In researching for Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool, & Wild Honey, I spent time with a shepherdess named Lynne in Oregon. During my time in wet fields among the flock, I opened the Scriptures and asked Lynne how she read particularly passages not as a theologian but in light of taking care of her flock. Her answers changed the way I read and understand Scripture—bringing new depth and richness.
Yet some of the greatest lessons I learned simply came from being with Lynne and her sheep. One of which was simply hearing Lynne's story of becoming a shepherd. Nearly twenty years ago, she purchased her first three sheep sight unseen. All of them were pregnant, and she had no idea what to do, yet she managed to figure it out. As the years passed, the flock naturally grew and she developed new skills along the way.
At one point Lynne said to me, "Margaret, it's interesting being a shepherd, because a bunch of years go by and you end up being 65 years old and having a lot of young shepherds calling and asking, ‘What do I do?' And you wake up one morning and realize you're a shepherd of shepherds."
When she said those words I recognized the parallel between shepherding and taking on a leadership role. No matter your title, on some level you learn how to lead by jumping in and doing what needs to be done. Formal training is great for learning management, theology and basic leadership skills, but some things you just have to learn by doing. And I think that's encouraging for anyone who is embracing innovative and out of the box ideas in order to share their faith and help people grow closer to God.
The second thing that Lynne shared that really stuck with me was the idea of how a shepherd leads. It's interesting to note that whenever a sheep is pushed, they'll respond with fear or anxiety, but when a shepherd goes ahead of them and calls the sheep by name they follow the shepherd peacefully. They trust the shepherd. They want to follow.
Lynne noted that anyone can lead by agitating, but leading in a way that those behind you want to follow is an art form. It requires getting to know your flock and the people you're leading. It means establishing trust and keeping that trust. And it's important to gently address doubts and fears that may emerge along the way. It's an art form that not only a shepherd must master, but one we need to master, too, if we're going to be great leaders.