One of the most fascinating models of leadership that I have come across is the shepherd’s model. When you think of examples of leadership, the shepherd rarely comes out at the top of the list. However there is much that we can learn as leaders from the leadership model of the shepherd.
When I think of a shepherd the following attributes come to mind: loving, patient, sacrificial, skillful, wise, caring, courageous, guide, strategic thinker, diligent and faithful. These are all attributes that a truly great leader should possess. The dictionary defines the word shepherd as “A person who protects, guides or watches over another person or a group of people”. Synonyms of the word shepherd include: coach, counsel, lead, mentor, pilot, guide, and tutor. It is clear that when you dig into the true meaning of the word shepherd you will see several desirable traits of truly great leadership.
One of the greatest examples of a shepherd-leader was King David. The Bible tells us that David was a shepherd before he became king over Israel. David trained to become king by first becoming a shepherd. It was in those days tending sheep that David developed the heart to become a truly great leader. Even though David had the capacity to lead, as we all do, he had to develop his gifts before he could deploy them.
The biblical account of David’s life in 1 Sam 17:34-37 describes some of the training that David underwent as a shepherd.
1 Sam 17:34-37 NKJV
34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a zlion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock,
35 I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it.
36 Your servant has killed both lion and bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, seeing he has defied the armies of the living God.”
37 Moreover David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
And Saul said to David, “Go, and the Lord be with you!”
David’s account of some of his experiences as a shepherd illustrates some of the leadership attributes that he had to develop and display in the execution of his role. As a shepherd David had to be a guide and a pilot in order to lead the sheep away from danger and to green pastures where the sheep could feed and be nourished (v34). It took love and courage for him to risk his life in order to protect his sheep (v35). It took strategic thinking for him, to devise tactics for defeating the bear and the lion (v35). David then acted as a coach and mentor to the rest of the army by illustrating to them the link between his successes as a shepherd and the impending defeat of the Philistine – Goliath (v37).
Psa 78:70-72 is another account of David’s time as a shepherd.
Psa 78:70-72 NIV
70 He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens;
71 from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance.
72 And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.
It is interesting to note that in Psa 78:71 the word shepherd was used to describe David’s kingship over Israel. The scripture in Psa 78:72 leads us to believe that David developed great skill as a shepherd; David’s leadership of the nation of Israel was described as skillful. He had to have developed these skills in his previous role as a shepherd. God allowed David to serve in the role of a shepherd over sheep in preparation for his role as shepherd over Israel. God guided David to develop the skills and display the attributes needed to eventually become king.
David was one of the greatest leaders that ever lived. He oversaw the expansion of Israel and the defeat of numerous enemies. However his apprenticeship began as a shepherd. In your journey to becoming a truly great leader you can look unto David’s leadership development as a shepherd, as an example of what it will take to develop into a truly great leader. Also note that God’s guidance and David’s relationship with God (1 Sam 17:37, Acts 13:22) were instrumental in David’s emergence as a truly great king. David ultimately accomplished everything that he was created to do (Acts 13:36). Likewise, you can become the great leader that God created you to be.
I look forward to reading your comments and questions.