A Happy Flock Requires Servant Leadership
“He that enters through the door is shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens to this one, and the sheep listen to his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”—John 10:2, 3.
1. (a) Why is leadership an essential quality of an overseer, and what does the very word “overseer” imply? (b) How only can an overseer effectively care for his assignment?
LEADERSHIP is required of every overseer in the Christian congregation if it is to prosper and if the flock of God is to remain happy. The very word “overseer” means one who visits and inspects. It suggests a watching out for and a taking care of the interests of the congregation. The counsel recorded at Acts 20:28 is that, to do this effectively and efficiently, overseers first ‘pay attention to themselves,’ then pay attention to “all the flock” of God and, last, “shepherd the congregation of God.” Faithfully caring for these requirements results in a happy flock.
2. In paying attention to himself, what will the overseer do, and why?
2 The life of a shepherd is often hard and trying. His is a full-time occupation. He must take reasonable care of himself if he is to take proper care of the sheep. It is expected of the overseer to be spiritually strong. The sheep look to him for strength and encouragement. Therefore, he must know his Bible so that he can impart the needed comfort at the proper time. Privately he will study the Word of God daily. He will meditate upon its wise counsel and seek to apply its principles in his life. He will pray to God for wisdom and direction, knowing that it is impossible to provide good leadership without Jehovah’s blessing. He must always remember that “Jehovah himself gives wisdom; out of his mouth there are knowledge and discernment.” He must constantly remind himself that “the wisdom from above is first of all chaste, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, not making partial distinctions, not hypocritical.” (Prov. 2:6; Jas. 3:17) When he is motivated by this wisdom, leadership, faith and other fine qualities looked for in overseers will be evident to the flock of God.
3. What does servant leadership mean?
3 Servant leadership means that the overseer will be with or in the lead of his flock, never behind them or where they are not. He will be at all the congregation arrangements for meetings and taking an active part in them with the other members of the congregation. He will not be attending to congregation business or be in a conference with his assistants while the meetings are in progress. He will be doing what he wants his flock to be doing, namely, he will be paying strict attention to what is being said. He is the example-setter for the congregation.
4. How else will the overseer equip himself for effective leadership?
4 Paying attention to himself as overseer means, too, that he will be thoroughly acquainted with his duties and responsibilities as a shepherd of God’s sheep. He will not neglect reading and studying the constant flow of instructions that come to him through Jehovah’s servant organization—the Watch Tower Society. Rather, he will be careful to study and review such publications as Preaching and Teaching Together in Unity, Qualified to Be Ministers, the Kingdom Ministry and the other publications of the Society. In addition, he not only will familiarize himself with his own responsibilities but will also acquaint himself with the duties of the assistant ministerial servants who are aiding him to shepherd the congregation so that he will be able to help them in time of need. A strong, unified direction from the overseer makes it easier for the flock to follow. They will be quick to respond to instructions and ready to receive counsel in imitation of the overseer’s proper example.
5. Why must the overseer be concerned about his family?
5 Servant leadership also extends into the overseer’s family, if he has one, because his family reflects his competency as an overseer. So he must be careful to look after this responsibility if he is to pay attention to himself, as the apostle Paul instructed that he should. In stating the qualifications of overseers, Paul said: An overseer should be a “man presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection with all seriousness; (if indeed any man does not know how to preside over his own household, how will he take care of God’s congregation?).” (1 Tim. 3:4, 5) Therefore, the overseer’s family should be a model family in the congregation.
6. In what way will an overseer be found leading his family, and why?
6 As head of the family the overseer should see to it that the family is diligent in the study of God’s Word the Bible and active in the field ministry. His family should be a fine example in word and deed to the other families in the congregation. To make sure that the family is well provided for spiritually, the overseer should preside over the weekly family Bible study. He should also lead in prayer and personally go with each member of the family in the house-to-house ministry, make return calls with them on persons who show interest in the Kingdom message and see how the members of his household conduct their weekly home Bible studies. This he does because, as father of his family and as overseer of the congregation, he is interested in the spiritual progress of each member in his family and of the congregation. He wants them all to gain the prize of everlasting life. He wants the congregation also to benefit by his setting a proper example.
7, 8. (a) How does the apostle Paul stress the need for providing spiritually for the family? (b) What may the overseer find necessary to do to meet his family obligations?
