“Jehovah is my Shepherd; I will lack nothing.“
I first encountered the act of shepherding at the summer training in Anaheim this July. While I was familiar with the general concept I hadn’t seen it with Christ as the centre. Now, in my sixth week of shepherding, I feel like a veteran. Shepherding has been a great addition to my life and a wonderful experience. I’ve been surprised at how quickly I’ve bonded with the one I’ve been shepherding and how much progress we have made in a short space of time. But most importantly I’m amazed at how much I’ve learnt. Of all the things I wanted to do after the training, shepherding is the only thing I’ve been consistent with (so I definitely need to work on my prayer and Bible reading life).
After the summer training, I knew I wanted to shepherd someone but wasn’t too sure who. I had it narrowed to two young people who I was close to and thought the Lord would lead me to one of them. During Poland, my burden increased due to Brother Tom’s speaking and it was there that the Lord first spoke to me about who He wanted me to shepherd, although I didn’t recognise it. I knew of this person but as with most Facebook friends, as is the norm, you hardly know them let alone speak to them. However certain memorable incidents laid the foundations for the good rapport I now share with this young person who we’ll called Junior.
I didn’t realise I was shepherding him, I just thought I was being helpful, but when I realised what was happening I placed my cards on the table. One thing having a teenage younger brother and a childminder for a mother has taught me is that kids are remarkably perceptive. They pick up on things faster than adults and, in their strangely simplistic way, understand life better than we do. So I knew there wasn’t any point in patronising him. I told him what his boundaries were, he agreed with me and we went from there. There were a few awkward phone calls at the beginning where neither of us knew what to talk about next so I would take the initiative and ramble on about something insignificant but mildly interesting happening in my life. And that is how I got Junior to trust me.
I found that while shepherding, there was a temptation to get so emotionally invested that I forgot what the original aim was. In five weeks we went through so much together that at one point I was so confused. Junior went from being the young person I was shepherding to a friend to my younger brother. It was quite surreal and I remember asking a fellow brother whether I’d totally screwed it up and misinterpreted the point of shepherding. After being assured that all was good, I realised that the emotional connection was important for laying the groundwork. I had to really know him before we could delve deeply into the issues of the ministry.
The most surprising aspect of shepherding was realising that I wasn’t the only one doing the shepherding. While I knew that Christ was shepherding me to shepherd the young person I didn’t realise that Christ was also shepherding him to shepherd me. Shepherding goes both ways. We must be prepared to learn how to shepherd effectively directly from Christ and through the young people. I’ve gotten great advice and guidance from the young person which I wouldn’t have gotten from a mature saint. The first time this happened I was so amazed because it was he who reminded me to pray and trust in the Lord rather than wallow in self-pity. It was a humbling experience and as a brother once told me, “don’t be concerned that the young people aren’t listening, be concerned that they’re watching [what you do]“. That experience led to Junior coming out of his shell even more; I saw his annoying side (which wasn’t that annoying), I saw his sensitive side and I saw his protective side. But most importantly he felt comfortable enough to tell me what to do concerning serious issues and trusted and expected that I would follow his advice despite the age gap.
Now after five weeks of shepherding I am comfortable enough to discuss almost anything with this young person, not because I think he can handle it, kids are tougher than they look, but because I know I too must be open to be shepherded as well. And yes I know that at times it’s daunting for the older saints to have any form of relationship with the young people because young people are intimidating, especially in their groups, but shepherding is so vital in this age. We really must strive to be shepherds to one young person.