As a Bible study leader, I see the ladies in my group making decisions that are not in God’s perfect will. While I don’t claim to know God’s perfect will for the lives of all, I do believe that God had given me this little flock to shepherd to teach them about the One who shepherds us all—Head of the Flock. Therefore, God has given me special insight into the lives of the five ladies in my group as I pray for them, wait on God to give me the words to teach them from Scripture, and think of “hot topics” that will affirm my group in knowing how much God loves each and every one of them.
If I measured my success as a leader on the decisions my individual sheep make, then I am a true failure as a shepherdess. A couple of ladies play daring games of “chicken” with the wolves, one lonely little lamb wanders here and there and it’s hard to figure her out, another lamb needs to be comforted, for she has endured much at the hands of others, and the other sheep sticks close to my side and sometimes shepherds me.
The hardest thing about being a shepherdess is watching the sheep who choose to wander dangerously close to the wolves. “Come back, little lambs, for the Father wants to give you so much more. Those wolves want to devour your hearts and steal your souls,” I cry out to the sheep. They look back at me, acknowledging my words, come closer to me, and when I turn my head, dart back toward the darkness. A young woman I once had the pleasure of knowing when I was a youth leader wrote a song that said, “I run full force into the dark.” She knew that running away from God, venturing towards the wolves, was choosing darkness.
So I plead on their behalf, beg God for guidance in what to do, how to approach them, and how to handle the situations which entrap them. And I get frustrated, tell these sheep that they’re “dumb sheep,” and fail them again and again. Human sheep are forgiving creatures, at least the ones in my flock, and they overlook my weaknesses again and again. Should I always call out the sin I see in my group? Set up camp outside their houses like an Old Testament prophet proclaiming God’s wrath and judgment on these women? Do I act tenderly like Hosea to his wife, Gomer? What is the right thing to do when you see the people you shepherd acting so very wrong.
Here is what I’m learning—there is no right answer. Like everyone, I have to get down on my knees before God and pray, address the issues that come out at Bible study, pray for these woman and my own heart (which can pour out judgment like I’m the Supreme Justice for Human Morality). When I pray, I plead for all the woman in my small group. Tears roll down my cheeks and stain my journal as I see the impossibilities in their lives—abuse, divorce recovery, mental illness, physical illness, financial problems, troubling relationships—and I am challenged as I deal with my own impossibilities (which are fairly similar to my group’s). There is no doubt that we were not thrown together by the “fates,” but rather are a flock predestined to meet by the grace of God.
There are imperfect, full of folly, and sometimes rowdy. They dance with the wolves and talk when they’re supposed to be listening. But they are beautiful, especially their scars and hurts, and transparency. They are not only beautiful and precious to me, but to God, who created each and every one of His sheep, including me. To shepherd a flock is to love that flock, to care for that flock, to bind their wounds, cry with them and for them, and to plead for the needs of that flock before the Great Shepherd. Being a shepherdess is not an easy calling, nor does it come with an actual wooden staff (though that would be nifty), yet it is one I accept from the Hand of God. I love my little flock.
Are you a shepherd or shepherdess? If so, what challenges do you find with your flock? What are some joys you find in shepherding both flocks big and small? If you are in a “flock,” what advice do you have for your leaders? Shepherd-folk, how can I pray for you? Flocks, how can I pray for you and your shepherds?