7 Even though congregation matters may press in heavily on the overseer, yet he will not want to be found neglecting the spiritual welfare of his family by becoming too busy with other things. He must care for his family. “Certainly if anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household,” said Paul, “he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (1 Tim. 5:8) The family must not suffer spiritually, neither must the congregation over which he is overseer.
8 Often, to care for all the work, the overseer may find it necessary to schedule his time closely, or to farm out some of the things to be done in the congregation to his assistants. His family obligations must be met. Other family heads in the congregation will look to him for leadership as a husband and as an overseer. The shepherd should want to set a worthy example. By using discretion, foresight and understanding, by being reasonable in all things at home and in the congregation, he will be able to do this and be a blessing to his family and a model to the flock of God.—1 Tim. 4:15, 16.
PAYING ATTENTION TO “ALL THE FLOCK”
9. (a) What mental attitude must the shepherd have for the sheep, and why? (b) To what important appreciation must the shepherd lead the sheep?
9 All humanity are likened to sheep in the Bible, but they are spoken of as being in a lost condition. Jehovah, the Great Shepherd, wants none of the sheep to perish. His Fine Shepherd Jesus Christ stated: “It is not a desirable thing with my Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish.” (Matt. 18:14; Ezek. 33:11) The overseer, appointed by holy spirit to care for “all the flock” of God, must be of this same mental attitude. His chief concern should be the lives of all the sheep in his care. He should not want any of Jehovah’s little ones to perish. To safeguard their lives he will instruct them in all the knowledge of God. He must be, not only a qualified teacher of Christian doctrine, but an instructor in the field ministry as well. “For with the heart one exercises faith for righteousness,” wrote the apostle Paul, “but with the mouth one makes public declaration for salvation.” (Rom. 10:10) The overseer must lead the sheep to this important appreciation.
10. (a) What two principal duties of the shepherd did Jesus highlight, and how? (b) How did Jesus take the lead in teaching, and what did he teach the sheep? (c) How can this instruction be applied today?
10 Teaching and leading the flock in the service of God is one of the principal duties of an overseer. Jesus showed this when he commissioned his followers to “make disciples of people of all the nations.” On that occasion he stated that they should teach these new ones ‘to observe all the things he commanded.’ (Matt. 28:19, 20) Paul, too, emphasized the need for overseers to be teachers when he said that overseers should be “qualified to teach.” (1 Tim. 3:2) In teaching, Jesus took the lead. He taught orally and by example. Not only did he teach doctrine, but he also trained his followers in the field ministry. After teaching his apostles concerning the kingdom of God, he took them along with him and gave them personal instruction in the service of God. Step by step they observed him at his Father’s business, which was to become their business too. Jesus told his disciples why he said and did certain things. He instructed them as to their dress in the field ministry, what they should say at the door, how they were to behave before opposers, and he warned them how they would be received by the people. Then after ample personal instruction, he sent them out to follow his example. First, he dispatched his twelve apostles into the field ministry and then he sent out seventy others. Jesus proved himself a qualified teacher. Overseers today must copy his perfect example, if the flock of God is to prosper and remain happy.—Matt. 10:5-30; Mark 9:28, 29; Luke 10:1-3.
11. (a) What rewarding privilege is the overseer’s and why? (b) How can a shepherd inspire the flock to follow him?
11 Leading the flock into the service of God is a wonderful, rewarding privilege. What joy there is in hearing a new sheep praise God for the first time! How mutually rewarding it is for the overseer to spend time with the flock in the field ministry. How beneficial it is for the undershepherds to have the overseer visit them and offer his suggestions! This often demands much from the overseer, but he is compensated with a rewarding joy. The apostle Paul, following closely in Jesus’ footsteps, enjoyed a like privilege. Speaking to his Christian brothers from Ephesus, the apostle told them to bear in mind that for three years, night and day, he did not quit admonishing them. “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.” (Acts 20:20, 31) To the Thessalonians Paul said: “We became gentle in the midst of you as when a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, having a tender affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the good news of God, but also our own souls, because you became beloved to us.” (1 Thess. 2:7, 8) It is this whole-souled, loving, persuading example of an overseer that inspires all the flock to follow.
12. (a) Why is good leadership a safeguard to the flock? (b) How does the shepherd teach? (c) Why do the sheep follow the shepherd?
