There is a leadership adage that goes something like this
“If you are leading in something and look behind you and there is no one, then you are only taking a walk.”
For frequent readers of this blog, y’all know I struggle with my self-image (physically how I look, how I am doing with work, is everything good enough, etc). One area with this is particularly true is leadership. My “job” is to lead the Belize Operations for Praying Pelican Missions. I am “in charge” of and accountable for the mission trips that happen in Belize through our organization. There is a group of people that are way more instrumental in that success than me, and that is the team that I get to work with. But I looked at them and at me and critically asked myself am I really leading them?
I struggled with what does it even mean to lead them? Sure we had some “success.” Trips were good and GREAT ministry was and is happening but am I leading them? What is leading?
I read leadership books, literally, 7 habits of highly effective people, 21 irrefutable laws of leadership, Developing the leader within you. I know John Maxwell and am subscribed to several leadership podcasts, Andy Stanley’s and Perry Noble’s just to name a couple. But did I really understand what “leading” meant?
Exactly a year ago, as I was sitting around with our seasonal US staff that was serving in Belize, I had prepared this lavish presentation of all the dos and don’ts. I was going to show them pictures of where they were going to serve, speak about each community, answer every question. The Lord gently nudged me and said “now’s not the time.” It was a dialogue in my head of “but God how can they know what to do” “Do you trust me?” the Lord answered back. “But God I have all the answers to the questions they have.” “So do I, and who are they Josh?” – The Lord challenged me.
In that instant, I realized that it was / is way more important about who someone is becoming in the Lord than what they can do and if they have all their questions answered. SO I made a decision in April 2014 that I would develop the people, create opportunities for community by having the staff over for dinner at our house, and truly seek how people were doing, how they were feeling and who they were becoming.
The summer came and went and the fruit of those relationships began to come in. Staff that didn’t even serve together; weren’t even in the same country at the same time began to talk. There was commonality. there was community, there was love. I saw facebook group messages video chats, instagram posts and my heart was warmed. The Lord showed me fruit of the investment. I saw fruit of family.
In the fall I looked across the Gospels and asked God to reveal to me how to lead. He reminded me gently and then showed me clearly that I was asking the wrong question. Did Jesus lead….of course He did. But more than that he shepherded. The Lord was calling me this past fall to shepherd. How had I been at shepherding those people in my life (family, staff, ministry partners).
January comes and Michelle moves in and the routine of life sets in, now with someone else. We all wake up, we eat, we work or care for kids, we eat, we wash up, we veg-out either on our phones or watching TV. Day after day after day. Shepherding…..not quite. Really I was leading my family and yes Michelle is part of my family like people say NOT to save for retirement. Just crossing my fingering and “hoping and wishing” things work out for the best.
At the end of January, the Lord (and Denny) allowed me to lead the trip to Caledonia (of which I have written many times). On this trip, we had 9 college interns and I poured myself into them and there was fruit. Lasting fruit. Amazing fruit. Fruit that resulted in revelation. The Lord said / showed me “I have equipped you to shepherd. Look at I can do through you. Trust me and shepherd.”
From then on, I sought God on how to shepherd our seasonal staff serving in Belize….petitioned God for them, sent encouraging notes to them, reached out to them, provided counsel to the best of my ability (really God’s words coming through me)…In short, I wanted to shepherd them.
But with my family, it was more of the same….routine followed by wasted veg-time. I was a terrible family shepherd. Here was my wife, my daughter, my sons, Michelle entrusting to me by The Lord and I had no intentionality, no emphasis. Just crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. I was literally thinking to myself…well we’re missionaries and that’s good enough to shepherd.
Then Michelle and Amy were gone for the week (women’s trip to Armenia) and I had some time to seek the Lord. And I was convicted. Convicted that I hadn’t done enough shepherding. Convicted that just leading my life was not and is not good enough. That I have to be intentional or else it’s a missed opportunity. That the Lord wants to use me to shepherd the people He has brought into my life.
So I started praying….literally praying. Every night 2 hours of prayer. The Praying Pelican Missions conference was coming up and I HAD to seek the Lord and I HAD to shepherd. Here is an example of my prayer:
“Lord I also want to lift up the meetings. God my prayer is great unity among the staff. I pray for all of the Belize staff that we grow together in our understanding and love of who you are. Jesus be with us. God draw us collectively as a group solely radiant, be radiant. [let us] glow with your love grace and mercy because you are in us. Lord fill me up as a leader to love on, serve and speak life to those serving in Belize this summer. In Jesus Name Amen”
Night after night, I sought the Lord, pouring myself on the altar of his grace, begging God for forgiveness, petitioning God for His mercy and asking him to fill me up. I prayed for unity over and over and over again. The Lord said you have to ask forgiveness from your family, from Amy, from Michelle. And He said “You are a good shepherd. Go and shepherd”
So I went to the meetings seeking to shepherd those the Lord has entrusted to my care. I loved boldly, shared in vulnerability, affirmed confidently. I loved. I guided or more appropriately The Holy Spirit guided in all things, me to shepherd the best way I know how. The Lord used me to speak life, hope, value, worthiness into others. “You are a good shepherd Josh, He told me.”
Now we are a few days removed from the meetings and I cannot explain the movements of God that happened in our Belize team. The Lord’s presence is so think within us that we can taste him. His sweet sweet spirit is in our soul. Friendships, life-long friendships were made in the presence of the Lord. Tears shed, walls down, collectively we drew nearer to each other and sat in the presence of our Lord.
Saturday night we had worship and from there at 10:15 at night we sat and did affirmations. Two hours later as the session wrapped up, I heard from the Lord “this is your family. love them.” I do. I love them with every part of my being. I love them with a love that wants to see each of them reach their full-potential and value in Christ. I love them in that I want to see them walk totally confident, aware, and in lock-step with the calling that the Lord has placed on their lives. I want to see God move in that family. Brokenness aside, He is made beautiful in each of us! It was a monumental moment. And the Lord answered every single desire of my heart for the meetings and beyond.
“you are a good shepherd Josh, Go and shepherd”
It starts at home. We have a new routine now. After the kids go to bed, Amy, Michelle and I get out the Bible and start seeking the Lord. And he is meeting us. We are walking towards a greater understanding of who He is and what our purpose is in Him. God is revealing His character and we are hungering for more.
Meetings have happened, we are coming down from the high but the Lord has called me to shepherd those he has entrusted to my care, my family, my friends, those serving in Belize. And I am pursuing that with all I have.
I am no longer on a walk. I am the shepherd of a mighty flock who collectively are drawing closer and closer to the Lord’s presence desiring more of him every moment of every day.