Christian Theology and Apologetics

Cowboys and Shepherds: What Type of Leader are You?

Throughout the Bible there is some 500 references for shepherds as being leaders over flocks of sheep. These shepherds care for their sheep greatly. They ensure they have fresh food by incrementally circling hilly landscape and working the way to the top of the hills. The sheep know the voice of their shepherd; shepherds have specific calls that only their flock of sheep recognizes. Shepherds guide their sheep and when one goes astray gently brings it back into the fold. Shepherds gather their sheep at night into a protective fold which usually consisted of brush piled several feet high. The shepherd often acted as the gate to this fold of sheep and anything meaning them harm would have to fight through the shepherd first. The shepherd spent all his time with his sheep and smelled just like one of them. Now contrast this with the Cowboy.

Cowboys often were a troublesome crowd. They were not gentle in any sense of the word. The cowboy saw cattle as a means of profit. They branded their cattle with a hot branding iron so no other ranchers or cowboys would steal their cattle. Cowboys brought their cattle to feeding grounds, but it was always through coercion. They shot their pistols, cracked their whips, and lassoed their necks to drive them to the feeding grounds. The cowboy would corral as many cattle as possible, but if a few stragglers weren’t worth his time, he probably wouldn’t bother. To the cowboy it was all about the bottom dollar.

With these two metaphors for leadership in mind, ask yourself, are you a cowboy or a shepherd? Do you gently guide others or do you drive them so as to meet your goals, rather than their wellbeing? Do you lead with a gentle hand or do you crack a whip, shoot a pistol and demand compliance. Is your leadership style guidance with forbearance or is it through fear and intimidation. I submit that many leaders today do not patiently guide their flock, rather they coerce them into following and when some do not comply they use fear to intimidate them into compliance.

While Moses was in the wilderness with the Israelites God told Moses to speak to the rock (Num. 20:8), but instead Moses in his rebellion criticized the people and then proceeded to hit the rock twice (Num. 20:10-11). Instead of speaking to the rock as a shepherd speaks to his sheep, Moses hit it twice, call it cowboy coercion. Moses paid a price for this type of action; he did not make it to the promised land (Num 20:12). Moses felt the implications for this cowboy leadership.

Today one may not feel the implications for one’s own poor leadership as immediate as Moses did, but the implications will be felt at some point. Pastors and all leaders in the Church need to return to the biblical model of leadership, the shepherd. If we all returned to this model of leadership, we probably couldn’t hold all the ones that would come flocking to hear of our shepherd, Jesus. So I will end with this simple question, are you a shepherd or a cowboy?


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