How Shepherding Like a Barbarian Benefits the Flock

What is the Barbarian Way of Pastoring?

According to author and management consultant Lawrence M. Miller in his work Barbarians to Bureaucrats, the barbarian stage is about leaders who lead the march towards accelerated growth through crisis and conquest.

To put it another way: It’s about leaders who are willing to go first.

These are the leaders who aren’t simply talking about change, but they’re leading the change by being the first to move toward the change.

They aren’t simply saying their church needs to become more invitational. They’re the ones who are going first to invite their neighbors and then (and only then) standing on stage and inviting the people to “go and do likewise.”

Why the Barbarian Way Serves the Flock

  1. Change is Facilitated through Exemplars, not Salespeople

    Temporary behavior modification can be accomplished well by compelling or condemning. A leader actually can bring an initiative to its completion by selling a vision on stage for a few weeks.

    But impacting someone at a heart level? We know it’s done most effectively by modeling. Something profound happens when someone’s life is doing the talking.

    Isn’t this the way of Christianity? Jesus wanted to instill servanthood. So what did He do? The Creator of the Universe got down on His knees and washed the feet of His disciples.

    Remember the time when Paul said, “Imitate Christ!” No, he said, “Imitate me, as I imitate Christ.”

  2. Sheep Walk a Clear Path Shepherds have Paved

    There are two kinds of pastors and leaders at the end of the day: Those who place the burden on themselves to make it easy for God’s people to respond and those who primarily place the burden on the people to respond appropriately.

    But isn’t good shepherding about clearing the way for the sheep to access the water, food, and shelter needed?

    We have a shepherd who laid down His life for us the sheep. What a strange picture then for shepherds to yell at their sheep to dig through the trench, swim across the river, outrun the wolves, and sign up for the thing at the kiosk!

    Shepherds run so sheep can walk. 

A Few Markers of Barbarian-Like Shepherds

  • They default toward inconveniencing themselves to convenience others.

  • People around them often give a non-resentful “yes” because of the deep well of trust created from their example.

  • They care about the process as much as the outcome because the process impacts people too.

  • They often gain more trust as a project or initiative unfolds rather than the other way around.

  • They’re willing to engage in challenging conversations and can handle being disliked.

Alexander the Great and Christ the King

I recently read the following account about leading by going first (Source: Jon Tyson who referenced this and this):

“Once, in India, after years on campaign, Alexander’s men threatened to mutiny. They were worn out and wanted to go home. Alexander called an assembly. When the army had gathered, the young king stepped forth and stripped naked. 'These scars on my body,' Alexander declared, 'were got for you, my brothers. Every wound, as you see, is in the front. Let that man stand forth from your ranks who has bled more than I, or endured more than I for your sake. Show him to me, and I will yield to your weariness and go home.' Not a man came forward. Instead, a great cheer arose from the army. The men begged their king to forgive them for their want of spirit and pleaded with him only to lead them forward…"

“In the historic clashes of the Granicus River, Issus and Gaugamela, Alexander the Great’s order of battle ran like this: allied horse on the left, infantry phalanx in the center, “Silver Shields” to their right, then the elite Companion Cavalry. At the head of this 1600-man detachment rode Alexander himself, on his warhorse, Bucephalus, wearing a double-plumed helmet that could be seen by every man in the army. He led the charge in person and prided himself on being first to strike the enemy.”

It’s an impressive and inspiring account and yet an account that falls far short of Jesus.

Alexander took his scars, but Jesus gave His life.

Alexander went first, but Jesus went first and went farther.

Jesus denied Himself first. He took up His cross first. He followed the will of His Father first. He paved the way first.

Every shepherd who chooses His path is but a small reflection of Jesus, the Lion-like Lamb.


By Steve Bang Lee, Multiplication Pastor at Mariners Church and coauthor of The Image of God and On the Table.

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