I can remember one of my Old Testament professors discussing the difference between leaders who pull and leaders who push.
He explained the difference by sharing with the class something he witnessed on a trip in the Middle East while he was traveling from a teaching assignment in Israel to a new teaching assignment in Ethiopia.
He explained that when he was leaving the University in Israel and heading to the airport, he saw shepherds who led their flocks by walking in front of the herd. The formation caught his eye. The shepherds seemed stately, he said, as the sheep bleeped their way in a seemingly perfect procession behind him.
The sheep followed the shepherds, and knew where to go by the direction that the shepherd led them. He contrasted this by sharing what he later saw after landing in the country of Ethiopia.
There, while being taxied across the countryside he saw shepherds who walked behind the flock, swatting their sticks at the sheep, prodding them to keep moving forward.
Now my professor made a point, to his class of predominately pastors-to-be, that he wanted us to become pastors after the pattern of the shepherds he saw in Israel. He wanted us to be leaders who pull our people forward by example, rather than by pushing or prodding by force.
Over the years that image has stuck in my mind. It has occurred to me that we as pastors in small churches or simple church communities are either pulling people or pushing people.
Now I realize that people are not dumb sheep. Over the years that I have shared this story someone in the audience has always pointed out to me that sheep deserve prodding. Well, I don’t know – I’m from Ohio, so sheep is still a theoretical thing for me. My parents never owned sheep, my friends never owned sheep, and although I now live in beautiful Mobile, Alabama, I don’t foresee sheep in my future.
However, I do know that this contrasting approach to shepherding has stuck in my mind as a concise example of the way pastors approach the job of leading people.
Pushing people, especially in a simple church gathered, is not that easy when you’re not paying them to be there or your inviting them to join a fellowship without all the bells and whistles of a big budget with a big musical productions and big programs for everybody and their uncle.
Pulling people, one the other, is likely a better approach especially when you have the promise of Zechariah 4:6 to claim, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.”