The Shepherd’s Way

But you, Bethlehem, David’s country,
    the runt of the litter—
From you will come the leader
    who will shepherd-rule Israel.
He’ll be no upstart, no pretender.
    His family tree is ancient and distinguished.
Meanwhile, Israel will be in foster homes
    until the birth pangs are over and the child is born,
And the scattered brothers come back
    home to the family of Israel.
He will stand tall in his shepherd-rule by GOD’s strength,
    centered in the majesty of GOD-Revealed.
And the people will have a good and safe home,
    for the whole world will hold him in respect—
    Peacemaker of the world! (Micah 5:2–4 MSG)

“‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah,
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” (Matthew 2:6 NRSV)

A ruler who shepherds? A shepherd who rules?

Considering the ‘rulers’ wielding power today, and those in Jesus’s day as well, a shepherd-ruler sounds like a contradiction in terms. Yet, according to Old Testament writers (e.g., Psalm 78, 2 Samuel 5:2), a shepherd was the ideal king! And God’s rule was described as being that of a shepherd’s (e.g., Psalm 23, 80; Genesis 48:15, 49:24; Isaiah 40:10a–11).

Despite these accounts, few folks imagined or longed for a Shepherd Messiah-King. Given the political servitude and economic oppression at the time of Christ’s coming, they wanted a powerful warrior ruler who would come in triumph and conquer in might. Perhaps things haven’t changed much, yet how ironic. The Sent One lies in a manger, innocent and vulnerable, his arrival more like a shepherd’s than an avenging king’s.

The Shepherd’s Way

But how does a shepherd rule?

A shepherd does not control like a cowboy in an old Western. Ranchers constrain cattle from behind with prods and pokes. With whips and lassos, they steer their beasts, enforcing their will with fear and intimidation.

In contrast, shepherds assume a different posture amongst their flocks, as Jesus explains in John 10:

  • They know their sheep by name (10:3, 4, 14). Jesus knows you and your neighbours by name.
  • They lead from among, so the sheep know and trust them.
  • Shepherds go ahead to make a way and be the way to green pastures and still waters (Psalm 23), carrying the vulnerable, seeking the lost ones, ensuring the flock is safe and provided for—like Jesus. He takes on our frailties.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd lives among, loves with abandon, and walks alongside like no other.


The incarnation reminds us (among other things) that God’s way among us is the Shepherd’s way. How might our way among our neighbours also be the Shepherd’s way? How might we hear his voice and deepen our trust in the Good Shepherd, who has gone ahead of us into our neighbourhoods? How might we discover, anew or for the first time, green pastures and the good news of great joy: Immanuel, God with us right where we are?


  • Today, pay attention to your own responses, attitudes, and actions and those of others (on your street, at work, out in public, in the media). Notice whether they are more shepherd-like or cowboy-style. What do you learn as you reflect on your observations?
  • Ponder anew what it means for you that Jesus is your Good Shepherd. How might you be more like the Good Shepherd ‘leading’ with presence, love, humility, and grace in your neighbourhood? Try engaging with a neighbour in the Shepherd’s way today.


Come Lord Jesus, our Shepherd-King
We long for you. To you we bring
Our cowboy instincts, our sheep-like weakness
Forgive us and help us follow the Shepherd’s way
That we might hear your voice and discover you in our everyday
For you are in our midst, Lord make us more like you—
Humbly among, holding space, healing grace, heaven’s view
For you are the Lamb at the center, as a shepherd to rule
Every nation, springs of living water, all made new

Karen Wilk is the Neighbourhood Life Lead on the NAB Missional Initiatives Team.