In high school, I spent a lot of time considering career paths and future goals. This may not have made it on my list of could-be futures (along with doctor, thespian, and school bus driver--yes, it crossed my mind), but the idea of being a shepherd someday was something I wanted to try just for a little bit. Laugh if you will, but I'll get to the point in a bit. Sure, part of the appeal was in the rolling hills that I imagined in the background or the time alone to song-write like the Psalmist. But what I really wanted was to more deeply understand how God leads His people so I could better follow Him.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice...I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:4, 11, NIV)
Jesus used these familiar words to describe His preferred style of ministry in John 10, which happens to come on the heels of John 9 where the religious leaders of the day had just leaned in to what seemed to be their preferred style of leadership -- spiritual manipulation and coercion (John 9:18-34). Thankfully, Jesus doesn't play those games. Those who held positions of religious leadership back then were, sadly, not the best reflections of God's character and attitudes toward fallen humanity.
Jesus looked for something better to illustrate God's true heart for the lost. His top pick? The shepherd, or more precisely, the good shepherd.
This picture of Jesus reveals how deeply and thoroughly our Savior cares for us individually and intimately. Practically speaking, Jesus provides for (John 10:10) and protects us with His very life (v. 15). Relationally speaking, He knows us, and we have the privilege of knowing Him (v. 14). But more than portraying Jesus' deep and thorough care for us in general, the good shepherd metaphor reveals that His deep and thorough care for us is what primarily characterizes His leadership in our lives.
So how does Jesus lead you and me? He leads us by love; He doesn't drive us by force. There's a big difference between the cowboy that drives cattle and the shepherd that leads sheep. Sheep respond to a familiar, trusted voice. That's why the shepherd calls, and even calls by name. The shepherd leads not by pressing hard but by going before. Jesus is not a cowboy that compels. He's the Shepherd who sacrifices and serves, who leads by love. (See also Psalm 77:20; Jeremiah 31:3; Hosea 11:4.)
The Eastern shepherd does not drive his sheep. He depends not upon force or fear; but going before, he calls them. They know his voice, and obey the call. So does the Saviour-Shepherd with His sheep...
It is not the fear of punishment, or the hope of everlasting reward, that leads the disciples of Christ to follow Him. They behold the Saviour’s matchless love, revealed throughout His pilgrimage on earth, from the manger of Bethlehem to Calvary’s cross, and the sight of Him attracts, it softens and subdues the soul. Love awakens in the heart of the beholders. They hear His voice, and they follow Him (E.G. White, The Desire of Ages, 480).
If this is how Jesus leads us, this must be how He wants us to lead others. In making disciples, the goal is more than content but also character. To reveal Jesus not just in message but also in manner. May the Lord guard us from driving sheep, imposing our will on others like the coercive religious leaders of Jesus' day. May God use us to make disciples not as cowboys, but as shepherds.