Macro-shepherding and Micro-shepherding: An Important Distinction


As I became increasingly convinced of the importance of the responsibility of elders to shepherd their flocks, I wrestled with the fact that there are important tasks that the elders are called upon to fulfill on a corporate, congregational level. On the other hand, the foundation of a shepherd’s ministry must be in personal care and interaction with the sheep. The terminology of macro-shepherding and micro-shepherding is designed to help leaders understand and distinguish these comprehensive and complementary responsibilities.

The rationale for this distinction can be seen in Paul’s moving farewell to the Ephesian elders. He reminded them that he “did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Paul’s ministry was not merely in the public forum but in the privacy of people’s homes. It was not merely corporate but personal. This balance must be maintained for an effective shepherding ministry, and it can be represented by this distinction between macro-shepherding and micro-shepherding.

Macro-shepherding refers to those important leadership functions that relate to the entire church. It has in view the elders’ responsibility to provide “oversight” of the flock as a whole. Its concern is to address the corporate concerns of the congregation. There are important decision-making, vision-casting, and administrative functions that the elders must carry out for the health of the flock. As you will see, these macro-shepherding categories must be fulfilled for each of the basic shepherding functions. For example, under the shepherding function of “feeding” the flock, the macro-shepherding function is the elders’ responsibility to oversee the comprehensive teaching and preaching ministries of the church.

Micro-shepherding, on the other hand, refers to the personal ministry of the elders among the sheep. It has in view the oversight of particular sheep for whom they have been given responsibility. Going back to the illustration of “feeding,” micro-shepherding would be the elder’s personal ministry of the Word to individuals and families. The micro focus is on developing relationships with the sheep and the exercise of shepherding functions on a personal level.

Unfortunately, many agree to serve as elders with the misconception that they are only being asked to serve in macro, corporate functions. Actually, many leadership training classes offered to prospective officers are clearly biased toward the macro functions. One result of this orientation is seeking and attracting elders who perceive of themselves as “decision makers” rather than “sheep lovers.” This is not to suggest that these functions are mutually exclusive. However, there is grave danger to the health of the flock if the shepherds are not involved personally with the sheep. In fact, how can elders function properly on the macro level unless they are interacting with the sheep on the micro level? Rather, the seeds sown in personal ministry among the sheep bear fruit in enabling the elders to be more effective on the macro level.

Editor’s note: This is an excerpt from Tim Witmer’s book, The Shepherd Leader.

Tim Witmer

Tim Witmer is a Professor of Practical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is also the Pastor of St. Stephen Reformed Church in New Holland, Pennsylvania. Before that, he served at Crossroads Community Church in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, where he was recently designated Pastor Emeritus.

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