These two questions plunked themselves in front of me when I read the second and third chapters of the book of Micah. The prophet’s word pictures about self-serving leaders initially left me without any personal conviction. That’s why it’s important to study the Bible, not just read it.
“…. you skin my people alive and tear the flesh from their bones” (Micah 3:2b NLT).
“You false prophets are leading my people astray! You promise peace for those who give you food, but you declare war on those who refuse to feed you” (Micah 3:5 NLT).
Once I started to dig a little, that familiar sense of “Uh, oh. I think God’s speaking to me too,” started rising. For me, digging means reading the passages in a couple of different translations and checking out a couple of my favorite commentaries. (I’ll share a list under the “Lamp and Sword” section.) That’s when the Holy Spirit started exposing some of my past mistakes.
I observed Micah’s contrast between the qualities of God as a shepherd in chapter two, with the features of leaders whose motives are self-motivated, in chapter three. Upon quiet reflection, the Spirit reminded me of past behaviors where achieving my goals became more important than feeding, nurturing and protecting those under me. The memories didn’t limit themselves to my various professional roles as a teacher and pastor but also included my life as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and so on. Here’s two examples:
I insisted my young daughter leave the house each day with neat hair and well-coordinated outfits so she would reflect well on me. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until she hit junior high. I realized I’d never taken the time to teach her those skills for herself. I should have been “feeding” her that information all along and allowing her to experiment a bit. I think that’s what a good shepherd mom does. I learned that from watching how she shepherds her daughters now. She’s willing to let them create some interesting outfits, with her guidance, rather than squeeze them into her personal style box for the sake of “what will people think?”
At one school in which I taught, I felt pressure from my administrator to achieve unreasonable goals with my choral groups. Instead of sitting down with him to negotiate and modify the objectives, my pride led me to become a bit of tyrant. I felt that if I said that the goals seemed beyond the current crop of students, it reflected more on my teaching abilities than anything else, so I took that challenge for a few months. Choirs stopped being fun for the students and me. Finally, in discouragement, I sat down with my principal. To my amazement, he said, “Oh, those were just some ideas I had. When you didn’t offer any others, I figured you were good with them.” A good shepherd director would have sorted this out sooner than later.
I could tell many more tales of times I put my needs, wants and fears ahead of those of the people under me. Any time any shepherd puts their own concerns above the flock’s, that flock is in danger. The shepherd’s attention is focused inward and not on that little lamb who wandered off into thorn bushes, or the sheep who’s eating the poisonous plant. Apparently, the shepherds Micah is speaking to, developed self-preservation to an art form. God inspired the prophet with graphic, bloody language to help wayward leaders see the damage they were inflicting emotionally and spiritually on the people of Israel and Judah.
The Bible has much to say about good shepherding. Reading some of those passages, a list of character traits emerged to me. These are qualities I look for in leaders and want to be deliberate about growing in myself. My goal is that anyone following me on any level might feel nurtured, encouraged, fed, trained and equipped to do the same for other sheep. I know it’s a lofty goal, but I think God wants us to dream large about these things. Here’s some of the qualities of good shepherds that I found.
They are willing to sacrifice themselves for the needs of the flock. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” John 10:11. There is a balance in the life of Christ that I want to model. The gospels frequently speak about him spending time alone with God to care for his own emotional and spiritual needs yet he ultimately sacrificed his own body so his flock could live.
They lead people to times and places of refreshment. “He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams” Psalm 23:2 NLT. Caring leaders take time to create environments for their flocks which encourage laughter, refreshment, celebration and rest. They don’t continuously drive the flock towards a goal, only feeding and resting enough for simple survival. They take time to meet needs along the way.
They care about people as people, whether they can help the leader towards their goals or not.“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” Matthew 9:36 NIV. I want my compassion and care to extend consistently towards those who are in desperate need of help and possess no ability to further my personal goals, except to make me more like Jesus.
They are aware of what’s going on in the lives of those who serve alongside them and under them.“Know well the condition of your flocks and give attention to your herds” Proverbs 27:23 NIV. I’ve served under Christian leaders who are oblivious or worse yet, uninterested in my personal struggles. By their behavior they’ve indicated to me that my value is in what I produce, not in who I am. Sadly, several non-believing employers I’ve worked under expressed more concern about my life than a couple of my brothers and sisters in Christ in authority over me. God help me if I’ve ever made someone feel that way and strengthen me Lord, to never do it again.
My list is not the definitive one concerning good shepherds, but it’s the one God brought to my attention. Maybe Micah can speak to you too.
Lamp and Sword
****Further resources for study and reflection****
“Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105
“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrew 4:12
Here’s a list of my favorite go-to commentaries. They are all available online.
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Faussett and Brown. These guys focus on the original languages and what words meant at the time they were written. This adds a lot of understanding to texts particularly where we might be interpreting meaning based on our own cultural biases. https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/jamieson-fausset-brown/
Bible Hub is an online collection of over fifty different commentaries. I’ve used Guzik’s Bible Commentary, Barnes Notes, Scofield Reference Notes and Gills Bible Exposition. https://biblehub.com/commentaries/