover he suddenly was cut off from his chosen lamb as one of the huge white dogs appeared before him. In disgust, the coyote quickly turned, intending to hastily retreat to his cover. With the same unexpected suddenness, the other huge white dog blocked his retreat. As the coyote quickly accessed his predicament, he felt a sharp pain in his back near his tail. He whirled with bared teeth to confront his rear attacker, only, again, to feel a sharp pain in his left leg. Again, he whirled with bared teeth, assuming his best “don’t mess with me” expression, only, yet again, to feel the sharp pain of something biting his rear left leg.

In moments it was over. The two huge white dogs walked away to continue their duties of guarding the flock as the carcass of a dead, ripped coyote laid a few yards from what was the coyote’s cover. With only a few muffled sounds, the battle ended. The flock continued to graze securely under the vigilant eyes of two Great Pyrenees dogs.

Janice Prater has two Great Pyrenees dogs and a Border collie (that loves to round up and pen the sheep) to assist her as she cares for her small flock. Many years ago when she started her flock, she estimates she lost fifty per cent of her lambs to coyotes. Those coyotes were bold enough to kill lambs as she fed her flock! Then an experienced shepherd introduced her to Great Pyrenees dogs. For years she has lost no lambs to coyotes.

The bond between a trained Great Pyrenees and its flock borders on the unbelievable. Though the dog is large (adult males weight 90 to 125 pounds and adult females weigh 85 to 115 pounds), though it seems slow almost to the point of being lazy, and though it seems to notice nothing, it is totally devoted to the well-being of the sheep. The dog constantly observes more than humans imagine! It even ignores Janice’s presence to care for Janice’s flock!

The Need

The need is enormous. Sheep are very dependent. Even though they are quite dependent, the shepherd never knows if the sheep will cooperate or be defiant. Sheep can be gentle on one occasion, and contrary on another. Though everything is done for their own good (by a conscientious shepherd), the sheep often seem oblivious to that fact.

Occasionally a sheep wanders off alone or gets itself in a situation it cannot get out of. Finding a lost sheep is commonly exasperating. The sheep’s only defense against predators is to be totally quiet and attract no attention to itself. Even if the shepherd passes near the “in trouble” sheep, the sheep will not make a sound—even if it is in dire physical need of food and water. The search for a lost sheep literally can last for days. It does not end until the searcher actually sees the sheep. Commonly the searcher experiences an enormous sense of relief if the sheep is found alive.

A sheep’s dedication to its quietness cannot be exaggerated. Even in the painful birthing process, the ewe remains quiet. During this period, Janice checks her ewes every three hours day and night. The only way her ewes can be assisted with a difficult birth (which is often needed) is for her to see the condition of the ewes—no matter how dire the need, a ewe will not “ask” for assistance.

A close relative asked Janice why she continued to have a flock when the sheep required so much work. Her reply: “I love my sheep, and I love working with them.” Obviously, to take care of a flock requires a devotion of continuing love. Only those who love it have enough patience to do it!

Observing the Obvious

Not everyone is “cut out” to be a shepherd. Only a person who loves sheep can take care of a flock. The well-being of the sheep is the number one consideration—always. Sheep cannot be “worked with” as though they were cows—sheep take more patience, care, and time. Working with sheep is not for those in a hurry that do not have the patience to experience the unexpected (that often seems the unnecessary). Sheep are unique among domesticated animals as they maintain a unique blend of dependence and individuality. Rarely can something so dependent be occasionally (and unpredictably) so stubborn.

Yet, the characteristics of sheep are unique to the type of sheep. For example, the mentality expressed in the herding instinct differs from breed to breed. To be an effective shepherd, the person must be well-acquainted with the breed he or she cares for. It must not be assumed if a shepherd is effective with one breed, that shepherd will be effective with all breeds. Only if the shepherd can make adjustments, changing when necessary, can the person be effective from breed to breed.

For a quality shepherd, the sheep always must be the all-important consideration. As a good shepherd considers the sheep, the consideration is not on what the flock wants, but what the flock needs. What a flock wants and what a flock needs may not be the same thing. To be redundant, it is not about the acreage available—as important as that is; it is about the sheep. It is not about the barns—as important as that is; it is about the sheep. It is not about the pens—as important as that is; it is about the sheep. The acreage, the barns, and the pens support the needs of the sheep, and never exist in their own right.


Not every person is capable of providing congregational leadership. The tools of effective leadership in a business enterprise are not automatically the skills of effective leadership in a congregation. In a congregation, effectiveness is calculated by effectiveness in meeting the needs of the flock, not in bottom lines or profit margins. The same could be said for any professional pursuit—accounting, security work, community offices, banking, ownership, trade skills, or a retirement existence.

This is not at all to say that the lessons learned in any professional pursuit do not have usefulness or application to congregational well-being. It merely says:

  1. The ultimate skill in congregational leadership is a concern for people. Jesus did not die for an organization or an institution. He died for people. God did not resurrect Jesus for an organization or an institution. He did so for His love of people.
  2. The ultimate measurement of the effectiveness of congregational leadership is to be found in and seen in the development of people in God’s values expressed in Jesus’ priorities. It is much easier to measure the development of an organization or an institution than it is to measure the spiritual growth of people.
  3. The criteria for measuring people’s growth in faith may look like failure by organizational or institutional criteria. Faith growth commonly is expressed in how the person handles a crisis.
  4. Believers can unexpectedly be stubborn and exasperating. Effective congregational leadership often demonstrates itself when love for individuals triumphs over exasperation created by well-meaning but uninformed persons.
To be an effective congregational leader, the person must walk in the sheep’s pasture. Leadership grasps the reality of the peoples’ problems only if leaders walk in the congregation’s world. One cannot provide effective leadership for a congregation unless the challenges of troubled people are understood. Problems are not solved with declarations of “you should.” Solving congregational problems begins with understanding the problems. Leaders demonstrate caring first by listening to understand. Leaders are listened to when they first listen.

Effective congregational leadership is only for those who are motivated by God to love people. It is hard work. It is often exasperating work. It frequently is not appreciated by those who most benefit from it. Leadership is provided only by those who allow God to constantly teach them how to love people (even when people are unlovable). May leaders never forget they assist the Chief Shepherd, but they are not the Chief Shepherd. Perhaps the most exasperating feature of leadership is to accept one’s own limitations in leadership ability.

THEREFORE, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE (1 PETER 5:1-5).



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