From Leader to Leader – A Good Shepherd Smells Like His Sheep

by César De León Ph.D LMFT, Ministerial Director for the North Pacific Union Conference

I was a senior in academy trying to decide what to do with my life and what line of study I should pursue the following year.  At that time, I was attending our Adventist School in Costa Rica.  I had sensed a strong called into the ministry when I was younger, maybe 9 or 10.  I remember that I would stay up late at night daydreaming of the day when I would preach to large congregations.  I used to study every pastor that passed by my church, and since it was the Central church of a large metropolitan city, we had many pastors from all levels of our denomination preaching from our pulpit. I used to observe them from head to toe, noticing all the details of their garments, shirts, ties, shoes etc.  You might say I was infatuated with ministry and excited about becoming a pastor someday.  Fast forward to my senior year; I was now uncertain about my call into ministry. Ten years had passed since my ministry daydreams, and now, as an 18-year-old, I kind of wanted to do my own thing.

That’s when out of the blue, one of the school of theology professors invited nine of us senior boys to go camping with him —Talk about investing time with the next generation of pastors. It sounded like a great adventure; camping in the Costa Rican jungles, it couldn’t get any better.  Full of anticipation, we packed and left, just to spend the whole weekend inside our tent, as tropical storms blew in one after another and poured heaps of water on us. However, as we listened to the rain and wind blowing outside, inside the tent, we sat quietly and attentively as our professor brought the books of Timothy to life.  And then it happened, the thrill and excitement of becoming a pastor reappeared right then and there. Listening to our teacher read about Paul’s work and his counsel to the young Timothy made me want to be a part of their team and work for the Lord and make a difference in God’s Kingdom through my life.

I became a pastor; and I have now been in ministry thirty plus years, and like most of us, I have faced numerous peaks and valleys.  I can even remember a time in my ministry when I would pray every night after returning from my church, that the Lord would grant me permission to leave the ministry.  I couldn’t take it any longer.  I would stay out in my driveway, looking at the starry sky, begging the Lord to allow me to leave.  Church ministry posed several challenges and I felt that remaining was detrimental to my health, my ministry and my family life.

God responded: “I want you to smell like your sheep.  Get involved with my children until you love them and are willing to die for them.”  Wow, that was a tall order, but I didn’t have a choice, so instead of continuing to pray to be “set free” from my ministry responsibilities, I started praying that He would give me deep love for my congregation.  I began to spend more time with them seeking ways to better minister to their needs.  Years later, my heart was broken when I had to leave them behind when I accepted another call.  I still tell my wife that if I were to be called back to that church, I would happily return.

Carolann and I were the blessed recipients of a very thoughtful card this week which included the following spiritual nugget written by HMS Richards, Sr.  Upon reading it, we knew it was one of those thoughts that we would copy and place in strategic places around our work and home spaces. We also knew we would have to share it with our extended family of faithful Kingdom-builders in our NPUC and beyond:

By HSM Richards, Sr.

“The Lord has given to every man his work.  It is his business to do it and the devil’s business to hinder him if he can.  So surely as God has given you a work to do, Satan will try to hinder you.  He may present other things more promising, He may allure you by worldly prospects, He may assault you with slander, torment you with false accusations, set you to work defending your character, employ pious persons to lie about you, editors to assail you, and excellent men to slander you.  You may have Pilate and Herod, Annas and Caiaphas all combined against you, and Judas standing by ready to sell you for thirty pieces of silver; and you may wonder why all those things come upon you.  Can you not see that whole thing is brought about through the craft of the devil to draw you off from your work and hinder your obedience to God?

Keep about your work. Do not flinch because the lion roars; do not stop to stone the devil’s dogs; do not fool away your time chasing the devil’s rabbits. Do your work. Let liars lie, let sectarians quarrel, let corporations resolve, let editors publish, let the devil do his worst; but see to it that NOTHING hinders you from fulfilling the work that God has given you.

He has not sent you to make money. He has not commanded you to get rich. He has never bidden you to defend your character. He has not set you at work to contradict falsehood which Satan and his servants may start to peddle.  If you do these things, you will do nothing else; you will be at work for yourself and not for the Lord.

Keep about your work. Let your AIM be as steady as a star.  Let the world brawl and bubble.  You may be assaulted, wronged, insulted, slandered, wounded and rejected; you may be abused by foes, forsaken by friends, and despised and rejected of men, but see to it with steadfast determination, with unfaltering zeal, that you pursue the great purpose of your life and object of your being, until at last you can say, ‘I have finished the work which Thou gavest me to do.’”

We pray these timeless words of encouragement will revive you if you are weary, renew your hope if yours is under the weather, and will remind you that we are one year closer to hearing the words of our Master: “Enter, you who are blessed by my Father!  Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom.  It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why: I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and your stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me. . . whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” Matt. 25:34-36,40; MSG. 

May you continue to experience the abundant grace of the Father over your life, your marriage, your family and your ministry!  You are indeed very appreciated!

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