Have you ever thought about what a real shepherd does? You know – the ones who actually tend to real sheep. (Baaaa!)
We don’t really encounter them in cosmopolitan Singapore, but learning about them can give us some deep insights into Christian leadership and influence. In fact, the shepherd analogy has so many applications that we use it as a model for communities all around the world today!
As Seven Graces prepares to embark on our own version of a “flock” system, we had a session on “Leading As One” yesterday. We discussed the topic of “influence” in the Christian context, and then heard from 1 Peter – a fellow OYP community – on their experiences following a flock system.
“Shepherding” isn’t a vocation for a select few – ALL of us will be called to become shepherds at some point. So when we do step up to that vocation, I hope this post serves as a useful reference.
Here are 5 different traits that a community shepherd might have:
Shepherds root their beliefs in God
Leadership is always based around a set of core values. These values set the stage and define the organisation’s identity: They determine which activities its members engage in, what conversations they have, and how they interact with one another.
However, in the context of a community, shepherds recognise that they can’t just arbitrarily decide on their values. Instead, their values have to be deeply rooted in God – our one true Leader.
Community shepherds make it a point to constantly revisit their values every day. As St Paul recommends, “State your beliefs to yourself over and over again. Get back to the foundation of the Cross of Christ, doing away with any belief not based on it.”
Shepherds not only root their beliefs in God, they make a conscious commitment to follow them. These values are their driving force, their compass, and their go-to guide when faced with difficult decisions.
Shephards draw their strength from God
“God does not call the equipped; He equips the called.”
Being a shepherd is not an easy vocation, and many people shy away from it for various reasons:
- Maybe they feel unworthy because of their sinful nature
- Maybe they feel that they don’t have enough time
- Maybe they feel unprepared because they don’t have the social, spiritual or mental skills to guide a community
However, God does not call shepherds because they are worthy and well-prepared. In fact, God may call upon a shepherd because they are unworthy and unprepared!
Think about it: Moses was a murderer, Matthew was a tax collector, Paul persecuted Christians, and David was an adulterer. Yet, God called all of them to do great things.
Shepherds recognise that their calling cannot be judged by our human standards of “success” or “competence”. Instead, God may be calling them to step forward because He wants to do something with their lives – as “unworthy” as they think they are!
Shepherds care deeply for their flock
Sometimes, shepherds may feel that their responsibilities can be a huge burden. They’ll say things like: “I have no time to organise 4 prayers sessions for my flock this month!” or “Oh no, I can’t imagine reaching out to 7 members every single week!”
But the truth is, these activities aren’t what being a shepherd is all about. In fact, they aren’t even required! The only “pre-requisite” for shepherding is to love and care for their flock members – regardless of who they are.
A 1 Peter member shared how she was having trouble connecting with one of her flock members because they had very different personalities. One day, instead of forcing a “how, how’s your day?” check-in, she decided to simply text the prayer she was praying to that flock member.
That simple “hey, this is my prayer for you today” message was enough to spark a deeper conversation and a greater bond between her and the flock member. That’s all there was to it – a deep love and care for her flock!
Shepherds lean into discomfort
Communities are diverse – and shepherds will sometimes find themselves in flocks with different backgrounds, perspectives, or spiritual maturities from what they are used to.
Let’s face it – this can get uncomfortable! How are shepherds supposed to find common ground and spark a conversation? Do all shepherds have to be masters in social skills and communication?
Not at all. Recognising that God has challenged them to a calling, they know better than to shy away from it. Instead, in the words of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, they “lean in”. They go deeper. They get uncomfortable, knowing that God will give them what they need to do His work.
And besides, they know that there’s no such thing as a “bad” shepherd. The only way that a shepherd can fail is if they never really try. So they lean in, they do their best, and the leave the rest up to God.
Shepherds know that their flock is a two-way street
Unlike organisations – communities don’t have any true leaders in the conventional sense of the word. So when shepherds take up their responsibilities, they recognise that they’re not “leading” their flock.
Instead, they’re guiding them – just like how a real shepherd would tend to his sheep. Shepherds nudge their flocks in the right direction, take them to green pastures, and ensure their safety.
At the same time, the flock is not made up of passive followers. Recognising that the flock is a mini-community, members step up and make things happen too!
That’s the beauty of shepherding – If a flock member wants to contribute or organise an activity, shepherds don’t stop them. Their job is to simply facilitate and guide – and makes sure no one gets lost.
Shepherding isn’t an easy vocation – but no one ever said that the Christian path was going to be easy.
Yet, we know that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Let us have courage, pick up our Cross, and may our lives never part from the Shepherd of our hearts!