The first of three major ways that Jesus cared for people was by knowing them. We accept the fact that God knows all people thoroughly (Matthew 6:25-32) and that Jesus knew what was in the hearts of men (Luke 9:47). Apart from divine insight, we see in the Gospels that Jesus invested time to get to know people personally. Surely while walking many miles around Israel He conversed with the Disciples. He asked them many questions not because He lacked the knowledge, but to enable the men to bring forth what they were thinking like the wise man in Proverbs (20:5). Jesus knew the state of His followers (Proverbs 27:23).
It was attributed to Theodore Roosevelt that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” In our efficiency oriented western culture, taking time to know a person involves a commitment. The degree of knowing a person is in direct proportion to time spent with a person. We can only superficially know a person at a distance or through periodic encounters. Shared experiences, especially in challenging situations, allow for people to become more deeply acquainted. There is no substitute for spending time with those you primarily lead in their home and work context with the intent to know more fully.
What we learn from the Good Shepherd and observe from good shepherd leadership instructs us on this topic of knowing. In order for the shepherd of sheep to provide what is needed, knowledge is essential. The shepherd is the one initiating to meet needs. Although sheep cannot talk, the good shepherd can observe the signs of need, whether for food, drink, or deep restoration. Not unlike a baby with a mother, needs must be discerned. Some signs are more easily recognized while other signs require closer observation to an individual’s unique need.
In his excellent book, While Shepherds Watch Their Flocks, Timothy Laniak shares what he learned from living six months with shepherds in the Middle East. He explains how good shepherds know their sheep by name and make effort to inspect them regularly. Shepherds keep their hands on the sheep so they can feel how they are doing. When sheep enter the sheep pen one after another the shepherd gets a close look at each and can notice what could go undetected in the pasture.
Similarly, when investing unhurried time with those we lead, the leader can hear from speech and observe from actions the kind of insight needed for nurturing health. How do those being served utilize the Bible for nourishing self and others? What interpersonal skills are present or are lacking? Where could people focus learning and development for greater enjoyment and effectiveness in ministry? What areas for prayer does this person need? Few people indeed have leaders who know them this well and love them enough to serve their real needs and wants.
A sad reality is that a leader can think he knows a person well and shockingly find out that there is some dysfunction or hiddenness. Hopefully if a safe and grace filled relationship is present to ask uncomfortable questions with loving accountability, self-disclosure will result and enable understanding and corrective behavior. The enemy is devouring too many good people and good leaders. Care by knowing deeply is essential.
Next blog: Jesus Cared by Providing for People