The Shepherd And The Cowboy

When it comes to leading people, whether in the business realm, the religious realm, your home, the sports world or any other arena of life, I believe there are two types of leaders. The way you lead, care for, instruct, and nurture those whom you lead will be the determining factors in what role you take. The two roles I will lay out for you today are that of the cowboy and that of the shepherd.

The Cowboy Costilla-Cattle-DriveWeb

When looking at a cowboy’s way of leading the cattle it usually consists of 3 things:

  • Shouting
  • Whipping
  • and pushing from behind

The cowboy will utilize these three tools to maneuver the cattle wherever he desires them to go. Typically, a cowboy is toward the rear of a herd pushing them forward, or if there are multiple cowboys they “press in” from the sides of the herd while one or two shout or whip from the back in an attempt to scare and manipulate the cattle in to doing what they want, and go where they want them to go. If you watch the movie City Slickers you will gain a good understanding as Billy Crystal and his friends work with a group of cowboys to drive the herd of cattle from New Mexico to Colorado. The cowboys ride behind and along side the cattle. The cattle have no understanding of who is shouting, other than they hear loud noises and move.

The Shepherdshepherd-sheep-10

We can see two main examples of shepherd leaders within the Bible: David and Jesus. Jesus is even referred to as the great shepherd because of the way he lead, loved, and cared for the people, just as a shepherd cares for the flock. Now when we look at the leading style of the shepherd we see that he utilizes 3 very different tactics whilst leading.


  • Leads from the front
  • Calmly guides the sheep
  • and the sheep only listen to the shepherds voice

A shepherd will lead his flock from the front. He is essentially preparing and showing them the way to go. While they are in a meadow or beside a stream he will be amongst the sheep and will actually smell like the sheep from the time he spends among them. His voice is calm as he guides them, instructs them, and calls to them.

If two shepherds are next to each other and their sheep become intermingled, when they begin to leave the shepherds call to their sheep and they divide and go to their respective shepherds. They only listen to their shepherd’s voice. When they go to sleep at night the shepherd will build a fence around the sheep and then place himself as the gate to get in the pen. He desires to protect and love the sheep.

If you are a leader in any fashion I encourage you to examine your leadership style and decide whether you are a cowboy or a shepherd. Take time to ask those whom God has entrusted to you to lead, what they think of your leadership style. Without their feed back, how can you honestly determine where you stand. Do not bully those you lead, but rather lead them with kindness, gentleness, and most of all lead from the front by setting the example and showing the way. Like the old saying goes –

You catch more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar.

For more information on leading like a shepherd check out They Smell Like Sheep by Dr. Lynn Anderson.


Here is a video from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary that was recently brought to my attention. If you are a leader or pastor be sure to check it out.

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4 thoughts on “The Shepherd And The Cowboy

    • Hey Stuart, I just got a chance to watch your documentary. I know exactly where Hamlin is. I drive through it often when I come from the panhandle to visit family in Ausitn. That was very powerful. Thank you for sharing it. I will actually embed the video in the article so others can see it.