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Listen to His voice: Dog training gives parallels to discipleship, ministry

Greg, Owen, and Megan Kilgore pose with Ahsoka, left, and Rey after both passed their junior hunt tests earlier this month. Photo courtesy of SweetAZ Productions

FRESNO, Calif. (BP) — In his ministry, Greg Kilgore has learned a lot from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The same goes for inspiration from Arwen, Ace, Rey and Ahsoka.

The first four, of course, wrote the Gospel accounts that have been the foundation of Kilgore’s ministry as a pastor and now director of missions for Mid-Valley Baptist Association. That last four are his family’s golden retrievers he has trained through Glacier Point Goldens, which he operates alongside his wife, Megan.

Greg Kilgore works with Rey during her junior hunting test earlier this month. Photo courtesy of SweetAZ Productions

His wife’s family had bred goldens for decades when Kilgore took over the breeding program. About eight years ago he decided to turn his attention toward training them for hunting.

Many parallels between that and ministry soon stood out in the process.

“It teaches you a lot about sanctification and growth,” he said. “We are all works in progress and some days are better than others. You can feel you’re gaining ground and then all of a sudden you hit a bump in the road.

“I’ve used dog training quite a bit in my sermons over the years.”

In that process, dogs have to watch their handler and know when to move and when to stay put. They have to be able to focus on a fixed point and avoid distractions. They have to learn to trust their master’s voice and commands.

Sound familiar?

In training and ministry, Kilgore has recognized the importance of patience in leadership.

“I’ve come close to losing my patience, something dogs can sense,” he said. “You have to remember that there are bigger things in life.”

Only five months into his current role, Kilgore has also noticed similarities in leading an association.

“We don’t have authority over our churches, but want to be there to help them. It’s important to be relational with churches and the pastor,” he said.

“If you don’t have that, they’re not going to listen to you. A lot of that comes from spending time with them.”

Kilgore has stayed with training his own dogs but he and Megan are considering branching out to help others. As a dad, family and ministry responsibilities dominate his time. Ace, Rey and Ahsoka – yes, they are Star Wars fans – have gone with the family to hunt pheasants and quail mostly, with a little bit of duck hunting thrown in. Arwen – they also appreciate Lord of the Rings – did so as well before dying last year.

“Goldens started as hunters,” Kilgore said. “Then over time, people wanted them as family pets. A lot of breeders didn’t teach them to hunt. Still, they make excellent family dogs and with kids.

“The great thing about a golden, labrador or any well-trained dog is that they’ll have a good on/off switch. In the field they’ll go get a bird 500 yards away. Get them inside and the switch is off and they’re the most lovable things.”

Patience is a virtue in leadership as well as discipleship. It also can be modeled regardless of platform. Kilgore cites the more well-known Bible names for inspiration, but is partial to the less-famous Epaphroditus, from Philippians 2:25-30.

“I love how he served faithfully in a somewhat small matter,” Kilgore said, “encouraging the church and taking a love offering.”