The Joy of Unexpected Leadership

We showed this clip from the movie Babe to start things off.

Babe was the unexpected leader in the video clip wasn’t she. Whenever I think of herding sheep, we think of sheepdogs, nipping and barking. But Babe does it very calmly… demonstrating a different kind of leadership, in conjunction with the shepherd.

Jesus was an unexpected leader too. Think about it… humble beginnings… not of the ruling class… a Jew living under repressive Roman rule… no home to speak of once he was an adult… And yet, more than 2000 years later, his influence lives us… and we are still learning from him. Let’s listen to the rich metaphors in John 10:

10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

This passage is so dense and layered, it’s easy to get lost and bogged down. In ten verses of packed metaphor, John gives us sheep, a sheepfold, a shepherd, a gate, a gatekeeper, a pasture, a sneaky band of thieves and bandits, and an even more sinister group of smooth-tongued “strangers.” At one point, the Gospel writer comes right out and says, “Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying.” It’s tempting to treat this section of Scripture as if it’s written in some obscure code. As if our job is to crack its many secrets. What exactly does the sheepfold represent? Heaven? The Church? Our hearts? Who are the thieves and bandits? Are they different from the “strangers” with the creepy voices? What about the gatekeeper? Is the gatekeeper God? The Holy Spirit? Jesus himself? No, wait, how can Jesus be the gatekeeper if he’s the gate? Doesn’t he say he’s the gate — twice? Actually, how can he be the gatekeeper or the gate, if he’s the shepherd?


But what I am going to focus on is leadership and unexpected leadership. As I said at the beginning, Jesus was an unexpected leader in his time. What made him a leader?

  • Concern for others.
  • Ability to look at systems and reimagine them… how many times did he say, “You have heard it said, but I say to you…”
  • Courage to challenge the structures and systems.
  • Willing to step outside his cultural norms.
  • A deep love for those on the margins.

Which made me wonder about the unexpected leaders in our time. Who are they? And what characteristics and qualities to they demonstrate? I think of climate change activist Greta Thunberg, young, female, from a small country. I think of Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, bringing her newborn daughter to work with her. Tariq Hadhad, Syrian refugee, whose family founded Peace by Chocolate and continues to be a voice for refugee sponsorship.

Who are the unexpected leaders here, or who might have leadership potential that has not been tapped? Or are you all tapped out? 😉 Many of you have served in leadership in the same positions for a long time… and that is appreciated! I wonder what would happen if you all switched places for a while? If Wayne Cochrane, instead of the Chair of Trustees, became an elder? Or if Joan Clark, was a steward, instead of an elder? What if Murray, instead of being in charge of facilities rentals, took leadership in the Prayer Shawl Ministry? What unexpected leadership potential might be unlocked?

I don’t know if this still happens, but years ago, at Feed Nova Scotia, everyone worked at someone else’s job once a week. The Executive Director included… she said it gave everyone a better sense of the whole organization… and that it took the efforts and leadership of EVERYONE to keep things running smoothly. And that no one person’s role or job was more important than another’s.

We can get locked into roles, in our families, in our churches, in our work, in people thinking they know all about us. We even do that to ourselves. And that can steal our joy. The joy that is to be found by discovering something new about us and others.

The reading also refers to the voices of thieves and bandits. There are many thieves that call our name and promise wealth and prosperity. Thieves that promise happiness and joy. Thieves that promise fame and power. The voice of those thieves is like that of the adversary that tempted Jesus in the wilderness. Where all the riches and power of the world, if only Jesus would renounce God and worship Satan. Satan was demonstrating leadership. But it was power over… not power for.

Remember those leadership characteristics that I said Jesus modeled?

  • Concern for others.
  • Ability to look at systems and reimagine them…
  • Courage to challenge the structures and systems.
  • Willing to step outside his cultural norms.
  • A deep love for those on the margins.

Can we follow his example?

Can we hear his voice calling us amidst the clamour of other voices?

Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity, amen.

(C) Catherine MacDonald

John 10:1-10
May 14, 2023 – SJUC
Unearthing Joy

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