Yes, according to Jesus! He blesses you and calls you into ministry: “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14).

We may think being salt and light means preaching sermons or trying to convert people to our faith. Actually, it’s more like what we call “Soul Shepherding.” Before I explain this, let’s look at how Jesus illustrates salt and light as he continues his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.

He focuses his teaching on how we relate to other people and to God. In a word, we’re to agape other people, to love them generously and unconditionally — even if they’re difficult or mistreat us.

That seems too hard for us to do, even impossible! But Jesus insists it becomes rather easy if we’re permeated and overflowing with our Heavenly Father’s love. (5:45)

Specifically, Rabboni Jesus teaches us that love does not push, use, or disrespect people (5:21-48). Instead, love offers to others patient instruction (5:17-20), listening (5:23-26), a sincere heart (6:1-4), prayer (6:5-13), forgiveness (6:14-15), a non-anxious presence (6:25-34), and nonjudgmental grace (7:1-6).

Jesus boils down his ethic of love in his very practical Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you” (7:12).

But this is widely misunderstood: It’s not just doing loving behaviors. “Compassion” without empathy can create entitlement in the recipients and self-congratulatory pride in the givers.

The Golden Rule is first of all empathy. To paraphrase, “In all situations consider what the people around you feel and do for them what you would want them to do for you. This summarizes the Bible.”

This is Soul Shepherding. We’re caring for and guiding the deep flow of someone’s life to engage with the living presence of the Spirit of Jesus. We’re companioning people through empathy and prayer to cultivate a deeper experience of God’s grace.

In our Institute and online Spiritual Direction Training program, we teach that Soul Shepherding is an integration of counseling and spiritual direction — not in a clinical or professionalized way, but in a personable way that’s life-on-life.

We’re not the “director” for the person seeking help — that’s the work of the Holy Spirit! Our ministry is not so much about what we say as the questions we ask, how we listen, and how we wait with our hearts attending the Spirit of Christ in our midst. We’re cultivating for another person an atmosphere and vibe of grace that opens their souls to breathe with the Spirit.

You know this from experience. If you’re struggling personally and a friend or counselor gives you advice, cheery reassurance, or re-directs the conversation to themselves this is not helpful to you.

In the Bible, we see many examples of live-giving Soul Shepherding when…

  • Ruth and Naomi journey together to find Yahweh in a season of grief (Ruth 1:16-17).
  • David and Jonathan become soul friends, even though they’re natural competitors (1 Samuel 18:1-3).
  • The Sons of Korah band together to pray, compose, and sing Psalms of praise and lament and they invite people to join them (e.g., Psalms 42, 46, and 84).
  • A Jew tugs on the sleeve of a spiritual guide, asking for care and guidance (Zechariah 8:23).
  • Elizabeth listens and prays with her young cousin Mary and they and the babies in their wombs bond (Luke 1:39-45).
  • Jesus speaks heart-to-heart with the Samaritan woman at the well and she drinks the living water that flows from his belly (John 4:4-42; 7:37-39).
  • Ananias ministers hospitality, listening, healing prayer, and encouragement to Saul (Paul) who just days earlier was prepared to kill him (Acts 9:10-18).
  • Mary Magdalene meets with the eleven frightened apostles, waiting for the risen Christ to appear to them just as he had to her (John 20:11-23).
  • Paul writes letters of spiritual nourishment and instruction to minister the grace and peace of Christ to people.

Throughout the history of the Church ministers of soul care and spiritual direction have listened, prayed, and wooed people into an authentic and fruitful discipleship to Jesus, the Shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).

Shepherding souls to Jesus is the most important ministry we can offer as pastors, speakers, small group leaders, parents, and friends.

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In this episode of Soul Talks, Bill and Kristi share an example of a chance encounter that turned into an organic spiritual direction conversation.

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