Image of the Christian Leader: the Suffering Shepherd 

Christ is risen!

Indeed He is risen! 

My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. (John 10:27-28)


“This most of all characterizes the leader, you see, his providing for his subjects, his care and consideration for them.

Hence Christ also said of ‘the good shepherd,’ not that he is honored and served, but that he ‘lays down his life for his sheep’ (John 10:11).  This is the meaning of leadership, this the art of being a shepherd, ignoring one’s own concerns and being preoccupied with those of one’s people.  What a physician is, after all, so is a leader—or, rather, more than a physician.  While the physician, you see, procures people’s welfare through skill, the leader does it through risk to himself.  Christ also did this, being scourged, crucified, suffering countless torments.”   (St John Chrysostom, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS, p 77)


With the above words, Chrysostom describes his idea of Christian leadership – that of a shepherd so in love with his flock that he is willing to suffer or even die for them.  The image is not that of a hierarch, prince or judge ruling over his people but rather living in total care for them and giving no consideration to his own concerns.  The Christian leader may also be a physician to his flock, but Christian leadership goes far beyond that of the care of a physician.  For as Chrysostom notes, the physician helps people through the skills he has been taught, but he heals others at no personal cost to himself as he provides for others through the skills he has learned.  The Christian leader on the other hand imitates Christ the Good Shepherd, and suffers with, for or even because of his flock, putting their needs and concerns ahead of his own self-interest (Philippians 2:4 – this behavior is asked of all Christians).  The Christian leader who leads mostly through giving orders and expecting others to obey him, shows no sign of Christian leadership, of the Holy Spirit or of Christ.  The hymn for a sainted bishop offers this image of Christian leadership: “You appeared to your flock as a rule of faith, An image of humility and a teacher of abstinence. Because of your lowliness heaven was opened to you, Because of your poverty riches were granted to you…”  No mention of the bishop leading by issuing decrees and orders or demanding obedience.  The bishop is to lead by example, humility, self-denial and poverty.  No mention of the bishop being an image of a Byzantine prelate for this is the opposite of what Christ taught in his criticism of the Pharisees: “They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men … Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant… ” (Matthew 23:4-7, 10-11).  “But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is the greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:26-27).  .  The good shepherd, the good pastor, is very different than a master or hierarch for he lives with his flock, risking the same dangers as they.  He walks ahead of them to lead them by facing dangers, and is the last to enter the sheepfold awaiting all his sheep to first enter safely before himself going in to safety.


I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18)