by Holly Culhane
There’s a pivotal element of shepherding that seems to be the most lacking in today’s world. It’s that of Presence. In the Presence Point shepherd leadership model, the Leader’s Shield, we’ve defined Presence as, “at hand; physically and/or emotionally available and engaged”.
Phillip Keller, author of A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23, reminds us, “In fact, the diligent shepherd rises early and goes out first thing every morning, without fail, to look over the flock. He or she considers this the initial, intimate contact of the day.”
Dr. Tim Laniak (ShepherdLeader.com) reminds us that “sheep scatter without a shepherd. They run when they sense danger. In fact, their only hope for protection comes from the shepherd’s presence. The bonding that occurs as a result of round-the-clock care is remarkable. Sheep will follow the shepherd who personally provides, protects, and guides. This interpersonal history of frequent, long-term, and intimate contact secures the flock’s obedience, even in times of great distress. A cycle of ‘shepherd service’ and ‘flock trust’ repeats and reinforces itself throughout the seasons.”
I’ve seen a wonderful example of just such a shepherd in a friend and colleague, Lyle Martin. I’d observed him in several roles through the years and, after watching him serve as Police Chief of a medium-sized city in Central California for a time, I asked if I could interview him for our Shepherds-in-Action podcast.
As is the case with unscripted interviews, I had no idea how he would answer the questions I posed. I knew he was a true shepherd of his flock that now included a force of over 500 officers and professional staff, but I had no idea just how much he embodied that role.
When I asked for an example of how he exercised either Provision, Protection or Presence with those under his leadership, his first thought went to a task he routinely practiced, but that some thought was nefarious. He shared that a couple of days a week he would walk out onto a balcony that overlooks the parking lot and watch people come and go at the beginning and end of a shift. He noted that although some thought he was watching to see if employees were coming to work late or leaving early, the reality is that he was watching for people’s body language. He wanted to know if someone was walking like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders. If in fact he did see somewhat that met that description, what did he do? He would connect with them within 24 hours, either directly if he knew them personally, or through someone in their sphere of influence, if he did not, specifically to assure the individual had what they needed and were alright.
Chief Martin knew how to demonstrate Presence even in a position that would seem to be one that separates a leader most from those they influence. He knew the importance of being at-hand for the women and men he served and for whom he sacrificed.
With the distractions that surround us today – from cell phones and tablets to the 200+ television channels available in the average household, the 48 million podcast episodes accessible, and the unlimited social media opportunities – there are more occasions than ever before for our attention to be pulled away from the sheep in our lives.
It is at this time, however, and for this very reason, that it is most important to do just the opposite.
Our people need us. They need a shepherd – a selfless, service-driven, sacrifice-oriented influencer that’s available for them when they most require it and when they least expect it. Sometimes with a solution, often with a listening ear, and always with genuine care and focused, whole-hearted attention.
Our Father knew that need. That’s why He sent The Good Shepherd to be present among us as Emmanuel … or “God with us” … and why He left the Comforter, the Holy Spirit with us when He returned to the Father.
The most important promise God gave Abraham when he headed into the unknown was “I will be with you”. His promise to Moses was the same. David affirmed God’s presence throughout the Psalms, and it brought him comfort and confidence.
I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to Heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
Even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
So, how are you at Presence?
- Are you known for your fondness of the sheep in your life, even for those who give you the most sorrow and struggle??
- Are you aware when someone you influence needs your personal attention, and do you respond in a manner that builds relationship and communicates their importance?
- Do you regularly practice skills that indicate a desire to listen to the others in your life, demonstrating appropriate eye contact, verbal responses, and attentive replies?
Our hope at Presence Point is that you’ll see the need and the benefit of all three pivotal elements of shepherding well – Provision, Protection, and Presence – and that you will live deeply into your calling as shepherd… a leader who selflessly serves the sheep and sacrificially lays down their desires for those they influence.