Herding the flock
Remodeled LU Shepherd program creates community
When LU Shepherd Melanie Denney started working for the Campus Pastors Office as a women’s life skill coordinator, she was already experiencing Liberty University’s vision for the new LU Shepherd Office.
Under the Campus Pastors Office, Denney reached out to students in their own environments by meeting them where they were comfortable.
She and LU Shepherd Doug Damon were brought into the Campus Pastors Office a year before the LU Shepherd system was officially created, Denney said.
“We came onboard in order to beta-test what the shepherd position is this year,” Denney said.
LU Shepherd, founded in the summer, restructured both the Campus Pastors Office and aspects of student leadership in order to minister to students more effectively.
“We’re called shepherds because when you’re a shepherd, you smell like the sheep and the sheep know your name,” Denney said.
“We exist to be yeast among the students that permeate all aspects of campus life.”
Denney said that the flexible nature of the shepherd’s role enables them to reach out to students who may not feel comfortable making an appointment to meet with a pastor or counselor.
The eight shepherds spend most of their time outside of their office in Dorm 17 because they visit residence halls, mentor student leaders and counsel students in need.
“This generation wants authenticity and transparency,” Denney said.
“It’s a lot easier to open up and tell your story when you’re sitting across from somebody at Starbucks than when you’ve had to fill out a report, call an appointment line and sit in a waiting room.”
When the Campus Pastors Office was transformed into LU Shepherd, these pastors also took on the role of training and mentoring student leaders, Denney said.
Resident shepherds and community group leaders, formerly known as spiritual life coaches and prayer and life group leaders, are now a part of LU Shepherd.
Under LU Shepherd, Denney is responsible for ministering to female students on the Residential Commons.
She typically meets one-on-one with 40 students a week.
As a resident shepherd on East Campus, Alison Pulliam is accountable to a shepherd with whom she meets at least four times a semester.
“My partner and I are in charge of the spiritual life on the hall, and so we do anything from planning hall events to doing (residence hall leadership meeting), which is our leadership meeting with the whole team,” Pulliam said.
Pulliam was a prayer and life group leader for a year and a half before becoming a resident shepherd this year.
Although the changes moved resident shepherds and community group leaders from the Office of Student Leadership to LU Shepherd, she does not believe that the structural and name changes had a major effect on leadership on her hall.
“Honestly, our hall does not look a whole lot different than it did in previous years with (resident assistants) and (spiritual life coaches),” Pulliam said. “We seem to operate a lot of the same way.”
Resident shepherds such as Pulliam are also responsible for the community group leaders on their hall. These students lead community groups for five to seven students each week.
Wes Franklin, the LU shepherd for student mentors, leads training classes for resident shepherds and community group leaders four days a week.
Franklin said he believes creating strong biblical community is essential to the spiritual life of the campus.
Franklin described biblical community as a lifestyle of fellowship with other Christians that models Jesus’ close relationship with his disciples.
“There’s something about biblical community that here in the West we just don’t get,” Franklin said.
“There’s hurdles because we pride ourselves on individualism. We were never … created or called to be lone rangers in the faith.”
The community group leaders are strongly encouraged to facilitate discussion based on the message preached in the Campus Community service held before community groups on Wednesday night.
“We’re trying to train our community group leaders to move out of Campus Community and bridge that with their community groups,” Franklin said.
“We want to have one big conversation about one passage of Scripture, instead of so many messages trying to come at one time to different students.”
Another way that LU Shepherd connects to students is through a 24-hour prayer ministry.
When students send prayer requests through the LU Shepherd website or the Campus Community app, LU Shepherd makes certain that each request is prayed for, Denney said.
“We want to bathe this campus in prayer,” Denney said. “The way that students can connect with that specifically is that they can use the Campus Community app to submit prayer requests that come
directly to our office.
LU Shepherd is also developing a program called LU Shepherd Presents that will allow students to discuss topics presented during Convocation, Denney said.
“If a speaker comes into Convocation … LU Shepherd Presents will be a continuation of the conversation in a forum setting,” Denney said.
This forum will be facilitated by LU Shepherd and will give several hundred students the chance to interact directly with Convocation speakers.
Denney said she hopes LU Shepherd will grow both in the number of shepherds and in their level of impact at Liberty.
“Long term, the goal of the team that we’ve assembled is that we want to be known on campus,” Denney said. “We want to put our names and faces out there so that people understand that they have people on their team who love them and want to help them.”
Franklin said that his vision for LU Shepherd extends beyond the campus of Liberty.
“Some of the greatest minds are going to graduate from Liberty, and they’re going to go all over the world,” Franklin said.
“What would it look like if we just a had moment in time with them, and they take that with them wherever they go.”
During her time at Liberty, Denney said she has personally seen how the ministry of LU Shepherd can transform students’ lives.
“There’s so many stories last year of women that the Lord allowed me to be a part of their story,” Denney said. “I have girls that are now community group leaders that were last year in the thick of warfare. … We get to be a part of someone’s story — we get to be the hands and feet of Jesus.”
COVEY is a feature reporter.