A shepherd cares for sheep. A shepherd therefore must know His sheep. A shepherd must be with his sheep. Empathy is vital if a church leader is to fulfill the shepherd role. Empathy means drawing alongside people so as to demonstrate that you not only know about their experiences, but that you actually have a desire to enter into their experience. Empathy is good Samaritan ministry. It is like, to quote from that parable, a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him (Luke 10-33-34). The Good Samaritan came where the man was, he did not stay at a distance like the priest and Levite. To be a leader of god’s people necessitates being aware of people’s situations and empathizing with them. It means feeling with them.
Now we do have to be careful here, in making sure that people know that we are genuine. People will soon know if we are faking our empathy. It is only prayer that will take us into effectively ministering into people’s lives in this way. As we pray about people and tehir situations we will start to feel for people as the Holy Spirit minsters into us and through us. This all reminds me that we should be relentlessly praying for the sheep and all of their situations. An elder who does not pray for the sheep in his care, denies his office.
Finally, we need to avoid crass phrases throw-away statements as we draw along-side people. Phrases like “I know exactly how you feel” should be avoided. To such a statement “No you don’t” is very likely the unspoken answer of the person. We do not need to rush to say things. Being with people in their distress is very often the best things we can do. Don’t forget that Job’s friends were of most use to him when they sat silently with him for seven days (see Job 2:13)!
(This post follows-on from my post of June 20th about Mrs May and Leadership – see here)