Are you leading someone difficult?

At any level of leadership, you are going to come across sheep who are difficult to herd. You push them in one direction, in search of better pastures โ€” but they insist on staying where they are even as the wolves approach.

Exhausted, you finally find a sheep who’s been missing for weeks, but it runs away the moment it sees you โ€” and it’s sprinting headlong for a cliff. Or you care for one who’s hurting, and it turns around and bites your hand as you try and soothe him.

Being a shepherd isn’t easy. It’s downright hard.

It can be very tempting to rage-quit when it gets difficult, especially in dry and busy seasons. But that’s exactly what the wolves want. They’re lying prone by the mouth of a far-off cave, watching you with the slumped shoulders โ€” just about ready to throw in your rod and towel.

Licking their lips, they’re ravenously waiting for a massacre when the sheep scatter.

So unless God has clearly called you to step down, I’m not sure we get to call it quits by ourselves. As you think about service, let me offer some of my thoughts.


1. We are not exempted from shepherding

Sit on this one for a moment: Whatever you’re doing for your members isn’t any different from what God is doing in your life.

As shepherds, it can be very easy to believe we’re past “sheep” issues, that we don’t need shepherding ourselves anymore. But the simple truth is we are no better. Past the metaphor, we are all still sinners before God. So He is the only one who really gets it.

After all, since the beginning, He’s been discipling and disciplining His children โ€” but always with love. Can we say the same about our service?

“My son, do not make light of the Lordโ€™s discipline,ย and do not lose heartย when he rebukes because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,ย and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)

So we need to get off the pedestal. I know how tempting it is to criticise a member who’s insubordinate or even rebellious. But don’t let your heart deceive you (Jeremiah 17:9) โ€” you are of the same ilk as him. As God has given you grace, give your sheep grace.

2. Be honest, we’re just humans

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

Do your sheep know your voice? The honest truth is that there have been seasons where I’ve been so swamped, I’ve entirely dropped the ball with some of the guys I’m supposed to lead. That’s on me. How can I be frustrated when they don’t listen, when I’m not even making the effort to keep up the conversation beyond cell group time?

So while it takes two people to play ball, I admit there are times I’ve been the tired kid who’s brought the ball home … And left it there.

3. There is space to look up

I was talking to my own cell leader earlier this week about leading. He shared something useful about charting the ups and downs of members’ lives. His point was that if you only focus on the downs, you will burn out in no time.

And it’s not like any member’s “chart” is entirely downhill. I believe there are always victories, big or small. So we’ve got to remember the ups too.

And I can confirm it works โ€” I already apply this to my relationship. Whenever I’m with my girlfriend, and we share an awesome experience together โ€” I take a mental snapshot of the entire moment and I decide in my soul, “This is worth it.”

And when the tough times come โ€” and they will come โ€” I flip through my mental scrapbook of “worth it” moments and remember why I’d do it all over for her again. Give it a shot.

4. We must believe the best in others

“Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening].” (1 Corinthians 13:7, AMP)

Whenever I’m talking to a member on a downward trend, I have a tendency to get tired of it. I think to myself, “Great, this issue again.” I get frustrated with the lack of a breakthrough, and I begin to believe they might not actually want it.

But that’s not love. Love believes and looks for the best in people. God give me eyes like You do, to see people the way You see them. Let me see them for who they could be in You.

There is no room for cynicism in a shepherd’s heart.

5. We are catalysts for change

Think back to the graph I was talking about earlier. I’m sure you can think of a few members whose graph is heading downwards.

That’s fine. Don’t be surprised especially when the lost looks lost. This is the reason you’re a shepherd! Because a lot of the times, when you meet up with them, itโ€™s a little jump-start for them โ€” a little spike in their graphs.

It’s a lot less burdensome when you realise it’s not your job to fix them. You are just a catalyst for God in their lives. At every point in the chart, your job is to see how to make it spike again if it’s falling, and if it’s already rising โ€” how to make it skyrocket.

But know that Godโ€™s growth is not always our idea of growth. Sometimes itโ€™s exponential, other times itโ€™s slow.

6. God must be our ultimate leader

It boils down to abiding in the vine (John 15). Every problem in the world stems from distance from God, and every answer is found in Him.

So if you’re tired of a certain member, before thinking of ways to get out of that situation โ€” and we are very good at doing this โ€” go back to God. If you’re jaded by higher leadership โ€” go back to God. If you’re burnt out โ€” go back to God.

Whatever it is that is eating away at your joy cannot be solved by more vacations or carving up more free time. Sheep or shepherd, we need God like we need oxygen. You cannot lead without being led by the Spirit. You cannot feed others if you are starving and refuse to admit it.

Be honest with yourself. You deserve it โ€” your sheep do too. Then take the time to rest with your own Shepherd.

He’s been looking for you.