Adapted from an address delivered at April 1995 general conference.If you hold the priesthood, or have a calling to serve others, you are a shepherd. Are you a good one?
When I was a very small boy, my father found a lamb all alone in the desert. The herd of sheep to which its mother belonged had moved on, and somehow the lamb got separated from its mother, and the shepherd must not have known that it was lost. Because it could not survive alone in the desert, my father picked it up and brought it home. To have left the lamb there would have meant certain death, either by falling prey to the coyotes or by starvation because it was so young that it still needed milk. My father gave the lamb to me and I became its shepherd.
For several weeks I warmed cow’s milk in a baby’s bottle and fed the lamb. We became fast friends. I named him Nigh—why I don’t remember. It began to grow. My lamb and I would play on the lawn. Sometimes we would lie together on the grass and I would lay my head on its soft, woolly side and look up at the blue sky and the white billowing clouds. I did not lock my lamb up during the day. It would not run away. It soon learned to eat grass. I could call my lamb from anywhere in the yard by just imitating as best I could the bleating sound of a sheep.
One night there came a terrible storm. I forgot to put my lamb in the barn that night as I should have done. I went to bed. My little friend was frightened in the storm and I could hear it bleating. I knew that I should help my pet, but wanted to stay safe, warm, and dry in my bed. I didn’t get up as I should have done. The next morning I went out to find my lamb dead. A dog had also heard its bleating cry and killed it. My young heart was broken. I had not been a good shepherd or steward of that which my father had entrusted to me. My father said, “Son, couldn’t I trust you to take care of just one lamb?” My father’s remark hurt me more than losing my woolly friend. I resolved that day, as a little boy, that I would try never again to neglect my stewardship as a shepherd if I were ever placed in that position again.
Not too many years thereafter I was called as a junior companion to a home teacher. There were times when it was so cold or stormy that I wanted to stay home and be comfortable, but in my mind’s ear I could hear my little lamb bleating, and I knew I needed to be a good shepherd and go with my senior companion. In all those many years, whenever I have had a desire to shirk my duties, there would come to me a remembrance of how sorry I was that night so many years ago when I had not been a good shepherd. I have not always done everything I should have, but I have tried.
What are the duties of the Lord’s shepherds? Those responsibilities are contained in the revelations: “The teacher’s duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;
“And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking” (D&C 20:53–54). A further commandment is to “see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty” (D&C 20:55). They are to “warn, expound, exhort, and teach, and invite all to come unto Christ” (D&C 20:59).
The priesthood quorum presidents and their counselors are also shepherds of the sheepfold and bear the responsibility to lovingly care for the members of their quorums.
You who bear the priesthood of God act as the Lord’s shepherds. Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated: “Anyone serving in any capacity in the Church in which he is responsible for the spiritual or temporal well-being of any of the Lord’s children is a shepherd to those sheep. The Lord holds his shepherds accountable for the safety [meaning salvation] of his sheep” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 710). The bearers of the priesthood have this great responsibility. We ask you to stand steady. We ask you to be faithful in your stewardships. Let us be true to our callings and the holy priesthood we bear. Let us be united in supporting and sustaining those in authority over us.
After more than 60 years, I can still hear in my mind the bleating, frightened cry of the lamb of my boyhood that I did not shepherd as I should have. I can also remember the loving rebuke of my father: “Son, couldn’t I trust you to take care of just one lamb?” If we are not good shepherds, I wonder how we will feel in the eternities.
“Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
“He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
“He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17).
I pray humbly that we may do so.