leader as pastor of the lost sheepIn the Gospels of Matthew and Luke we read the parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:10-14; Luke 15:1-7). In this parable, we learn of the attitudes of the leader with a shepherd’s heart. I believe that the central truth of this parable points to the shepherd and not to the lost sheep. The principal meaning refers to the Lord, but His example can be translated into principles for all leaders. The most important principle to be stressed is the value of the leader’s attitude.

Attitude is the hidden secret behind great leaders. We can use Paul as an example of a leader for each characteristic and attitude that we observe in the shepherd of the parable.

1.   Control

The shepherd exercised quantity control: he knew how many sheep he had. The shepherd also exercised quality control: he knew that a sheep was missing. We must be constantly attentive to the safety of our sheep. Control is the result of a holy concern, a passion, and a responsibility before God. Paul had a deep concern for the churches. Several passages clearly show the evidence of his concern:

Besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:28)

Then after some days, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” (Acts 15:36)

Control is nothing more than information. We plan actions, establish goals and make course corrections on the basis of information. As a leader, you must perceive the importance of controls, such as visitation reports, so that your work becomes more efficient. Paul knew exactly what was going on in the churches simply because he had information:

For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. (1 Cor. 1:11)

For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part, I believe it. (1 Corinthians 11:18)

2.   Right attitude

The shepherd did not have a commercial attitude – for a mercenary businessman, it makes no sense to leave 99 sheep alone to go look for one that got lost. However, the shepherd did not see the sheep as a source of profit. Leaders are like parents, they don’t want to lose any of their children. If the father has ten sons and he loses one of them, it does no good to tell him that he still has nine. Writing to the Thessalonians Paul reveals his heart free of financial interests:

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:4).

For neither at any time did we use flattering words, but we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. (1 Thessalonians 2:5; 7).

. . . nor a cloak for covetousness, For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you (Thessalonians 2:5; 9).

Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. That you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:6; 12).

The shepherd did not have a passive attitude – he did not wait for the lost sheep to come back on its own. He could have thought perhaps: “when it is hungry it will return, or when it gets dark it will show up”. Many leaders fail because of their passivity. They expect the work to get done by itself but real leaders make things happen.

The shepherd did not think about what was convenient – he could have thought, “I only lost 1%, that isn’t so bad! It’s not worth it to leave the 99 and go after just one and risk the 99 that remain”. However, it is necessary to be clear that the success of the leader is guaranteed by his willingness to obtain excellence and do the best work. We find no comfort in comparing ourselves with those who are average. This is the principle of mediocrity.

The shepherd did not have a spiteful attitude – the shepherd could have had the following thoughts: “this sheep that left doesn’t deserve my love and care, it was a traitor”. Many leaders demand an eternal debt of gratitude from the flock because of their work. Leaders are servants and not investors seeking a return on their investment. In the book of Acts of the Apostles we read the abandonment of John Mark, who had helped Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:13). We see the consequences of this desertion and how Paul dealt with the matter. First, Paul and Barnabas separated themselves because of Mark (Acts 15:37). It is possible that Mark’s desertion had left Paul indignant. However, in the letter to the Colossians, Paul recommended Mark to the church (Colossians 4:10) and, in his second epistle to Timothy, he said that Mark was useful for the ministry. In the letter to Philemon we see that the relationship was completely restored (Philemon 1:24).

3.   Planning, strategy and perseverance

The shepherd did not go out searching with no direction, but he sought after the sheep. “To seek” speaks of planning, strategy and perseverance. These are the fundamental ingredients in the life of a leader. A leader who does not plan is destined to failure.

Planning – the shepherd planned a way to find the lost sheep. Our planning is not based on circumstances. We plan our course of action and our work independent of circumstances.

Strategy – he knew the possible places where he might find the sheep and even the means to attract it to himself in the dark of night. He knew where the sheep most like to graze, where they prefer to drink water and where they occasionally get lost.

Perseverance – he did not give up, but searched until he found the lost sheep. He probably didn’t notice the absence of the sheep until near the end of the day. The food was on the table and he was tired, but even so, he decided to seek out the sheep until he found it.

Paul was also a strategist. He prioritized the large cities in his missionary work: Athens (Acts 17:16), Thessalonica (Acts 17:1), Philippi (Acts 16:12), Corinth (Acts 18:1) and Ephesus (Acts 19:17). He began preaching in the Jewish synagogues to the Jews whose hearts were already a prepared soil (Acts 16:12, 13; 17:1; 10; 16, 17). He always consolidated his work with systematic teaching (Acts 18:11; 20:27).

4.   Self-denial

The text in Matthew tells us that there were no guarantees that the shepherd would really find the lost sheep, but even so, the shepherd left in search of it. We don’t invest our time only in sheep that guarantee a return. The shepherd abandoned his comfort and went out in the hot sun of the day and the chill of the night to look for it. This shows his self-denial.

Every leader is like a spiritual father. As spiritual fathers, we must be healthy fathers. Healthy fathers exercise self-denial. As fathers, we must avoid certain excesses:

Fathers that never released their children – these parents want their children to remain tied to them forever. Healthy parents raise their children to win over the world.

Mothers and fathers that demand eternal gratitude – “after everything that I’ve done for you this is how you repay me?” These are expressions of unhealthy parents.

Parents who demand a return of the investment that they made in their children – the parents should store up for the children and not the other way around. (2 Corinthians 12:14)

Our children are our glory, but it is terrible when the children shame the parents. Parents should prepare their children to be proud of them. Trees do not grow in the shade; allow more space for your children to grow larger than you have grown. Be the shoulders upon which your children can rise up and gain new levels of which you have never attained.

5.   Celebration

The shepherd only puts on a celebration feast after he has found the last sheep. Our work as leaders is to find lost sheep in this world covered by the darkness of sin. It doesn’t say that the shepherd exhorted the lost sheep or that he gave it a beating, but simply that he put it upon his shoulders and took it back to the flock.

One of the greatest secrets of successful leadership is learning to celebrate victories. Learn to celebrate each goal and each objective that has been reached together with your team. This will strengthen the team and motivate the team members for the next challenges that you wish to reach.