Not Satisfied with Our Shepherding Yet—But Doing Much Better than Before

Article
09.11.2018

Editor’s note: This is the third article in a series by Bob Johnson:

Over the past four years, God has brought much health and encouragement to this church through the convictions and decisions Bob writes about in these articles. Read and be edified—but perhaps more importantly, read and be instructed!

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The other day, I stopped by a local Wendy’s to grab a quick lunch and ran into a member of my church. This particular sister is in the group of members I have personal oversight of (read this for an explanation). Earlier that morning, I’d emailed this woman and her husband, reminding them I pray for them every Tuesday and asking for any updates and/or prayer requests.

Her son worked at Wendy’s, and though he couldn’t stop what he was doing, we at least exchanged some greetings. Right there in line, I was able to ask some specific questions based on previous conversations and was able to encourage and care for this member and her family.

WE’VE MADE PROGRESS

None of that would have happened a few years ago. By God’s grace, we’ve made great progress in shepherding our members.

I serve with a great group of elders. These men have provided years of consistent leadership. And yet, several years ago, a couple of things nagged at me. Though we were committed to maintaining a legitimate membership roll, every time we reviewed it we noticed people who had dropped off the radar. And to be honest, we didn’t always know whether or not someone had contacted them or ever knew why they left in the first place.

We have small groups and Adult Bible Fellowships that certainly connected our people to one another. But biblically, it’s the responsibility of the elders to oversee the health of the members and the integrity of the membership—and we simply weren’t doing a good enough job. Convicted about this, I decided that we needed to do something about this, and so we set out to change the way our elders shepherd the flock. That was four years ago.

HOW IT WORKS

Back in 2014, I wrote an article on how the elders wanted to develop a plan to provide consistent and personal oversight for every member of our church. Two years later, I provided an update on how we were doing. For context, it would be helpful to read those previous articles because the fruit from our present efforts come from several years of working at this and tweaking it.

Here’s where we are: each elder has a Member Care Group that he contacts on a regular basis to see how they’re doing and to find out how we can care for them. In our monthly elder meetings, each elder reports on at least five of his members so that we can all stay informed, and so that we can pray for them. This time of updates and prayer has become the longest portion of our meeting.

Each elder has about 60 members in his Member Care Group. At the beginning of 2018, we reviewed every member and decided which Member Care Group would be a good fit for each member. If possible, we wanted to put members into a group led by an elder they already knew. For example, all the members of my small group are also in my Member Care Group. I already see them all the time and therefore stay informed as to what’s going on in their lives.

Here’s how we did it: One elder created the Member Care Groups by assigning each member to the elder he thought made the most sense. Then we all met together and traded members between each other. For example, some guys were discipling and counseling members that the rest weren’t of us didn’t know about, and we wanted those members in the right group. For most of us, the 60+ members in our group were people we knew and were already involved with on a semi-regular basis.

After that, I informed the congregation of their Member Care Group. I told them an elder will be contacting them. (We initially called them Elder Care Groups, but an older gentleman was a bit put out because he thought it was reference to his age, so we changed it to Member Care Group.) I also explained this shepherding plan to every prospective member in our membership classes. In fact, when a person applies for membership, we have the elder to whom they would be assigned for the first year conduct the interview so that the relationship is quickly established. Throughout the year, one of our elders is tasked with organizing both these membership interviews and the assignment process.

It’s much easier to care for the members that I serve with, but there are some I’ve had to intentionally track down and talk to. For example, I created a prayer list so that every member in my group is prayed for on a particular day of the week. Then I email them on a regular basis asking them for prayer requests. As the elders update each other about the members in their groups, we get a good sense of the health of our flock as a whole.

If you’re in church leadership, you probably go to a lot of meetings. Can you imagine what it’s like to go home after a leadership meeting with the knowledge that you were actually fulfilling your God-given mandate? Elders who shepherd their flock are a beautiful gift to the church. When the shepherds smell like sheep, the sheep will follow the shepherds.