Not Satisfied with Our Shepherding yet—but Finding a Good Rhythm
Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in a series by Bob Johnson:
- Part 1: Not Satisfied with Our Shepherding Yet (2014)
- Part 2: Not Satisfied with Our Shepherding Yet—But Making Progress (2016)
- Part 3: Not Satisfied with Our Shepherding Yet—But Doing Much Better than Before (2018)
- Part 4: Not Satisfied with Our Shepherding Yet—but Finding a Good Rhythm (2023)
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Years ago, when the elders of our church attempted to do a better job of shepherding every member, we were responding to a couple of situations where sheep had fallen through the cracks. You can read about that process in a series of three articles that chronicled our process. It’s been almost nine years since then, and we’ve continued this practice while making a few tweaks along the way.
Each elder is responsible to provide oversight for about fifty to fifty-five members. They have a specific list of people who are in their Care Group for a calendar year. We try to put people into an elder’s group who are already in his ministry orb, small group, or network of friends so that the shepherding is as natural as it is intentional. We even try to have elders interview new members who will most likely be assigned to their oversight.
The results have been excellent. All the elders are involved in shepherding, not just the guys who get paid to do it. The congregation is known, loved, cared for, and prayed for consistently.
Now that this practice has been in place all these years, it’s hard to imagine our church without it. We have also made a couple of adjustments, sort of like a baseball player learning to adjust and readjust his posture while at bat.
1. Congregational Responsibility
One area where we have shifted our weight in the past couple of years has been to put more responsibility on the congregation. Nine years ago, we felt like we had been negligent and wanted to do everything we could to connect with every member. We have since learned there are some members who either are not needy or don’t want much contact.
In our elder meetings, some of the guys would express some frustration that “so-and-so” does not return calls, emails, texts, etc. We started to put more weight on the congregation and would tell them, “Hey, your elder is contacting you. The least you can do is respond!” But we try to make it easy on them as well. For example, the guys will contact their group and say, “Hey all, I am going to be at one of the high-top tables in the Gathering Space after the morning worship service. Come by and say hi or at least wave on your way out the door. I want to see you in person.” This usually works well.
2. Elder Count
We also determined we needed more elders. If your elders are primarily a decision-making board, having a lot of elders will make your elder meetings get clunky and inefficient. But if your elders are primarily shepherds who care for the flock, then accepting a little clunkiness and inefficiency in those meetings is well worth the trade-off. Initially, each elder was responsible for about seventy-five to eighty members. That was too much. We’ve added elders so that our groups are much more manageable.
3. Public Reminders
This year, we posted a list of every elder and every person in their group on a bulletin board. We wanted to draw attention to the fact that every elder has a group, every member is in a group, and this is a big deal to us.
Over time, this aspect of our ministry has helped the congregation connect much better with all the elders, and they have learned to accept the ministry of the “lay elder” as being as important as the ministry of the “staff elders.”
4. Prayer Requests
One final tweak we made is when a member calls the church with a prayer request, we let the person know that we will be praying for him or her. But our receptionist also asks the person to contact his or her elder right away.
Setting these groups up every year is a little easier, even though it still feels a bit like a fantasy football draft. It’s gratifying to see how much of the congregation leans into this and now looks forward to hearing their “elder for the year.”