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By Nathan Hagan

Inevitably every time I play catch with my golden retriever, I am bitten on the hand. She loves to chew on tennis balls. She will fetch a ball but is unwilling to give it to me so I can throw it again. When I try to pry the ball from her mouth, I either end up with a slobbery hand or a nipped finger. You would think I would learn my lesson. No matter how nice a dog may seem, it is always dangerous to put your hand near its mouth.

Many of us who are privileged to serve in a role where we are responsible to shepherd people (as a pastor, teacher, counselor, or small-group leader) understand that we must occasionally get our hands dirty in their circumstances to truly serve them like our Shepherd would.

David understood this as well as anyone. Before he confronted Goliath, David engaged in an act of shepherding that many people remember but often overlook because of his other notable accomplishments. In 1 Samuel 17:34-35, while making a case to fight Goliath, young David claimed that he attacked a lion who had stolen one of his sheep, which he literally removed from the lion’s mouth.

Let that sink in for a moment…. Can you imagine attacking a wild lion? I can hardly muster the courage to stand near one in a cage at the zoo. To be honest I think I would rather face Goliath. I could not imagine what it would take to try to remove a lamb from a lion’s mouth. That is one horrifying scenario.

I am assuming that at that time David was responsible for a fair number of sheep. Losing one sheep may not have resulted in his being fired from his job; in fact, it might have been logical to sacrifice that one lamb so the rest could safely escape. Either way, once a precious lamb is found in the jaws of a lion the odds are looking pretty bleak. Most of the time a shepherd can begin planning the funeral arrangements for that lamb that was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.

This is what makes David’s response so powerful. He was not just defying odds or defying the intimidation of an enemy bent on devouring, he was also defying the rationale that sheep in that horrific position are not worth rescuing. He put his life in jeopardy, risked his own safety (along with that of the rest of his flock), and confronted a hungry lion. Rather than turn and run, he struck the lion, reached out his hand toward its mouth, and rescued his wounded lamb. What a beautiful image of Shepherd-leadership.

While many of us would agree that a shepherd-leader is responsible to feed, comfort, and protect the “sheep” that God has graciously placed into our fold, David’s encounter with the lion offers another element to the leadership job description that can be somewhat violent and risky. Not only did David take care of his sheep, he also attacked a lion intent on devouring one of his lambs.

For those of us who are small group leaders, pastors, teachers, or some other type of leader, this story raises our stakes and encourages us to embrace two spiritual principles of leadership:

  1. There are times when a lamb may seem to be in danger of being devoured, but God still calls us to extend our hand in faith that He will rescue and heal them.
  2. There are times God calls us to forget everything we know about a situation and lead from His heart rather than from our mind.

The next time you play fetch with your dog and you have to reach down and snatch the ball out of his mouth, remember that God may call on us to do the same thing with those He has called us to serve.

About The Author

Nathan Hagan

Nathan Hagan, an Open Bible minister, serves as associate pastor at Turning Point Open Bible Church in Spokane, Washington. He graduated from Eugene Bible College with a degree in pastoral ministry and Gonzaga University with a master’s degree in organizational leadership. He and his wife, Candi, have three children and together enjoy showing God’s love to those in the Spokane community.