As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”
One of the basic tenets of the Boy Scouts of America that I remember from my very short time as a Cub Scout was that we are to leave a place better than we find it. It is not the first rule of Boy Scouting, but it may well be the underlying purpose behind it all. In fact, this tenet alone could probably be taken up as a life purpose for us all, not just a purpose for Boy Scouts.
It is a little sad to me that I can recall several major pop artists (Michael Jackson and John Lennon for example) who put this purpose to music, while they may or may not have actually lived it out themselves. But all too often it comes across as a very soft and passive approach to life, sounding like advice to a person who is told, if you cannot do anything else, at least try to be a nice person. This tenet was not meant to be something to do if you cannot think of anything else. It was meant to be a first purpose for existence.
Contrast the idea of leaving the world better than you found it with the idea of “carving out a name for yourself”, perhaps reminiscent of those who carve their names on tree trunks as children and on concrete buildings as they grow older. Carving is a basic predatorial attempt to mark your territory – to take something forcefully as your own. You do not have to have any leadership skills to do that. You just have to be strong and fear-inspiring. While the two ideas are not mutually exclusive (you can do both), taking something over does not guarantee it will be better for your ownership and responsibility for it. Often, as in the example of the bigger sheep mentioned above, all the show of force does is ruin the watering holes for everyone as they are used and abused faster than if there were no leadership at all.
The temptation in leadership is to try to remain objective and take yourself out of the equation. If you are responsible, surely you should not be judged by the same standards as the sheep around you. Yet in order to actually leave the place better, you have to do just the opposite. If you would put yourself in the place of judging others, you must find honest and accurate ways to judge yourself first, because your own footprints matter, and sometimes they are even larger than those around you. You and I, as leaders are very much either part of the solution or part of the problem, and no one gets to sit back apart, above and exempt from influence and responsibility. It is the wise leader, the true leader, who recognizes their place in every system they touch and owns up to the brokenness they find around them by making the active, intentional choice to leave it better than they found it.
Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.