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Tuesday, May 29, 2012 | Comments (5)

by John MacArthur

The secular first-century archetype of leadership was, of course, the Roman emperor. Every culture under Rome's influence was dominated by autocratic leaders and despotic leadership structures. Political rulers, military commanders, slave masters, heads of households, and even the priests and teachers of religion were all variations on the same theme. Authority was generally administered with an iron fist.

That domineering style ran through the chain of command from the emperor's office right down into the family unit. The typical Roman paterfamilias was a dictator in his own home, and family members were viewed as his chattel. If he chose to do so, he could sell his own children into slavery.

Israel in particular was oppressed by multiple layers of harsh and heavy-handed leadership. Some sixty-five years before the birth of Christ, Rome had conquered Judea. By the time of Christ's birth, the Roman Senate had named Herod the Great "King of the Jews," and for several generations after Christ the Herodian dynasty wielded power in Israel with efficient ruthlessness. The occupying Roman armies and Roman procurators (including Pontius Pilate) were likewise renowned for their brutal tyranny.

Even the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jewish religion, commonly employed force and intimidation as the main tools of its leadership. The council was ruled by the high priest and heavily weighted with members of a priestly aristocracy who lorded it over people with threats of excommunication (John 9:22) or stoning (John 8:59; 10:31–33; Acts 23:12–14).

So it was highly significant and profoundly countercultural for the early church to revere the figure of a shepherd as the chief model of spiritual leadership. The word pastor means "shepherd," and it is laden with implications about how leadership in the church is supposed to function—contrary to all worldly patterns.

In Jesus' own words, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25–28, emphasis added).

Indeed, the shepherd's task was the extreme antithesis of the harsh, tyrannical top-down style of a political dictatorship. In that part of the world especially, shepherding involved constant hands-on care from shepherd to sheep. Middle Eastern flocks (even today) aren't generally herded by dogs as in most Western sheep ranching; they are led by the shepherd. "He goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice" (John 10:4). Sometimes they are carried by him (Isaiah 40:11; Luke 15:4–5).

In other words, he leads by serving them, not by driving them.

Leadership in the church is not about raw authority administered by force. The fruits of true, Christlike leadership are humility, tenderness, self-sacrifice, and affection for the sheep. A good shepherd embodies what every leader in the church should strive to be: personal, patient, gentle, hands-on, and sacrificial—leading and feeding the flock and watching out for the welfare of the sheep, even to the point of giving his life for them if necessary (John 10:11).


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#1  Posted by Kevin Starn  |  Tuesday, May 29, 2012at 9:57 AM

My family observed a once thriving church fall apart because of this type of leadership. One minister was verbally assaulted at the board meeting by two elders AFTER he had resigned. It was the begining of the end for that congregation primarily due to tyrannical leadership which continued until no one but a few leaders were left. It is a shame that far too often leadership follows Roman emperors or the scribes and Pharisees and not out Lord Jesus Christ.

#2  Posted by Sandy Judy  |  Tuesday, May 29, 2012at 5:12 PM

Our family just went through the devastation of having to leave our church because the Pastor became drunk with power and wanting to build a big church. His teaching started changing and saying that people need to obey and submit to him. He also started teaching on "tithing" quite often and saying the Lord told him to do certain things and tell the congregation certain things (i.e. get the CD on tithing). Many other grievious things we witnessed even to the point of lining himself up with false teachers on radio and TV programs. This type of leadership certainly does not portray our Great Shepherd and misrepresents God.

#3  Posted by Harry Phillips  |  Tuesday, May 29, 2012at 7:22 PM

Our church also suffered from abusive and over zealous leadership (Some of our board members) . We are now several years past that. Our current board has made the proper changes to bring about a true Biblical pattern. It is such a joy now to serve on our board and work with men I love and enjoy so much. You can effect changes if you pray and stay the course. (Though it could take several years.) Patience is the key, and looking to Christ for His guidance and strength to be a change agent. Confidence in the Scriptures to know what to do is also needed. Our enemy does not have to have the victory in this. ....Harry

#4  Posted by Maxwell Otalor  |  Wednesday, May 30, 2012at 11:35 AM

The leadership espoused in our culture and in cultures of the past is truly indicative of the sin nature in man. In our musings and actions we find that the natural course is adverse to the ways of God. On a logical scale it would make sense to most to lead the way Pharisees and Roman Emperors led. We truly know not what we do. How counterintuitive is it to go against our mode of thought and trust in the way the lord prescribes. All of Christian living provokes faith and trust in the word of God. Simply to lead absent of a servant spirit only suppresses your followers and furthers promotes an incorrect template for leadership. Those who follow will fall under a heretical concept and lead as they have been led. Many lessons can be learned from the past mistakes of leaders. To repeat the same mode of operation and expect to yield different results in asinine.

#5  Posted by Matthew Aube  |  Thursday, May 31, 2012at 3:11 AM

What a precious post thank you Pastor John. I thank the lord for His work in you and your commitment to Him. I am continually humbled by the Truth.