By Dwayne McCrary
A shepherd is one way of thinking about the role played by the leader of a Sunday School class or Bible study group. Before we can function like a shepherd, we need to start thinking like one.
A look at the life of Amos can help us understand what it looks like for us to think like shepherds. Amos was a prophet from the Southern Kingdom (Judah) who delivered a message to the Northern Kingdom (Israel) in the eighth century BC. He was introduced as a sheep breeder (Amos 1:1) and as one who took care of figs (Amos 7:14). Some scholars believe these two things are related since figs were also used as feed for cattle.
What character traits can we find in Amos that will help us think like a shepherd?
Sense of Accountability. In Amos 3:12, Amos alluded to the retrieval of a leg or piece of ear from a lion by a shepherd. The shepherd was a steward of the animals placed under his care. If an animal was lost, he was responsible for paying for the lost animal. Recovering any part of the animal would help convince the owner that the shepherd had done what he could to rescue the animal. Shepherds know they are accountable to the owner of the sheep.
Humble. When confronted by Amaziah the priest, Amos identified himself as a layman and not a professional prophet. He called himself a shepherd and sycamore fig farmer (see Amos 7:14-15). We should not see Amos as the bottom of society, but he was certainly not near the top of the social order either. Amos was simply trying to share what God revealed to him. He did not want to be anything more or less than what he was. His response demonstrated simple humility.
Compassionate. Amos repeatedly called out injustices in his society. He saw the oppression of the poor, the intentional exploration of the widow and orphan, and the acceptance of the mistreatment of others within society. He could have easily gone about his work, staying in the mountains and caves of Tekoa and in the valley tending to the figs. Instead, God allowed Amos to see the plight of the poor and oppressed so he could speak out against it. This seeing and willingness to speak up are borne out of compassion, which we would expect from a shepherd.
Faithful. We might use other words to define this character trait: trustworthy, dependable, consistent, and loyal. All these words carry the idea of someone who has proven himself over time. When confronted by Amaziah, Amos remained faithful to deliver the message God gave him. This characteristic defined Amos prior to God approaching him. Breeding sheep and tending to figs required faithfulness. The work was not easy nor were the conditions always pleasant. Delivering God’s message required that same kind of faithfulness.
Amos gives us a snapshot of how a shepherd may think. We would do well as teachers and leaders if we carried these same traits. This would also change what we look for when recruiting new teachers and leaders. Character needs to equal, if not overshadow, aptitude. Some skills can be taught, but character is rarely developed through a study course or the reading of a book. If we are to think like a shepherd, we must work to build the character traits seen in Amos. What are you doing to foster these traits in your life and in the lives of those you lead? Are you thinking like a shepherd?