It has sometimes been said “Leadership is not for the faith of heart.” It is a task. It is a responsibility, and when one fails at leadership it affects everyone else below them. As a perfect example consider Israel. In Genesis 12 God made a promise to Abraham, if Abraham would follow God, God will give him the land of Canaan for his descendants. In 2 Samuel 7, God promised David that David would always have a son reign on the throne of Israel. These promises were considered by Israel to be never ending. God had promised and so no foreign nation would ever take them over and no one other than a descendant of David would reign on the throne. Sadly, they forgot passages such as Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 that tie the promises to Israel’s faithfulness. Following God would lead to abundant life, but rejecting God would lead to punishment and ultimately exile. Somehow, Israel did not see it coming.
Once Israel went into exile, people started wondering who was to blame. While there was enough blame to go around, the prophet Ezekiel laid much of the blame at the feet of the spiritual leaders of Israel, the ones he called the shepherds of Israel. In chapter 34 he explains their mistakes. The shepherds who were supposed to be setting the example for the community were instead focused on themselves. Instead of feeding the flock, they were getting fat while the people starved. Instead of caring for the weak, hurting, or downtrodden they ruled with an iron fist. Instead of binding up the weak, they took advantage of them. The shepherds enjoyed the praise of men and wanted power and prestige more than serving the flock under their care. Their self-absorption led to disaster.
God is angry. God is furious. God is so hurt and disappointed because of the way these leaders have failed in their responsibility that God is ready to wipe the slate clean. They have failed for the last time. God will not tolerate their ineptitude any longer, they will be punished for their failure as leaders.God is going to hold them responsible because it’s not their flock that was destroyed, it was God’s flock. They weren’t just devouring their own people, they were devouring God’s people. God will rescue God’s flock and protect the sheep from them, because these shepherds are no longer fit to lead.
Ezekiel looks at the situation around him, the exile, the deportation to Babylon, and he says “one of the main reasons we failed as a county, one the main reasons we failed as a people, is because our leaders failed in their task of shepherding.”
The problem with reading a passage like the one in Ezekiel is we quickly want to move on to verses eleven and following. In verse eleven, God promises to come and be the perfect shepherd for the people. God says, I will search for my sheep. I will seek them out. I will feed them, protect them, and watch over them. I will bless them beyond measure and their future will be brighter than the past. We want to move on because we don’t like to linger in other’s mistakes. We prefer hope and joy, to punishment and destruction. However, if we move on too quickly we miss the magnitude of what Ezekiel is saying. We miss the vision that Ezekiel has for shepherding.
If we read between the lines we realize that Ezekiel has a very high view of shepherding. Ezekiel believes that shepherding is not for the faint of heart because the responsibility is so great. One can’t just take time off from Shepherding. One can’t Shepherd for awhile and then decide “oh, I don’t want to deal with that problem today so I’ll just act like nothing happened.” Shepherds see the sheep hurting and go and bind up their wounds. Shepherds see the sheep straying and go searching for them. Shepherds see the sheep that are hungry and feed them and nourish them. Shepherds are there standing beside you in the hospital room when the news comes in that is not fun to hear. Shepherds are the ones who are standing with you as your family is falling apart and help to pull you back together. Shepherds are the ones knocking on your door and calling you back to God when you are falling into sin. Shepherds are the ones who see the stresses of life getting ready to engulf you and come and walk beside you on the road. Shepherds are the ones who are not afraid to lead the church to be God honoring in their practices. And ultimately shepherds are the ones who will stand before God and will be accountable not only for their own lives, but for the lives of those under their care.
Shepherding is not for the faint of heart, it is a real job. Paul says “He who desires the office of a bishop desires a noble task.” (1 Timothy 3:1) We need shepherds who will assume this calling, who will take on the responsibility to care for, protect, and serve us. It’s not a glamorous job, but it is a noble calling. May God raise up leaders who will help us all live as members of the Kingdom of God.