"For Those Who Are Passionate About Reaching The Younger Generation"

Youth Ministry Topics Recruiting Adult Leaders

Recruitment as Shepherding

Dr. Mark Senter

It must have been a dream. Jeff couldn't remember. It seemed so real, so vivid, so comfortable. As far as his eye could see, shepherds moved like ants among the gently rolling hills. Westerly breezes whispered among the patches of trees which seemed to frame the pastures, creating a gigantic patchwork quilt in shades of green across the luscious hills. Yet, oddly enough, something was missing. There were no sheep. Just shepherds, talking and waiting. But waiting for what?

Trudging into the pastures himself, he wandered the rolling hills. Jeff was amazed at the diversity he found among the people present. Primitive tribesmen from the "outback" of Australia, Scotsmen with their kilts and sheepdogs, family farmers from neatly run farms in Ohio, Palestinian nomads from the Negev, rugged herdsmen from the seemingly endless land-grant acreage in Texas. Their languages and dress were as diverse as the lands from which they'd come and yet, to his further amazement, conversations flowed like the gentle murmur of Appalachian streams.

From group to group Jeff wandered, listening, watching, tempted to question the uniformly hospitable strangers about the purpose of their gathering and the object of their waiting. Yet each time the words were formed on his lips he could not break into the conversation with the people.

Common interests dominated the friendly chatter. Favorite breeds of sheep constantly entered the discussions: Romeldale, Shropshire, Panama, Corriedale, Romney, and other equally unfamiliar names emerged as breeds were described and lovingly compared.

Unfamiliar? Yes, and yet not strange and unknown. The more he listened to the conversations, the more Jeff realized he knew (or was coming to know, as sometimes happens in dreams) about the sheep being discussed.

Problems of breeding, feeding, health care, protection, shearing, and a thousand other details crowded conversation after conversation. Marketing of products occasionally surfaced in discussions, but only briefly as the shepherds appeared most interested in their flocks and in the personal needs of individual sheep.
Once again Jeff was tempted to inquire about the purpose of the gathering when the myriad conversations suddenly melted away into silence. Heads turned as if on an inaudible command, and each eye became riveted on a Shepherd who stood quietly on a grassy knoll. Yet He appeared to belong to each group, each language, each type of native dress.

A hush of anticipation settled over the multitude. The waiting was over. Whatever had been anticipated was about to happen.

There was no fanfare as the Shepherd began to walk down the knoll toward a group of shepherds. Quickly, He blended into the crowd, while at the same time (and this is one of the ways in which Jeff knew that the events were a dream of some sort) the Shepherd remained perfectly visible to everyone present. No fanfare was needed, for His very presence commanded the total respect of every living being.
Now He was in the thick of a crowd on the flatland between a stand of birch trees and the steep incline which led to the ridge on the west. He had paused beside a shepherd whose gaze had fallen, as if in genuine embarrassment, to the feet of the One to whom everyone else looked in anticipation.

"Joshua," said the Shepherd in a voice that barely exceeded a whisper and yet was totally audible wherever the sheep-loving people stood.

"Joshua," He spoke again with a greater strength that commanded the sheepish herdsman to look Him in the eye. "I will present to you a reward that will never tarnish or fade away.
Here are the people whom you shepherded during your life-time."

With that, all of the angry people on whom the simple shepherd had poured the oil of healing, all the growing people to whom he had fed words of encouragement, all of the confused people to whom he had provided insight and direction, all of the lonely people to whom he was available, all of the healthy people to whom he was a model, as well as ones who needed the correction, rebuke, punishment, or instruction which he had provided - all came and formed an appreciative crowd around the embarrassed herdsman. One by one the people expressed in warm measure the deep felt appreciation which each had experienced in a lifetime of following their shepherd.

Ages seemed to have passed (as could only happen in a dream) and still the people came and spoke. Sometimes tears glistened in their eyes. Then they drifted back into their own circle of friends. Finally, just as it appeared that the line of friends might come to an end, there came a second gathering of sheep - new people. These, though seemingly not familiar with the modest shepherd, had been touched by the lives of the people to whom the shepherd had ministered directly. Each person told of how he had been cared for in ways learned from Joshua. This group was far larger than the first crowd because for every person to express appreciation in the first group there were 5, 10, 25, or even 100 who stood in line to add their appreciation to the unassuming tender of this flock.

About the time that this second flow of people had dwindled to a trickle, another flock of sheep gathered around, then a fourth and a fifth, as if the ever enlarging crowds of people appreciative for the faithful service of one conscientious shepherd would never fade away or cease.

All the time that Jeff was observing the events taking place around this first shepherd, the great Shepherd had remained active. He had moved from shepherd to shepherd initiating the same chain of events for herdsmen as far as the eye could see. Endless lines of appreciative people formed a fluid pattern of shepherds both expressing and receiving affirmation for obedient service to the master Shepherd.
Gradually, the picture blurred, much the way binoculars do when trying to refocus from some distant scene to an object close at hand. Sounds too became indistinguishable, a gentle murmur of contented voices. Perhaps the dream was over - or could this be what the Prophet Joel might have referred to as a vision?
Either way, the CE pastor still had to finish his preparation for the Christian education staff meeting the following evening. His Bible lay open to 1 Peter 5:1-4. That's what he was! That's what they were! Shepherds - shepherding the flocks of God.

