When I was nominated to be a Shepherd Leader, I said yes, but then I suddenly realized I had absolutely no idea what this title really meant. I was pretty anxious for a few days. The church secretary, Mary DeVries, helped me think it through. Then I spent some time in prayer. If my name was chosen, I’d know it was God’s will to be a shepherd leader, and if I wasn’t supposed to, I trusted God that my name would not be chosen. Well, I was chosen. All I could think was, “Now what?”
I can honestly say, I didn't even remember having a shepherd leader in all my many, many years at Hillside, and I apologize if you happen to be one of them. Apparently I wasn't paying very good attention because I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
I shouldn't have worried. I received great training! I remember our Monday night meetings led by Pastor Daniel or Deb Oskam. And wow, did I love them. I was such a "newbie" that I was taking absolutely everything in. I can't believe the love and support, and also the encouragement that I was given. Deb is amazing at what she does. She taught me so much; for example, she taught me how to reach out in love, and also how to have a few boundaries! (This is a great tip for a people pleaser like me.) What I truly loved was that these people walked right along-side of me, and taught me that being a Shepherd Leader is just about loving God by loving the people of our church. Deb and Daniel use their gifts, talents, and time, to teach others, like me, how to use my gifts, talents and time. What a testimony of a true family.
I also remember being scared at the beginning, thinking I was not enough. I had learned what the job entailed, now I had to do it! One specifically scary thing was being in the prayer room. I really don't know how I got up the courage to pray out loud. I thought, “I really, really don’t know how to do this!” Wise words from my brother-in-law Lou were, “It's not about you Jackie.” These are words I'll never forget. I was nervous and scared because the focus was on myself instead of on our Father, He IS the one who intercedes for us. All our God wants is a relationship of honesty, love and communication. Boy, I love to look back and see where God has taken me since then. I have climbed to new heights spiritually because of this experience. Now I can listen to the needs of others, and be led by the power of the Holy Spirit to pray boldly before the throne of our Heavenly Father. Praise be to His name.
All of these opportunities as a Shepherd Leader were life lessons for me. For example, I had the opportunity of sitting in and listening to young adults who were ready to make their profession of faith. Wow! I stood amazed listening to the way God was working through each of these young lives.
My specific shepherd leader role was to reach out to 18 to 30 year old women who were not in college. At first it seemed pretty difficult. I remember sending out emails or cards to my group without a lot of response. I get it; I had been one such young person myself. However, over time, I began to get responses, and those relationships grew. I found delight in the fact that they did want me to pray withthem. They did want to be encouraged and supported in their faith. They would eventually share their ups and downs, their break ups, and their engagements.
I've actually been to two of their weddings! I've celebrated the birth of their children and been able to witness their baptisms!!! How amazing to be part of their faith and life journeys. I made connections with women that I had never even met face to face. For example, there were sisters living in Texas who were members of Hillside. I got in touch with them often, and grew to be such amazing friends; we have shared joys and tears. I smile as I think about the fact that I am still in contact with the both of them today.
Watching all of the young women in my group grow and make good life decisions is a beautiful thing. Not only did I encourage these women, they also encouraged me. When I loved them with God’s love, they loved me back! Isn't that what Christ taught us? Love your neighbor as yourself. Sacrifice, is what he says, it's all worth it. I never dreamed that I would be loved in return.
It wasn't an easy road but I can honestly say being a Shepherd Leader took me out of my comfort zone and made me more mature in my Christian walk. My prayer life has grown greatly because as a Shepherd leader I learned to pray for others. Don't we all want to grow in the Lord and become more Christ-like?
If the opportunity to be a Shepherd Leader comes your way, I do encourage you to say yes, and then learn the job and do your job fully—embrace it fully. No one asked me to do a plug for this job! This is my heartfelt response to having been a Shepherd Leader. Thank you so much to the Hillside family for this opportunity.
By: Jackie Hoekwater
as told to: Margaret Broersma