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The Origin & Character of a Leader

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A shepherd standing in a field with a herd of sheep guiding and protecting them.

 "He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance. With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” - Psalm 78:70-72

Where do leaders come from? Is it necessary to attend an elite training school or be born into a distinguished heritage? God chose David out of the sheepfolds, taking him from following nursing ewes to shepherding an entire nation. God had a unique plan for David, that David might complete “the purpose of God for his own generation” (Acts 13:36). God has a unique plan for each of us, that we each might complete the purpose of God for our own generation. Understanding this truth is vital to pursuing leadership, because if your leadership ambitions are driven by anything other than a humble desire to obey and please God, you will be either stymied or stifled by the vagaries of vanities sure to entrap you. For this very reason…

Leaders often come from very humble beginnings (70-71). The first two words used to describe David in this passage are “servant” and “follower."  

David was first and foremost God’s servant. This is important for two important reasons-  first, he did not see himself too highly. He did not believe he was “too gifted,” “too smart,” “too important” to be a shepherd, because he saw his position as an opportunity to serve God. When we make God the Lord of every assigned task, we can work hard, with zeal, as to the Lord and not to men. "Whatever you do, do it from the heart, as something done for the Lord and not for people, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord. You serve the Lord Christ” Colossians 3:23-24. Second, he did not see himself too lowly. He was not “just a shepherd,” “just a teenager,” “just a runt of the litter” compared to his taller, more strapping older brothers. Instead, his task was imbued with importance, and therefore, he had great responsibility to be a servant leader, caring for the nursing ewes and the little lost sheep who went astray. Like David, we must also carry ourselves with this confident humility; not thinking of ourselves too highly, unwilling to serve, and not thinking of ourselves to lowly, afraid to lead.

David was also a follower. He followed "the nursing ewes.” The relationship between a shepherd, a nursing ewe and its newborn lamb is one worth expanding upon. When a lamb is born, it often takes a few days for it to become completely familiar with the sound and smell of its mom as the bonding process takes place. When the Shepherd determines it is time to move the flock from one pasture to another, it is the lamb and the nursing ewe who are most vulnerable and easily left behind. Torn between her newborn and the herd, the nursing ewe can easily become separated from her lamb or separated from her flock. This is why the Shepherd, though He is leading the flock to greener pastures, is also following the nursing ewe. This kind of leader, who demonstrates equal parts conviction and compassion, is a reflection of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who leaves the 99 to go after the one. When you see how Isaiah describes God as a shepherd, it becomes clear why He chose David to become a leader of Israel - "He tends His flock like a shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart. He gently leads the nursing ewes” Isaiah 40:11.

Humble beginnings are important. It is in our origin stories that the characteristics we will need to thrive and succeed as leaders are formed. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy not to be too quick to place a new believer in a position of leadership, for fear that his character will not be able to hold up to the pressures of pride and temptation (see 1 Timothy 3:6 & 5:22). Even the Apostle Paul, with all of his formal education, training, and experience as a Pharisee spent 3 years in anonymity, studying and preparing for His new calling from the Lord (See Galatians 1:16-17). Like Paul and David, we can greatly benefit from learning the lessons of a shepherd, instead of trying to leapfrog our way to success. Out of his shepherding, David learned four traits that we should all aspire towards.

A Shepherd Leader exhibits the following traits (72):

  1. Character: “Upright heart” - David had an insatiable thirst for God’s presence and God’s Word in His life. "As a deer longs for flowing streams, so I long for you, God” Psalm 42:1. David was sold out for the Lord and His passion for an intimate relationship with God made Him a man who could be
  2. Compassion: “He Shepherded them”
  3. Conviction: “Guided them”
  4. Competence: “With his skillful hand.”

"My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” - Psalm 73:26

We all have a breaking point. There is a level of physical and emotional exhaustion at which time, the limitations of our humanity say, “enough is enough.” No one is truly indefatigable… we all must rest, we all must sleep, even the strongest among us must recharge their batteries. We are not like God, who is limitless in His power, boundless in His might, infinite in His endurance and everlasting in His love.

There is an interesting insight into the word “strength” in this passage. The literal Hebrew word is “rock.”  God is the rock of my heart. God is the solid foundation on which I can build my life, able to resist the fiercest storms (Matthew 7:24-27). God is both the immovable object and the unstoppable force whose Kingdom cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:8). God is the impenetrable fortress and refuge in which our soul can find safety and rest (Psalm 18:2). God is the rock of my heart. We can endure, we can go on, we can rebuild, we can be restored because God’s resources never run out. Our portion of God’s blessings are forever, eternal, limitless and without borders. You can never write a bad check when you bank on God.  He will always be enough, and for this reason alone, you will always be enough.



Warren Mainard author photo
Warren Mainard
Executive Director | IMPACT Players
[email protected]
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