When I was in undergraduate school I had a classmate encourage me to become a pastor. His encouragement stemmed from his assessment of my teaching gifts, which he considered to be at least adequate for the pastoral ministry.
He was kind but wrong. While I do have the gift of teaching, I would make a poor pastor. For one thing I dislike hospitals, weddings, and funerals.
Although my friend was wrong about my vocational calling, I have come to realize that he was right about a critical element of my role as Superintendent. I am called to fulfill a pastoral role in my school. I am to be a shepherding Superintendent. I shepherd my staff, students, and parents, a responsibility that I take seriously because eternal souls are at stake. As C. S. Lewis observed:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.2
One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Jesus’s restoration of Peter’s ministry after his cowardly denials. Jesus commands Peter three times (echoing Peter’s thrice denial of Jesus), “Feed my sheep.” Every time I read or teach from Peter’s epistles I am reminded that over 2,000 years later I am one of the sheep he is feeding.
We are to feed our sheep. From tender six year olds to seasoned sixty year olds, our schools are filled with sheep and they all have one thing in common; they need to be fed spiritually. They need to be counseled. They need to be encouraged. Some need to be admonished. They need The Shepherd and a shepherd.
I have learned to embrace and even love this role, although it does not come naturally to me. By God’s grace I’m getting better. Because shepherding does not come naturally, I have established consistent practices that help ensure that I am being a faithful shepherding Superintendent. Perhaps these examples will be helpful to you.
Practices of a Shepherding Superintendent
First Things First: I Feed Myself
I cannot give what I do not possess. And I cannot bear fruit unless I’m abiding in Christ.
I cannot fake this for long. The shepherd has to be healthy to feed his sheep. He must be fed by The Shepherd; “As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (Jn. 15:4)
Abiding in Christ is not complicated, it is just hard. It requires consistency in personal devotions and prayer, in worship and in participating in the means of grace, including The Lord’s Supper. There are no shortcuts. If we are to be used by Christ to shepherd the students, staff, and parents entrusted to our care, we must be well fed.
To foster the habit of a personal devotional and prayer life, I schedule morning devotions on my calendar each workday morning from 6:00 to 6:30. When I’m consistent, and I’m not always, I arrive at the office at 6:00, make coffee, and have my devotions. I do not check email or phone messages or go through the mail. I stay in the office and read God’s word and pray. This keeps first things first and ensures that my soul is being nurtured by God’s word so that I might have something to share with others.
Devotions with Staff
I have the privilege of sharing God’s word with my staff every month. They are not long but I do take time to prepare well. Nearly all of the devotions come directly from God’s word, not from a devotional book. In fact, my devotional topics nearly always arise from my personal devotions. When reading God’s word I am often inspired (little “i”) with an idea for a devotional. I quickly capture the idea in my Scrivener program1 and then flesh it out when I sit down to write the devotional.
I have made monthly devotionals mandatory for all school staff. Lunch room help, grounds crew, bus drivers, teachers, administrators, and all other staff are required to attend devotions. Why? Because we are all part of the same team and same ministry. God can and does use everyone to impact the lives of our students and parents. Therefore, everyone needs to be nurtured by God’s word as a means of abiding in Christ so that everyone might bear spiritual fruit.
Weekly Written Devotionals
In addition to the monthly devotionals, I send out a weekly written devotional. This devotional is sent to all staff AND to parents.
I do not have time to spend the hours necessary to craft well written, theologically sound devotions each week. Accordingly, some weeks I simply share a few Bible verses with little comment. For example, last year, I shared selected verses from Proverbs each week. This year I am sharing selected devotionals from the Olive Tree One Year Daily Devotional. Because I operate paperlessly (see my articles on going paperless), I am able to easily and quickly copy and paste the devotionals, with proper citation. I typically send the devotionals out on Saturday mornings.
The devotionals have been well received. I often receive appreciative emails from parents who tell me that the Lord used the devotions in their lives and that they pass them on to friends and relatives. The moral of this story? One never knows where God may send and use these devotionals!
In addition to the emailed Saturday devotional, I also send staff an email asking for prayer requests and praises. The email includes a link to a digital prayer request form.
They fill in the request, which can be anonymous, and the software program fills in a spreadsheet with all of the requests listed.
On Tuesday mornings at 6:30, I meet with the division administrators on our south campus and pray through all of the requests and praises. The most obvious benefit is that God answers prayer. But I discovered several unexpected benefits.
First, sending out a weekly prayer request form and faithfully praying over the requests reminds the staff that we care and that we desire to be intercessors and shepherds in their lives. Second, it has caused me to be far more understanding and empathetic. Because the prayer requests can be anonymous, school staff share struggles and trials that they would never share in person. When I read through the prayer requests I am struck, and sometimes shocked, by the hard trials that many of our employees are facing. This makes me careful to avoid placing undue burdens upon them. Third, it sets an example for them. They are to pray for each other and for their students. Prayer and shepherding is everyone’s responsibility and privilege.
Discipling and Evangelizing with Parent Orientation Presentations
Parents seeking enrollment for their children must attend an hour long Parent Orientation Meeting (POM). These take place on Saturday mornings in the spring and summer.
Briarwood Christian School is not a covenantal school. This means that we do not require parents to have a profession of faith in order to enroll their children. Realizing that my POM audience is composed of both believers and unbelievers, I have learned to be intentional about sharing the gospel during my presentation. One way I do this is to quote Jesus, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36–37) I remind parents that it would be tragic if their children are accepted into the right college, marry the right person, join the right company, move into the right neighborhood and have an illustrious career but in the end lose their souls. I’m convinced that the Lord uses this to convict both Christian and non-Christian parents alike.
Weaving the Gospel into Short Prayers
I am asked to pray at a lot of school functions. This presents a wonderful and frequent opportunity to “sneak” the gospel into prayers at sporting events, plays, concerts, what have you.
I do not have the gift of evangelism but I am called to be faithful to share the gospel. So, I make a point of weaving the gospel into my prayers. I have yet to have fans pouring from the bleachers to kneel in repentance at the free-throw line but God promises that his word will not return void. The prayers are intended to be little seeds planted or little droplets of water dropped into the lives of those listening. I plant and water, the Lord gives the increase.
Visiting Hospitals and Attending Weddings and Funerals
Remember what I wrote above about not liking hospitals, weddings, and funerals? Well, the Lord has a sense of humor. While I manage to avoid most weddings (I know, I’m a scoundrel, but a shepherding scoundrel!), I nevertheless visit students in the hospital and attend funerals and/or visitations whenever a parent or student passes away.
I’m not good at this but I have learned that it is not what I say that is important. It is that I am praying for them and that I show up. It is this small gesture that the Lord uses to demonstrate a caring heart and perhaps, in some small way, to encourage them.
The Shepherd’s Cane
As school leaders we wear a lot of hats but we are also called to carry the shepherd’s cane. It is a wonderful instrument for protecting and guiding the sheep.
How are you using your cane?
- Scrivener is the program I use to prepare devotionals, write blog articles, essays, and book projects. For more information on this excellent software, click here.
- C. S. Lewis. Weight of Glory.