God is our Model
Shepherds pursue the sheep. God is our ultimate role model in this simple yet crucial act. He is the pursuer of our souls. It is the nature of God to seek out and give of himself. And as bearers of his name, it is the character he instills in his people as well. This is especially true for shepherds.
Sticking with Your Flock
A few weeks ago the topic of identifying one’s flock was addressed (you can read it here). As a shepherd identifies her or his flock – that particular group or groups of people they will deliberately tend to – the shepherd can then set out with an intent of deliberate care. Where we shepherds get into trouble is when we are not intentional about flock identification. In such cases it is too easy for the world to become our flock and every need we see is to be tended to. It doesn’t take any time at all before we are overextended.
By committing to a specific group of people within the shepherd’s capacity, the shepherd is able to respond to needs as they arise. Even more than being merely reactionary, we can be intentional. We can initiate check in’s – those simple yet profoundly caring calls or visits to “see how you are doing.” We all like being pursued. It causes us to feel seen, known, and cared for. The gift of shepherding is journeying with others over a long period of time. Shepherds are journey-mates.
Get to Know Your Sheep
Only over an extended time can we get to know the individual sheep well and their tendencies and needs. We can spend time with each sheep designing a thought out course of self- care and growth. You can read about the ultimate purpose of spiritual formation in another previous entry (you can read that here).
So here is a course of action for each shepherd. Identify your flock. Maybe your flock has been identified for you. Then pursue them. Be the one to make the call. Shepherds do not passively wait until there is a crisis. As you get to know each sheep, ponder and pray with them how they can be well cared for and grow in maturity and vibrancy. Each sheep’s need is different. Ask them what they want and need. And be prepared to offer guidance as they simply may not know. The shepherd also gains experience of discerning ill health or the need for a greener pasture. From this experience we can offer wise course of actions – like a specific spiritual practice or some sort of training that could help the sheep on the next leg of the journey.
There is plenty there to keep any shepherd fulfilled with a loved flock of sheep.
What if I am Overextended?
What if I am overextended you might ask? Well, this calls for hard decisions. As caregivers, shepherds do not like to say “no” to a need. But that is not a good emulation of our Lord. Jesus literally passed by needs. He was not need-driven. He tended to many needs, but not all needs. If our flock is too big, then in a conversational and relational manner some of the sheep must either be let go into the caring hands of God or more ideally, into the hands of another shepherd. The key here is to remain well within one’s capacity. That way when a crisis does arise, and they will, the shepherd has the margin to respond.
Decisions to say “no” to needs or to let some ministry go are hard and must be made with much prayer and counsel. But be encouraged to think long term. And be determined to live your life as a model and example for others. If a shepherd calls sheep to live well and wisely, the shepherd must do so first.
Shepherds Can Be Pursuant of a Wise Life and Ministry Model as They Pursue Sheep
Pursuit is a key element of a shepherd. Pursue a well thought-out life and ministry model. Pursue identifying your flock. Pursue each of those individual sheep and pursue with them a course of care and growth. As this is done, you will be deeply encouraged over time with the life-change you not only see in others’ lives but yours as well. Do not be discouraged as this is a life-long learning process and we usually learn from mistakes. Shepherd others, evaluate, make changes, carry on. God is with us each step of the way teaching us.
I’d love to hear some thoughts and questions on the topic. Above all else, know you are pursued by your God.