12 Properly shepherding the congregation of God is a safeguard to the flock. By the shepherd’s diligence the sheep see the seriousness of true worship, the need for an organization and to stick close to it. They experience the strength and direction in good leadership. They enjoy the protection that comes with being with the flock. Their appreciation for regularly assembling together is enhanced and the importance of their daily feeding on the Word of God is heightened. The sheep learn from their faithful shepherd the lesson of dependability and trust. As he gives of himself willingly and without complaint in shepherding all the flock, the sheep learn from this the need for greater sacrifices on their part. His promptness to carry out the will of Jehovah stimulates in each of them the importance of responding immediately to theocratic direction. The shepherd’s mildness aids the sheep to be mild in their relationship with one another. The many duties that he attends to teaches the flock the advantage of scheduling their time. The fact that he leads, not bullies; encourages, not pushes; loves, not hates, is what builds up the flock and results in happiness. The shepherd realizes that as a string cannot be pushed very far from the rear, so neither can a long string of sheep be directed any distance by pushing. Therefore, the shepherd’s joy is in the lead position, paying attention to all the congregation of God, beckoning them to ‘become imitators of him, even as he is of Christ.’—1 Cor. 11:1.
WHERE LEADERSHIP IS LACKING
13. When leadership is lacking, what happens to the flock?
13 Not all overseers take proper care of the flock of God. A great many shepherds of ancient Israel proved unfaithful. The Owner of the sheep, Jehovah, through his prophet Ezekiel exposed their irresponsibility, their selfishness and utter disregard for the sheep, saying: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have become feeders of themselves! . . . The flock itself you do not feed. The sickened ones you have not strengthened, and the ailing one you have not healed, and the broken one you have not bandaged, and the dispersed one you have not brought back, and the lost one you have not sought to find, but with harshness you have had them in subjection, even with tyranny. And they were gradually scattered because of there being no shepherd, so that they became food for every wild beast of the field, and they continued to be scattered. My sheep kept straying on all the mountains and on every high hill; and on all the surface of the earth my sheep were scattered, with no one making a search and with no one seeking to find.” (Ezek. 34:2-6) The shepherds had completely abandoned their God-given duties. They obviously had no love for Jehovah or for his sheep. Jehovah gave his word that he would annihilate them, and he did. However, lack of leadership led to unhappiness, for scattered or lost sheep are not happy.
14. What is the condition of the sheep in Christendom, and why are the sheep being scattered?
14 Unfaithful Israel of ancient times was a prototype of Christendom today, in which we see a similar state among the sheep. Speaking about the conditions of the flock in Christendom, the Christian Heritage for February 1964 said: “Nowadays, there is often only one sheep left in the sheepfold. It is the ninety and nine who are in the desert.” When the sheep flee the sheepfold, it is because there is no shepherd. One of Christendom’s shepherds, minister John R. Claypool, warned that the Baptist churches were losing some of their best young people to other faiths. The Dallas (Texas) Morning News, May 7, 1963, quoted Claypool as saying: “This type of exodus is reaching alarming proportion. And much of the crisis seems to center in the realm of worship.” The young lambs are in search of true food and true drink. When a woman was asked why she left the church, she replied that she “could no longer find meaning in the folksy, informal, irreverent approach to worship that characterized Baptist practice.” The sheep are hungry. They feel estranged and abandoned without a true shepherd to lead them. Dr. Ralph W. Sockman, minister, of Christ Church, in New York City, said that not even Christ would “feel at home in many of the churches erected in His name, because they have allowed ecclesiasticism and worldliness to destroy the simplicity and sincerity of His original gospel.” Is it any wonder that the sheep have been scattered? They have left for want of true worship.
15, 16. (a) Why do the sheep stray? (b) What does one observer have to say about the shepherds and the sheep?
