Not Satisfied with our Shepherding, Yet—But Making Some Progress
Editor’s note: This is the second 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)
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!
* * * * *
A year and a half ago, I wrote an article with a similar title about a plan I had to increase the level and intentionality of the shepherding that the elders of my church provide for our members. I was convinced that we needed to be more involved in the lives of our people if we were going to be able to say that we kept watch over their souls (Hebrews 13:17). In his book The Shepherd Leader, Tim Witmer talks about macro-shepherding (preaching, teaching, organization) and micro-shepherding (conversations, personal discipling, praying with one another, etc.). My sense was that we’d given good attention to macro-shepherding, but we needed to give more attention to the micro aspect of it. So in the original article I provided some steps we were going to take, and I promised a follow-up as to how it’s gone.
The results have been amazing! 600 percent increase in attendance! 850 percent increase in offerings! Eight church plants! 57 young men now in seminary! Two million new Twitter followers!
Okay, that’s not true. But how has it gone, really?
THREE PRACTICAL STEPS
The plan involved three foundational elements followed by some practical steps:
1) Review with my elders the essential nature of the church and our responsibility to care for every member.
2) Establish a clear vision for a ministry that includes care for every member of the flock.
3) Create a shepherding plan driven by relationships rather than reactions.
The goal of this last step was to create a care-plan for every member of the flock so that we can know how best to pray for them, encourage them, challenge them, and inform them of ministries, resources, or other people who can help them (or whom they can help). The elders embraced the first two steps and set out to work on the third. Here’s what we did.
SHEPHERDING THROUGH RELATIONSHIPS, NOT REACTIONS
First, we asked each elder to contact five members every month. Our membership is a little over 1,000 people. We didn’t try to organize it on the basis of who already knew whom, but we could certainly trade names based upon current relationships and future “draft choice” considerations.
Initially, we all tried to contact our assigned members by phone. The elder identified himself and explained to the member that we pray regularly for every member of our church and that we wanted to know what that member would like us to pray for. Those who actually answered their phones seemed, for the most part, very appreciative of the contact. In some cases, the elder called at a very opportune moment and was able to help that member address an urgent need. In other cases, the person was caught off-guard and really didn’t have anything at the moment, although a few called back later to say they thought of something. On the whole, probably about 40-50% of our members did not answer their phones and did not call back.
Though the contact with our members hasn’t been complete, it has been invaluable. One of the tangible benefits has been the increased contact that the shepherds are having with the sheep. A shepherd who doesn’t smell like sheep isn’t much of a shepherd. All of us learned about daily challenges that certain members experience, and how just one phone call can open the door for many more conversations.
Another benefit has been our realization of how little some people know about the various ministries of our church. This forced us to be more intentional in our communication.
Another benefit is for the congregation to realize that every member has a responsibility to pray for and care for one another. Having the elders setting the mark gives me the opportunity to call the members to keep the pace. I encourage members to pray for one another as a regular part of just seeing one another, particularly on Sundays. Seeing members sitting in the pews after the service or meeting in a corner and praying for each other is very encouraging.
Another benefit is for the elders to be constantly reminded that our church is not a collection of ministries to administer, but a flock of people to feed, lead, and serve.
There appears to be some intangible benefits, as well. My wife recently overheard one member ask another, “Did you get your elder call yet?” The member was asking this in a good way and was expressing gratitude for our care of her. The idea that we are a clearly defined flock, known by and cared for by the shepherds, is a great comfort to our church.
It has also helped the congregation recognize our need to keep the membership of the church fresh and legitimate. I cannot point to any statistical support, but the congregation seems to be in a healthy place. They seem to really trust our leadership as elders. I listen to the questions that are asked in our members’ meetings and seek to get a sense for how much they trust the leadership. It seems the congregation is very much at peace with the elders and other leaders, and these specific efforts to shepherd every member contributes to that.
So, now what?
This year we are attempting to deepen our conversations as well as broaden the participation we get from members. We have tweaked our logistics just a bit. This year, we assigned each elder a group of people to contact and oversee at the beginning of the year. Each elder is looking for conversational opportunities throughout the year and not just in a specific month. So, even though we report monthly, we are on the look-out throughout the entire year.
Also, our record-keeping has been upgraded so that it’s easier for the elders to use. We are also contacting people by email and text messages, as well as by phone and personal contact. We’d rather make contact face to face or by phone, but if we can at least get an email back, we’ll take it. We not only ask “How can we pray for you?” but we now also ask, “What are some spiritual goals you have that we can encourage you about?” This question is opening up a number of doors into the hearts of our people.
We are still not satisfied with our shepherding, but we are grateful for the progress that we are making. I am still challenged by Hebrews 13:17, but the elders have stepped up and the congregation is healthier for it.