I was reading a newsletter and saw an advertisement for a book entitled They Smell Like Sheep: Spiritual Leadership for the 21st Century. I don’t have the book and have never read it. But the book’s title reminded me of some leaders in my past and some key issues for effective Sunday School ministry.
J.C. Baggett was retired when he taught my class of high school senior guys. He cared about us. He listened and worked to get to know us individually. He planned and enjoyed fellowship times with us. He shared his high expectations for us but loved us even when we got into trouble. David Scutt was a volunteer youth director and assistant Scoutmaster. He was an encourager and cheerleader. He had confidence in us even when our confidence wavered. He frequently called us to do things we didn’t realize we could do.
Now, what do these two men have to do with Sunday School? There can be no “professional” distance in Sunday School ministry. The most effective teachers and leaders are approachable. They are unafraid of being one-on-one or with a group. Sheep need to be able to trust their shepherds. That requires times spent together in close proximity.
Sunday School shepherds expect and want the best for their sheep. That is expressed in Sunday morning teaching times and casual conversation. That is expressed in homes and at fellowships. The sheep are not just numbers; they are individuals who are unique and different. There is no “one-size-fits-all” plan for encouragement.
Working with sheep can be a smelly, messy business. It is difficult to work with them and not become smelly and messy as leaders. Sunday School shepherds love the sheep even when they wander away and get into trouble. At the same time, I am confident that those expectations keep some of the sheep out of trouble. Frequently, loving sheep through the trouble times creates even deeper bonds.
Do you have a story about shepherding smelly, messy sheep? Share it. Teacher, how much distance is there between you and your sheep? How can you take a step this week toward a closer relationships with one of them? Teaching and leadership are most effective in an environment of trust. Trust is nurtured best in closer proximities. Invest in a few. Love them even when they stink. Be revolutionary!