Leadership and Shepherding

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Image Credit The Lost Lamb by Del Parson

President Benson taught that, “The purpose of the Lord’s church is to further the progress of every son and daughter of God toward the ultimate blessings of eternal life.”

Notice President Benson’s choice of the word church. It made me think of Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s talk in which he said “How does His Church accomplish the Lord’s purposes? It is important to recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fullness”5 of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end.6 One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life."

In the manual under lesson 20, “Feed my Sheep”, President Benson mentions specifically our mission, as Latter-Day Saints, to perfect the Saints and then focuses on ways we can shepherd those who have separated themselves from the church back into the fold. However, I want to broaden his focus, on being shepherds and leaders in helping to perfect everyone. This includes acquaintances and friends who are active, inactive, or don’t know the gospel at all. It includes those whom we have stewardship over, whether through our church callings or as parents and spouses. It includes strengthening other family relationships as well. Because we have different backgrounds and viewpoints we can all participate in perfecting each other.

First, we should know what a saint is and what it means to perfect something. The very statement, perfecting the saints, implies that a saint is not a perfect person. My favorite definition of a saint is the one Nelson Mandela gave, “I am not a saint, unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

To perfect something is to mend, to restore, or to complete it. I don’t know exactly how God defines something as perfect, but there is one thing about perfection that is certain and Martin G. Collins, an Elder of the Church of the Great God says it beautifully: “We cannot be perfect apart from others. The Bible links perfection with human relationships. Christ urges us to be as perfect as our Father in Heaven and ties the process to how we treat each other. The Kingdom of God is about eternal, peaceful relationships...Life would be easier for Him if he ignored us, but He works on helping us develop our relationship with Him. He is the One who works perfection in us. Not perfect in the sense that we are flawless but in the sense that we are complete. That we work together to maintain balance and community and love between each other.”

God has given us guidelines for maintaining balance, community and love between each other. They’re called the commandments, both the original ten and others that we’ve received since that time. Some commandments are absolute and some have been given based on the circumstances of a given people in a given time period. But all of them are given to us to help us treat God, others and ourselves with respect and love.

Of course the greatest source of help God has given us is Christ, both his actual atonement and his example of true leadership. Speaking of Christ, President Benson said, “His example continues as the greatest hope and strength of mankind.” Why is that? Why did he make such a huge impact on people in his day and why have his teachings so long endured?

President Spencer W. Kimball gave us the following insight into Christ's effectiveness:

1. "Jesus knew who he was and why he was here on this planet. That meant he could lead from strength rather than from uncertainty or weakness."

2. "Jesus operated from a base of fixed principles or truths rather than making up the rules as he went along. Thus, his leadership style was not only correct, but also constant."

3. "Jesus said several times, "Come, follow me." His was a program of "do what I do", rather than "do what I say." He walked and worked with those he was to serve.

4. "Jesus saw sin as wrong but also was able to see sin as springing from deep and unmet needs on the part of the sinner. This permitted him to condemn the sin without condemning the individual. We can show forth our love for others even when we are called upon to correct them."

5. "Jesus knew how to involve his disciples in the process of life. He gave them important and specific things to do for their development. Jesus trusts his followers enough to share his work with them so that they can grow. That is one of the greatest lesson of his leadership. If we brush other people aside in order to see a task done more quickly and effectively, the task may get done all right, but without the growth and development in followers that is so important."

President Benson taught “The power of Christ’s leadership grew from the challenge of His example… His [success in gaining] the loyalty and devotion of men to principles of righteousness depend[ed] upon love as the great motivating factor. He helped us realize that the godlike qualities in each of us clamoring for expression can become glorious living realities.”

Underlying all of Christ's actions is love. It all comes back to love, always. All of us crave love, and when we can’t find it among certain people, we seek it elsewhere. Jesus asked us to feed his sheep, to be like him in in keeping each other in the fold and leading back those who stray. To lead, to shepherd is not passive. We don’t wait for others to come to us and we shouldn't wait for others to leave before we reach out. True leadership is love. Love that lifts and motivates others to betterment, to action.

President Benson said, “There are no new solutions to this old problem of sheep straying elsewhere for food...The answer...is found in prayerfully shepherding and feeding the flock... There must be real, heartfelt concern by a true and loving shepherd...Thus, we must all learn to be true shepherds. We must manifest the same love to others that the Good Shepherd has for all of us.”

To be a leader is to guide others. To shepherd, is to guide others. And how do we best lead and guide others? How do we feed his sheep? We love them. Love is absolutely the greatest motivator there is. That is clear through Christ’s example. Think for a moment of a time when love changed you. Not love that you gave to someone else, but love that you felt from someone else that made you do or become something more.

Love is crucial to effectively shepherding because without it, we cannot have a full measure of the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost is necessary in both directing our words and in impressing the truth of our words into the hearts of our listeners.

President Russell M. Nelson recently said, “Sisters, do you realize the breadth and scope of your influence when you speak those things that come to your heart and mind as directed by the Spirit?...We need women who are devoted to shepherding God’s children along the covenant path toward exaltation; women who know how to receive personal revelation, who understand the power and peace of the temple endowment; women who know how to call upon the powers of heaven to protect and strengthen children and families; women who teach fearlessly. Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this, we need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation.12 We need women who can detect deception in all of its forms. We need women who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity."

Be more confident in your ability to lead through love. Let us all strive to love better and deeper. Each act of love we give will ultimately draw those with whom we come into contact, closer to Christ.

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