Good Leaders are Easy to Follow
Faithful shepherding results in enduring happiness for both the shepherd and the sheep. Those who are increasingly conformed to the image of Christ will invariably grow in joy. And shepherds who labor for the joy of others will share in that multiplied joy. Knowing that shepherds will have to give an account to God frees them from the fear of man. Joy is not bound up in accolades, hindered by criticism, or decided by physical circumstances. Instead, like Paul, we can rejoice as long as Christ is proclaimed, people are saved, and the church is conformed to the likeness of Jesus.
If I let my 5-year-old have a can of Coke, a bag of Skittles, and half a dozen Oreos right before bed, I shouldn’t be surprised if he doesn’t listen when I say it is time to sleep. Yes, my child would still be responsible for his willful disobedience, but I have set him up for failure. Through my permissiveness of sugary junk food before bed, I have failed him. My leadership and oversight can set my children up for success or failure. The patterns, rhythms, and habits that a mom and dad establish for their family will shape the behavior of their children.
This is also true in ministry. Consider Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
The basic idea of this verse is that believers ought to obey and submit to their leaders — that is, the pastors and elders of their local church — who are tasked with caring for their souls. It is more beneficial for believers to make this a joy-filled job since they will be on the receiving end of their pastors’ care. You don’t want to antagonize the surgeon moments before he cuts open your heart for your quadruple-bypass surgery. A church’s willingness to obey and submit affects the joy and the care they receive from their leaders.
But the reverse is true as well. Leaders can lead in a way that makes obedience and submission easy and happy, or difficult and frustrating. Shepherds shape the habits of the sheep. Patterns of leadership affect those on the receiving end, for good or for ill.
Wanted: Eager and Happy Pastors
A foundational text for leaders is 2 Corinthians 1:24: “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.” Christian leadership ought not to feel like oppression or the rule of a dictator. Instead, pastor-elders labor for the joy of those they serve. The apostle Peter writes that the task of shepherding and oversight is to be done willingly, eagerly, and by setting an example for others (1 Peter 5:1–4). Begrudging shepherding doesn’t serve the shepherd or the sheep. But joy-filled and eager shepherding results in the joy of those on the receiving end of such care.
Jesus is a happy-hearted shepherd of his sheep. He says in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus, full of joy, takes joy in loving his people and desires his joy to fill his people. Similarly, Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).
Hebrews 12:1–2 gives us another look at Jesus’s own joy.