As center directors, it falls on our shoulders to shepherd those who serve under us. Whether they are staff members, board members, volunteers, clients, or donors, we have been called to show the love of Jesus Christ to each one. As a new center director, this was one of the first lessons God taught me, and it turned out to be one of my biggest challenges. There are so many demands on a director's time to raise the necessary funds to keep centers financially stable, to initiate programs to meet the needs of the clients, to keep the focus of the ministry on the mission, and the list goes on. However, I believe that shepherding should be at the top of that list of duties.
Shepherding can present its own set of problems because, as one writer put it many years ago, "God has some very difficult sheep." Some are stubborn, most are needy, many are very independent, and others are downright obstinate. But if we are honest, we can see some of those same qualities in ourselves, and we should treat others with the same grace that God has provided for us. Although we train staff and volunteers to leave their own needs in the parking lot, there are times that we must "love on" those having a bad day outside the center as we serve Him by serving others. I found that one of the greatest rewards of shepherding is that while I was taking care of my people, they were taking care of the needs of the ministry and at times also caring for me.
As staff members prayed each morning at our center, we always asked God to help us to realize that each time the door opened to the center, we had a God-given opportunity to show His love to whoever entered. That included not only clients, but other staff and volunteers as well as donors (and in our case, for those who found themselves at our door instead of the business next to us). That philosophy brought responses from donors saying that it was so nice to be made to feel valuable as they brought in everything from checks to used baby clothes. I think they often returned with additional donations as they sought that validation.
Volunteers faced physical, family, and other personal challenges and felt comfortable asking for prayer and a listening ear. At times when volunteers failed to do things the way we thought they should be done, we had an opportunity to show grace as we evaluated whether it really made a difference or was just a matter of opinion. If it meant that they were failing to show Jesus' love to others or failing to fulfill the mission of the center, we had to make some corrections. But if it was just a matter of one person having a different way of doing things, we could apply that grace and let that volunteer own her project.
Because in most centers board members are encouraged to rotate off the board after so many years, we find ourselves as directors needing to adjust to the different personalities and priorities that changing boards present. Each change in board membership offers an opportunity to shepherd those who in a way should also shepherd us. Maintaining continuity in the ministry during board changes can be challenging, but having members attend national trainings can make a huge difference. More than once a new member who didn't quite understand the intricacies of running a pregnancy center was enlightened by such training and became my strongest ally afterwards. In the meantime, I had another opportunity to practice shepherding by patiently explaining and allowing different opinions in our meetings.
Shepherds need to be accessible to their flocks. I found that an open door to my office and a willingness to be interrupted were necessary to meet the needs of those under me. Many may not agree with this approach, and at times it presented a challenge to me to get things done, the welcome that others felt made it worthwhile. Of course, there were times that I had to be aware of confidentiality, but being available and approachable were rewarding.
IT FALLS ON OUR SHOULDERS TO SHEPHERD THOSE WHO SERVE UNDER US.
Perhaps the one unexpected result of the years of shepherding a center is that I still feel responsible to a certain degree for those who served under me. Years of working together, praying together, crying together, and laughing together cannot be erased because someone moves to another place or area of service. Recently, my former staff met for lunch, and we included a time of prayer such as we had known when we worked together. As we bowed before the wonderful God that we serve, I felt the presence of His spirit surround us once more. Tears filled my eyes and thankfulness filled my thoughts as we prayed for each other and for the ministry that we had enjoyed for many years together.
This whole idea of shepherding others may be for you, as it was for me at times, an overwhelming idea; however, God always equips us for the jobs He asks us to do. If you find the idea of shepherding others a daunting task, perhaps asking your own pastor or a pastor connected with your center to mentor you will provide insight and help. Of course, seeking God in His Word and through prayer will provide you with His view of your own unique position. Finally, serving with humility, putting others first, will give you the right attitude as you seek to lead others.
In biblical times, shepherds walked in front of their sheep and the sheep followed. But as a speaker once said, "If you turn around and see no one is following, you aren't leading. You're just taking a walk."
With so much work to be done, we need to be sure that we aren't just out for a stroll, but that we are following the Master Shepherd and allowing Him to use us to care for the sheep He has placed in our care.
Pat Stonestreet, wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, served as the executive director of AbbaCare, Inc. in Winchester, Virginia, for 11 years and has written a book entitled But GOD, Finding GOD's Wisdom in Everyday Life. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.