Rachel Logan has served in a variety of children or youth-related callings over the past 15 years. She lives in Bakersfield, California with her husband and four homeschooled children. She graduated from BYU with a degree in Biology, which was useful to her as a childbirth educator, doula, and volunteer at animal rescue organizations. She is currently serving as CEO of an EdTech company she founded in 2015. She enjoys studying theology and religion, in particular, contemplative paths, and writing. Her blog can be found at www.apathofmyown.com.
“He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.” John 21:17
One of the most important roles we take on as leaders in the church is to be pastors. As it says in our 6th Article of Faith, we believe in pastors. But what does it mean to be a pastor?
Pastors are ministers to the Lord’s people. They diligently keep the commandment to feed the sheep. They watch over and take care of the flock.
We often get hung up on heroic visions of protecting the sheep from ravening wolves, but mostly being a pastor means making sure the sheep are fed and watered every day.
Feeding and watering the sheep is the most important and pressing need for the flock, and it’s the pastor’s main duty.
Keeping the Sheep Healthy
What does it mean to feed the sheep? How can we ensure we are doing what we can to keep the sheep healthy?
Jesus said he is the bread of life and the living water. We aren’t the ones who make the food or produce the water. God does that. Our job is to point them to the Father, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then have faith that the food and water provided will sustain them.
Leadership actually requires quite a bit of faith. Especially now.
Many scholars are calling it the “Fourth Great Awakening.” Some are even calling it the First Great Global Awakening. We’ve seen technology, and the society it supports, change so much over the last 30 years that old methods and ways of being aren’t working as well as they used to. Religion seems to be on the decline. Are men’s hearts failing them?
In 1999, a Gallup poll revealed that 54% of Americans considered themselves religious. Just ten years later, in 2009, a Princeton Survey found that number to be only 9%. At first glance, that seems rather scary. And the headlines those numbers have generated have led many people who care about their religious communities to worry that their sheep are somehow getting lost.
However, if you look closer at the other categories reported in those polls you’ll find that those who consider themselves “spiritual and religious” rose from 6% to 48%. This means that during those ten years roughly 45% of Americans decided to branch out from their religions into a broader conversation that includes many expressions of connection with God. And this trend continues.
I love these numbers. I was taught that the gospel bears good fruit, and to look for that good fruit wherever it can be found. It’s okay to look beyond the borders of our own community and find God touching the world in many beautiful ways. Often this means asking questions about what we’re seeing and reexamining our own beliefs and ways of being so we will be more in line with the ways we see God showing up in the world.
Repentance – A Call to Keep Learning
After all, our 4th Article of Faith declares faith to be the first principle of the gospel, and repentance to be the second. According to the Bible Dictionary, “The Greek word of which [repentance] is the translation denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.” The call to repentance isn’t an accusation of sin. The call to repentance is a pleading to keep learning and choosing to see the world more like our Father does.
So, when I see that 45% of Americans are doing that very thing, I feel hope, not despair. And as leaders, we can better understand what the sheep in our care are experiencing so we can help them in their journey. We must cultivate our faith, our trust in God’s love for his children, and then we must stay open to our own repentance and the repentance of others. We must stay open to how God is working in the world. These are the first two principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Good Fruit of the Gospel
If we allow for all of the wondrous ways the divine reveals itself to us, have faith in the good fruit of the gospel, and embrace the growth as it comes, I believe we’ll find that all of the “spirituality” the world is experiencing will enhance and brighten our religions.
Actively feeding the sheep includes keeping our baptismal covenant to mourn with those that mourn, bear one another’s burdens, comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and stand as a witness of God at all times (Mosiah 18:9).
Spiritual Discomfort Precedes Growing Faith
Change isn’t comfortable, which means repentance often isn’t comfortable. That’s okay. It’s part of the process of putting new wine into new bottles. We don’t like it when those we love experience discomfort, but when faced with the transitions that will inevitably accompany growing faith, we have a choice to make. If we forget to feed the sheep and focus on pointing out the wolves, we will only frighten and scatter the flock. As leaders, it is our responsibility to keep our wits about us.
