Somebody’s Poisoned the Water Hole!

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series on the The Ministry of a Shepherd from Ezekiel 34.

Sometimes we are better at talking about something than actually doing it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the topic of leadership. Pass through any bookstore and you’ll find shelves of books on leadership, leadership principles, leadership keys, and leadership according to [fill in the blank]. Oddly, most of them agree that despite the prevalence of leadership resources, leadership ability has not improved noticeably.

We talk a lot about it, but little difference seems to have been made, which, ironically, suggests that we have shown poor leadership in the area of leadership.

I am reminded of the words of Woody from the Movie Toy Story, “Somebody’s poisoned the water hole!” The problem is we keep drinking from it seemingly unaware of the danger. We’ve lost our ability to taste the difference. We’ve settled for talking about leadership instead of demonstrating it. We’re the princess who can no longer discern the presence or absence of the pea.

We’ve settled for talking about leadership instead of demonstrating it.

This issue of leadership responsibility was illustrated recently in a mischaracterization of Southern Baptists by former President (and former Southern Baptist) Jimmy Carter. It accentuated the fact that we have allowed ourselves to be defined by our opposition; to be delimited to what we are not and, consequently, find ourselves rabidly trying to defend ourselves against what we didn’t say.

Sadly, there’s no Snopes for discrediting flagrant denominational misinformation. Moreover, to decry untruths spoken against us merely puts us on the whiny defensive trying desperately to prove what we don’t mean. The answer is in clearly articulating who we are, where we stand, why we stand there, and having the courage to stand there even if the crowd standing with us begins to dwindle under the pressure of political correctness.

But the problem isn’t unique to our time. The need for shepherd-leaders completes the list of accusations the Lord made against the shepherds in Ezekiel 34. The text reveals that God expects shepherds to feed the sheep, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, protect the vulnerable, bring back those driven away, seek the lost, and lead the flock.

The Lord’s grief was evident as He announced that His sheep wandered from the fold and dwelt in insecurity because their shepherds were not leading them. The absence of shepherd leadership resulted in wandering, unsafe, confused, and hungry sheep. The Lord identified the problem in vs. 21, noting that the shepherds’ attempts at leadership consisted of trying to push the sheep around rather than leading them. But, one doesn’t lead from behind. You don’t drive sheep; you lead them. You don’t shoo them; you woo them. Sheep lie down in green pastures because the shepherd has made them feel safe.

You don’t drive sheep; you lead them. You don’t shoo them; you woo them.

It’s an unworthy hireling who merely wants to rule the sheep. That’s the opposite of shepherding. The sheep do not exist to serve the wants of the shepherd; shepherds exist to serve the needs of the sheep.

The answer might not be found in a book, but it will be evident in the field. Good shepherds don’t lead by proxy, dictate, demands, or good intentions. Shepherds live among the sheep and carefully and consistently lead the sheep from where they are to where they should be.

Unfortunately some of our shepherds (like some of our prominent political Southern Baptist leaders) have not always represented us well. But you and I need to do better. We know better.