For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him.
When I chose my New Year's Resolution for this month ("Watch over the flock more diligently."), I knew that I was stretching the technical definition a bit by focusing on this verse near the end of a chapter that talks so comprehensively about things that individuals need to consider with regard to their own spiritual growth. The surrounding context of this verse makes it clear that it refers to Jesus, the Christ - the Good Shepherd - the one who watches over his flock and guards his sheep from predators. The final section of this chapter is radically different in focus than the rest of the chapter, and I don't mean to minimize, twist or overlook that difference by taking verse 59 a bit out of context and "likening it unto (my)self".
When I made this particular resolution, nearly a year ago, I had no idea the posts I would read recently around the Bloggernacle - the multiple posts that would be written about pastoral care, the role of Bishops within the LDS Church and how members should and can interact with "shepherds" who are appointed to watch over them. I was struck HARD as I contemplated this resolution how much Bishops are protectors and guardians - and how much that role is part of and impacts their duties as Judges in Israel.
I know I instinctively want Bishops to be counselors, and I know many Bishops who are good counselors - but, at the most basic level, I also know that a Bishop must be aware of and diligently on guard against potential dangers to his flock. That role as protective shepherd sometimes can be at odds with my desire for him to fill a role as confidante and counselor - and it can cause a tension in situations where I or other members "confide" things that are not necessarily "confessions" of incorrect action or sin.
The expression of uncertainty and/or doubt is one of these situations.
The ideal Bishop-as-counselor/confidante would view such expressions as a chance to explore nuance and individual perspective - focusing strictly on the individual in question and not seeing anything in such expressions as "dangerous" or "harmful". Such expressions of uncertainty and/or doubt would not be seen as "confessions" - since there is NO "sin" attached to uncertainty or doubt. Thus, ideally, a Bishop would be able to listen to someone who was experiencing a crisis of faith (struggling to maintain hope in what cannot be seen) without any kind of "protective reflex".
However, as a "shepherd", a Bishop is required to be vigilant in seeing potential dangers to his "flock" - and it is easy for Bishops to see a questioning, uncertain and/or doubtful sheep as such a potential danger. After all, what if that sheep talks with other sheep and plants questions, uncertainty or even doubt in their minds? I acknowledge that such an outcome is a real possibility; hence, there is an inherent tension between a Bishop being an unbiased, objective "counselor/confidante" and a dedicated "shepherd/judge".
How does this relate to my personal resolution this month?
I am resolved this month to be more diligent in the protection of all who might turn to me for counsel, advise, perspective, insight or assistance of any kind. I have more than one natural "flock": my children (and, in a way, my wife - although I am of her "flock" in that regard, as well); the students I serve in my role as a college admission counselor; the students whom I serve as an Institute teacher; people in my community who look to me to see how a Mormon acts and believes; those online who read my blog and my comments on other sites; etc.
I am careful in my use of the term "flock" - since I have NO desire whatsoever, in any of those roles, to "build a following" in the classic sense of the term "flock" - so I am using it much more loosely in the application I use for myself. It simply has registered more deeply than ever before, over the course of this past month leading up to this month's resolution, that all of us who are members of the LDS Church and have committed to take His name upon us and act as His disciples in our day can share in His shepherding role to some degree and, by so doing, reduce the heavy burdens Bishops (and Branch Presidents) must bear by taking responsibility for those parts of a typical Bishop's burden that he doesn't have to bear strictly by virtue of his calling.
Being a counselor/confidante for others is one such way in which I believe I can help to lessen or remove an unnecessary burden - and, in the process, help build Zion in a very real and practical way.
God bless the Bishops (and Branch Presidents) of the Church - and God bless each of us to do what we can to love, listen to, counsel with and serve the sheep better (especially those who are uncertain or doubt) so Bishops can focus on protecting them more easily and not be put in positions where they must mitigate their own counseling in order to continue to protect and judge.