15 Jehovah has declared that the sheep stray when the shepherds fail them. The plaintive bleatings of the sheep in Christendom, their wild restless look, their rushing here and there in a hopeless effort to regain the lost path and be restored to the flock, is proof enough of the failure of Christendom’s shepherds. Writing for the Family Herald, October 25, 1962, under the heading “The Flock Still Needs a Shepherd!” P. Radbourne asks and then comments:
16 “Where is Pastor Brown, Mondays through Fridays? He’s in the pulpit on Sundays—but where is he the rest of the week? It’s my guess he is certainly not on your doorstep or mine and I contend the church must go back to the home if it is to become a truly effective force in its people’s lives. Give us back the old-time, visiting minister who knew the people to whom he preached on Sundays—the humble, unrushed man-of-God who made a point of calling upon each home, who chatted, drank a friendly cup of tea and, before departing, knelt to implore blessings on the home. This is the man who held high inspiration for the young when the world was not familiar with the juvenile delinquent. Who, today, is my children’s guiding light? I don’t know—but I wish it was a pastor. It seems the minister has become too busy, on week-days, to keep in touch. He is an executive on several boards, a member of various service clubs and organizations, and he has several speaking engagements which account for many miles and many excellent causes. But it still leaves the fact that the only place our Pastor isn’t visiting is ours! . . . The visiting minister of old came to our doors in all weather, unannounced and on foot. He had no automobile, telephone, or secretary-equipped office to handle his appointments and write his letters. Still, he came! These days it is becoming increasingly difficult to find one’s pastor, even with the aid of a telephone and a fast car. . . . We expect the shepherd to round up the lost sheep; but what of the other ninety and nine? How can the shepherd know if the wolves are devouring the lambs when he is on the other side of the mountain?”
17. (a) Who is to blame for the pitiful condition of the sheep in Christendom? (b) What is the state of the sheep?
17 Who is to blame for this pitiful state of the sheep in Christendom? The shepherds may blame it on an overload of work, or on the hurried pace of modern life. But the Owner of the sheep tells us what is wrong. At Jeremiah 50:6 Jehovah says: “A flock of perishing creatures my people has become. Their own shepherds have caused them to wander about.” Yes, it is the shepherds that are at fault. They are not taking care of the sheep. And the effects of their negligence have proved calamitous to the flock. Not only have the sheep been led astray, but they have been left to starve to death or die of thirst, or have been abandoned to be devoured by vicious wolves. The remaining scattered lambs are frightened and confused. They call themselves Christians, but have absolutely no concept of what Christianity is. They laud Christianity’s moral principles of peace on earth and one’s love of neighbor as oneself, but they neither attempt to understand their meaning nor practice them. The hope of the scattered sheep is in their Owner Jehovah. They must come to him through his Shepherd-King Jesus Christ or face annihilation with their worthless shepherds.—Isa. 9:14-16; Ezek. 34:16.
EFFECTS OF GOOD SHEPHERDING
18. What is the condition of the sheep in the New World society of Jehovah’s witnesses?
18 The personal contact in the home by the minister that Radbourne pleaded for is precisely how Jehovah’s witnesses have been carrying on their ministry in imitation of Christ and his apostles. And their appointed shepherds take the lead in making unannounced calls at the doors and attend to the needs of the sheep. This has resulted in God’s blessing, for their flocks have increased a hundredfold over a few years’ time. Instead of bolting the flock, the sheep are active and are brought to an appreciation of their relationship with their Creator and his organization. There is peace and unity among the flock, for the shepherd’s love is a perfect bond of union. Being well-fed and watered spiritually, the sheep are contented, happy.
19. What is the effect of good leadership?
19 The effect of good shepherding is that eventually the congregation in a sense takes on the image of the overseer. The sheep imitate the shepherd. At Hebrews 13:7 they are told to do this: “Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” By imitating the overseer, the congregation becomes like him. If he is quick to apply theocratic instructions and suggestions, the congregation is found responding in a similar manner. If the shepherd is one who strives hard to meet suggested goals in the field ministry, then the sheep in his care are seen endeavoring to do the same. If the overseer responds to service with enthusiasm, the flock is right there with him, reflecting a similar positive, confident attitude. Therefore, good leadership is truly a blessing from Jehovah. Its end is life.
20. (a) If the sheep are not responding properly, what should the overseer do? (b) In what can both the shepherd and the sheep comfort themselves?
20 No one expects the sheep to lead the shepherd. It is the responsibility of the shepherd to lead the flock. If the sheep do not respond in the way that the shepherd thinks they should, then it is time for the shepherd to examine himself closely in the light of God’s Word. He should ask himself, Am I providing the flock with vigorous leadership in every feature of the ministry? Am I shepherding with care, tenderly, willingly, eagerly? Or am I harsh and tyrannical with the sheep? Are I and my family an example to the flock? After thought, prayer and meditation, the answer will manifest itself to you. Then make the needed correction. Both the shepherd and his flock can take comfort in the fact that the Lamb of God in the heavens is in charge and that he will fulfill the promise stated at Revelation 7:17: “The Lamb, who is in the midst of the throne, will shepherd them, and will guide them to fountains of waters of life. And God will wipe out every tear from their eyes.”