Shepherding with Paddle Strokes and Pigskin
Wally Bullington walks around in some of my favorite shepherding memories. Wally was a football coach, now retired, but still known by most people as “coach.” Wally loves God. And he shoots straight, but always with love and with warmth and follow-through. One scene I recall was during a church-wide father/child canoe trip on the Guadalupe River. Two kids came along who had no dad at home. But Wally spent hours with them that weekend, teaching them how to tie flies, paddle canoes, catch fish, set up tents, and so on.
Another memory: A son of a single mom felt socially cut off because his mother and her business partner had been accused of a crime which put their business in peril. Besides, since money was tight, the young man had to drop out of his much-loved private school. Many afternoons found Wally throwing a football with this boy on a vacant lot.
Years later, these boys, now men, still see Wally as a father figure, and they stay in touch with him for his loving counsel and wisdom.
In another memory of Wally, he was pacing the sidelines at football games, or at half time in the locker-room, surrounded by a tight circle of huge athletes, as he exhorted them to “go out there and keep this high level of effort up for just 30 more minutes.” Wally loved the game. But the main reason he loved coaching was because, as he said, “It is my point of connection with young men, where I hope that God will use me to make a difference.”
After college, as these young men have gone out into various walks of life, many of them have become shepherds in churches across the nation. Wally is “multiplying himself” through them. But they still love to come back to their alma mater to see Coach Bullington. These sheep know his voice, and they trust his council. Shepherd Wally built lifelong relationships with these lambs and earned their trust, affection, and loyalty. So even now, after they have grown from “lamb-hood” to “ram-hood,” they still love to gather around this shepherd. This flock authentically loves him, trusts him, and seeks the sound of his voice.
Authentic spiritual bonding like this is as real as family blood ties. Maybe more so. And in some ways, as irreplaceable as blood ties. This is one way that 1st century shepherding expresses itself in our 21st century world.
Watch this space for another real life shepherding story next month. This post is adapted from They Smell Like Sheep, Vol. 1.