For a few moments Jeff thought back over his ministry at Walnut Heights Bible Church. Maybe that was why recruiting and training of staff for the education program seemed so much less difficult in recent days. He had not simply been recruiting workers. He had been shepherding one of God's flocks.

His thoughts wandered from person to person-old and young, male and female, sophisticated and naive, all with one common bond: Jeff had touched each one in a time of need.

There was Andy, the fifth-grade Sunday School teacher, who had lost his job due to personnel cutbacks in middle management. Jeff was no career counselor, but he was available to listen, question, provide feedback, pray, suggest resource people within the church and community, and finally rejoice when Andy landed a new job.

Larry and Charlene also came to mind. Charlene was a self-assured professional woman in her mid-twenties when she began teaching in the early childhood children's church program at the church. Jeff's first impressions had been verified throughout her first year of teaching. She was capable, sensitive, organized, and loved by her little learners. Then shortly into her second year of children's church leadership, "Miss Composure" appeared to be falling apart.

A phone call by the CE pastor served to bring the "Larry" problem to light. Charlene just couldn't decide whether she loved him enough to take the chance of losing her career in favor of a life of "wifery," as she perceived it.

Shepherding had taken the form of counseling this time - to each individually, then both together. The decision was not an easy one. Though Larry and Charlene were able to work through certain apprehensions each had about self-worth and the institution of marriage, their final conclusion was not to marry.

Other shepherding events flooded Jeff s mind. There was the hospitalized department leader he'd spent time with, whose doctor suspected cancer. A single mother needed a sounding board when her ex-husband failed to send Christmas gifts to the children, leaving her stuck with the question, "Doesn't Daddy love us, either?" The club leader who knew that Jeff was interested in him and could share "very special" prayer requests with him, both as friend and pastor. Memories of shepherded people marched through his mind accompanied by the feelings of celebration associated with an Independence Day parade.

Gradually, the dawn had come.

Jeff had come to realize that recruitment and shepherding are inseparably linked together. Without the balm of shepherding, recruiting would be almost unbearable. Without the practical consequences of recruiting, shepherding would become inbred, isolated, abstract. On the other hand, with shepherding, recruiting became an exciting opportunity to extend present ministries; and with recruiting, shepherding became a natural expression of God's love toward others.

Jeff’s mandate was becoming increasingly clear. Tomorrow evening's talk to the Christian education staff would take the form of a shepherd talking to his under-shepherds. Thoughts, experiences, and biblical insights would be shared to encourage and lift the entire staff, to inspire and permeate them with loving shepherding principles.

The message that Tuesday night was quite simple. It was built around the sign posted at railroad crossings: STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!

Stop to think about the people with whom you are ministering
... their joys ... their hurts ... their pressures ... their successes.

Stop to pray for the people with whom you are ministering ... responding to their stated needs ... their nonverbal clues ... their observable frustrations.

Stop to switch from task orientation to a personal perspective
... not so much program as people ... not so much numbers as needs ... not so much doing as being.

Look at people's faces to become aware of their sensitivity
 ... at their smiles to perceive their receptivity ... at their eyes to share their celebration of life ... at their shoulders to understand the loads they carry.

Look at people from their own perspective
 ... what is shaping them? ... what is concerning them? ... what is crowding them? . . . what is pleasing them?

Look for God in people
... through His Word ... through the predictable crises of life ... through responses to the mistakes of others.

Listen to what is being said
... when it is not convenient ... when it is uncomfortable . . . when it is obviously biased . . . when someone less wise is speaking.

Listen to what is felt
... when words mislead ... when smiles obscure ... when eyes cry out ... when confusion reigns.

Listen to what God says
... through the Bible ... through His Spirit ... through circumstances ... through people ... through rejection ... through life.

Though the words, approach, and context of Pastor Jeff's message were fresh to his audience, the ministry staff of Walnut Heights Bible Church recognized something very familiar about it. A few of them smiled to themselves. It was a theme they had seen emerge, grow, and blossom in their pastor of Christian education over the years. He was living it.


Mark H. Senter III is chair of the Department of Educational Ministries and associate professor of educational ministries at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. He has been at Trinity since 1982. Prior to that, Senter served as youth pastor for 11 years and as pastor of Christian education at Wheaton Bible Church for 7 years.

Senter's areas of expertise include youth ministry, volunteerism, administration, and continuing education. He is a member of the North American Professors of Christian Education. He is a consultant for churches and parachurch agencies in periods of transition.

Senter's publications include Reaching a Generation for Christ (co-edited with Richard Dunn) (Moody 1997), The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry (Victor 1992), Recruiting Volunteers in the Church (Victor 1990), and The Complete Book of Youth Ministry (co-edited with Warren Benson) (Moody 1987). He contributed to More Than Conquerors and his numerous articles have been published in periodicals such as Youthworker, Moody, Christianity Today, Leadership, and Christian Education Journal. Senter has also written chapters for other volumes on youth ministry.


This article was originally chapter 16 of Recruiting Volunteers in the Church, by Mark Senter III, Victor Books, copyright 1990 by SP Publications. Currently out of print. Used by permission of Mark Senter.