By David Faust
God leads his sheep by still waters, but low-character leaders poison the stream. How can you distinguish between toxic and trustworthy leaders? How can you tell a good shepherd from a bad one?
We can learn a lot about healthy leadership by reading Ezekiel’s warnings about the unfaithful kings, princes, and other leaders who failed to shepherd the people.
Toxic shepherds are self-centered. “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” (Ezekiel 34:2). Beware of aspiring leaders who want to be in charge simply because of what they will get out of it. Safe leaders aren’t motivated by self-interest.
Toxic shepherds lack compassion. “You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally” (vv. 3, 4). Good leaders have two hands. One hand points the way, and the other hand goes around the follower’s shoulder to bring comfort.
A Christian friend recalls a time when a minister angrily berated her for daring to question him. Although the experience took place years ago, it scarred her soul and makes it hard for her to trust those in authority. Harsh leaders muddy the water that the sheep need to drink (vv. 18, 19). They shove and bully the sheep instead of guiding them with gentle strength (v. 21).
Poisonous leaders lack love. They become preoccupied with power and the perks of their position instead of concerning themselves with the welfare of those they lead. Ministers and elders shouldn’t spend all their time in the office and the boardroom. When God calls someone to ministry, pastoral care is part of the package. True shepherds feed the flock not only from the pulpit, but also through dinner conversations, hospital visits, and prayers offered in times of crisis. True shepherds walk with the flock through the rough and tumble of everyday life.
Toxic shepherds endanger their followers. Without healthy guidance, sheep go hungry, get lost, and become vulnerable to wolves. Without proper leadership, God’s flock is exposed to spiritual harm. In Ezekiel’s day the people “were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. . . . They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them” (vv. 5, 6).
Eventually God will remove bad shepherds from their positions of leadership. “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves” (v. 10).
When toxic shepherds abused the flock in Ezekiel’s day, God promised to take on the leadership responsibility himself. He said, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and . . . he will tend them and be their shepherd” (v. 23). This messianic prophecy points to Jesus, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). Trustworthy shepherds follow in his steps.
Has God put capable, caring leaders in your life? Then be grateful for their influence. Find ways to encourage them and “make their work a joy” (Hebrews 13:17). And give your highest allegiance to the most trustworthy Shepherd of all: the Lord himself.
1. Think of a godly leader you know. How can you encourage him or her?
2. What healthy leadership skills are you cultivating in your own life?
David Faust serves as the Associate Minister at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.
The Lookout’s Bible Reading Plan for November 15, 2015
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
1 John 2:12-17
Ezekiel 29, 30
1 John 2:18-23
Ezekiel 31, 32
1 John 2:24-29
Ezekiel 33, 34
1 John 3:1-10
1 John 3:11-18
Ezekiel 38, 39
1 John 3:19-24
Ezekiel 40, 41
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