​​Tim Bongard

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Go FIND your Sheep! - Corona Lesson 1

​​Go FIND your Sheep!                                                                                                by Tim Bongard

It’s easy to assume your people know how to connect to you – but that is a VERY dangerous and potentially disastrous assumption!

           In my book “Tweaks”, I describe a frustrating but somewhat comic experience I had trying to connect with a supposed cadre of volunteers when I was a Ranger for two Boy Scout camps in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I had been instructed by the folks at our administrative offices to post notices of when I was having work sessions at either camp so that I could get the volunteers to come up and help. They in turn would send out emails and post the notices to our council’s website. It seemed to make perfect sense, was a great system, and I also assumed they knew what they were doing.

          Collectively as leaders, we were entirely wrong. It turned out that the email list was culled mostly from donors, none of which were interested in hands-on work at the camps, and the website was being used at the time primarily as a repository of forms and other information, not really as a calendar bulletin board. Most importantly, the vast majority of the very people I was trying to reach didn’t own or infrequently used computers and had very little in the way of computer skills.

          My sheep couldn’t hear me call.

          This went on for almost a year and week after week I prepared for the volunteers who were surely going to arrive at any minute. They never came. I thought maybe my pitch was wrong, so I modulated my message. Nothing. Nobody showed. I offered donuts and actually learned how to make awesome coffee. I ended up eating all the donuts and poured gallons of good coffee down the drain. It was truly disheartening! I was slowly becoming convinced that nobody cared. I was buying into the theory that our society was becoming disconnected and callous.

          Then, one Saturday, Charlie Jackson showed up. Charlie was a senior citizen who was one of our Council Commissioners, a great leader and prince of a man. I greeted him with nearly a year’s worth of pent up enthusiasm and we agreed on a task he could dive right into. But no one else showed up. For the entire morning we danced a dance of confusion. I assumed he had heard about the work session and had responded by coming up. He, on the other hand, has simply showed up at his boyhood camp to offer help and thought this Ranger was nice but very confused (which was a spot-on assessment). I go into a lot more detail in the book, but eventually I discovered A) Charlie didn’t know anything about any work session, B) he and most of the other older volunteers on my list didn’t even own computers, and C) if I wanted to contact him, I needed to call him on the phone or “send me a @#$%! postcard”.

          We had it all wrong. I was calling my sheep, but the sheep were somewhere else and could not hear me.

I was, for the better part of the year, and with the enthusiastic encouragement of the staff at the office, using the wrong signals to try and reach my volunteers. Like a flag man sending semaphore flag signals with no one knowing to watch for them – it was all wasted effort because they didn’t know I was signaling!

I was trying to reach my sheep in the wrong ways. And, this is a common scenario that is repeated over and over again by some very intelligent and together organizations in one form or another. Churches spend large sums on websites and then wonder why many of their congregation still feel disconnected or doesn’t seemingly respond. All kinds of volunteer organizations set up great and creative tech, but then wonder at the lack of response and then chalk it up to social disconnectedness.

Did you in fact, go out and find out where your sheep are? Or have you just assumed?

FACT: There is absolutely NO substitute for FIRST establishing one-on-one interaction with your sheep to find out where the heck they are! You need to reach them (actually talk to them) and find out what ways they usually communicate.

After my comic interaction with Charlie that fateful Saturday, I realized I had it all wrong. I realized the council had it all wrong and my bosses were clueless on communication with camp volunteers. I started going to various council meetings and asked face-to-face “How can I best get ahold of you?”. The answers I got left me stunned. It was quite an eye opener to discover how to reach my sheep! But once I knew how to reach them, I used their preferences to get the word out when I needed help and eventually, they learned about other channels of communication I used. That is where dialogue starts.

        You may feel you shouldn’t have to do this. You already have a robust suite of communication channels and you shouldn’t have to actually call them, it’s redundant. They, your sheep, all know, right? But consider this: ancient Israel had a robust set of religious guidelines in place with the purpose of leading Israel to Yahweh, the great “I AM”, the Creator, and the God of Heaven and Earth. Yet, Jesus the Messiah, came to mankind in person, God with Us, walked among us, met with us in person and went looking for His sheep. Even today, God searches us out.

In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 34, verses 11-16, the scriptures state
 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”

And then again in the Gospels, in Matthew it’s recorded in chapter 18, verses 12-13, Jesus says, “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.”

If the God of Heaven felt it was important enough to search out His people, don’t you think your people deserve as much from you?

Make a commitment to go find your organization’s sheep and take a moment, especially in the midst of this crisis, to connect with them today. Find out how they want to connect with you.