Faith or Fear
Let’s bring this home with a real-life example.
Let’s pretend you’re Bishop. The ward Young Women’s President feels strongly drawn towards testifying of Heavenly Father’s love for the young women she serves and often prioritizes positive spiritual experiences that connect the girls to God over presidency meetings or teaching directly out of manuals. She shows up to every activity and volunteers to drive for every temple trip, even though the temple is two hours away.
She attends every ward council and actively participates in supporting all the ward organizations. She bears her testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ frequently in testimony meetings and in other settings. She studies religious topics regularly and can sometimes be edgy in the way she talks about the gospel. She’s doing a good job but doesn’t seem to have a testimony of the “program” of the church, something you feel strongly about.
One day, you’re told by a member of the ward that she’s posted something on social media that seems to be rather negative towards the church. What are you going to do?
You have a choice to make. Faith or fear.
The fearful leader sees wolves around every corner. This Bishop doesn’t read what was posted but calls the Young Women’s President into his office based on the reports alone. He expresses his concern for her. When told that the post in question ended with a testimony of faith, and that she feels fine and is following the light the Lord is leading her by, he tells her that Satan often appears as an angel of light and that she has to be careful. He compares her to Korihor.
He asks her what anti-Mormon groups she’s a part of, and when she tells him she doesn’t belong to any groups except her children’s school groups, he senses some tension and tells her he doesn’t want to debate scripture with her, even though she hasn’t brought up any scriptures.
She can tell he’s trying to help, but it lands flat. She leaves crying, released from her calling, with her temple recommend on probation.
The faithful leader chooses to be open to good fruit and trust the Lord. There are so many ways this can be expressed. Maybe this Bishop doesn’t have access to social media, so he asks the Young Women’s President to share her posts with him so he can learn more. He still has questions, so he asks if they can meet to talk. He can tell she’s nervous when she enters, so he starts by telling her how appreciated she is. They talk about the post. He listens.
He looks for the ways God is guiding her and points out that it looks like she’s really working through some tough stuff. He asks her how she feels about it, and where she feels she’s at in the process. He again reminds her that she is loved, and that he knows Heavenly Father is actively loving and guiding her. Though she expresses differences of opinion on doctrines and even a little confusion over some things she’s not sure about yet, he hears her faith and chooses to trust that she’ll keep looking for good fruit.
He mourns with her over how difficult change can be. He offers to help in any way he can, even if it’s just to talk. He tells her that he can see she’s seeking the Lord, and that the Lord promises that those who seek will find. He stands as a witness to the way God is showing up in her life. He even sees how some of the things she’s talking about, while unconventional, could really help some of the other members of the ward, and he asks if they can talk again in the future. She leaves feeling supported and invigorated to continue to look for the good fruit of the gospel with faith.
Finding Good Fruit
Most of us have enough accusing voices running around in our minds. We have enough doubt and enough confusion. What we need is to hear the voice of the Savior reminding us of who we are, that we are created in the image of God, and that when we seek, we will find. We need others to hear us, to mourn with us when it feels like the finding part is slow going, and to hope with us that we will find the good fruit we’re looking for. Fruit made just for us by a loving Father who knows our every need.
As leaders, as pastors, we have the opportunity to be the voice of the divine in the lives of those in our pastoral care. We get to be saviors to those we serve. We get to shine the light on their goodness and encourage them on their personal path. We get to enthusiastically point to living water and triumph with them over every drop they find. We get to put aside our own ideas of what is best and turn each other towards the source of revelation.
“He commanded them that they should preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord, who had redeemed his people. And he commanded them that there should be no contention one with another, but that they should look forward with one eye, having one faith and one baptism, having their hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another.” Mosiah 18:20-21
We get to be witnesses to how the Lord uses faith and repentance to change lives and transform absolutely everything, even the religions we love.
We get to feed the sheep.