Not Satisfied with Our Shepherding . . . Yet
Editor’s note: Read about Bob and his fellow elders’ progress here.
* * * * *
The other day I suddenly thought, “Where have Stan and Maria (not their real names) been?” I had not seen them in church for a few weeks. The next day someone told me that they had left the church because of something said in a class. They never said a word to me or to anyone I know of. But out of nowhere they were gone.
News like this is tough. For twenty years I had fed this couple, loved them, and labored for them. I’ve done weddings for the family, helped rescue one of their kid’s marriages, and prayed consistently for them. Then they were gone.
The truth is, it wasn’t really out of nowhere. It seemed like that to me, but the offending statement had been festering inside of them for a little while. Eventually they began looking for another church. I contacted them after they had been gone for seven weeks. (Seven weeks?! I am embarrassed to say that.) Granted, Stan and Maria should have said something. But my responsibility as a shepherd is to know the state of my flock, and I wish I had known sooner.
So what am I going to do? This situation added fresh urgency to an idea I’ve had for better shepherding our flock. I am not convinced that our church is fulfilling Paul’s challenge to the elders in Ephesus: “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers to care for the church of God.”
WHAT WE ARE ALREADY DOING
What are we doing presently?
Every month, the elders of our church pray for members by name until we work our way through the entire membership. Every week, we pray for the members listed on my blog. Every week, staff members solicit prayer requests from the congregation. Every week, staff members discuss present shepherding needs. And every year, the elders review the members of our church, so that we maintain a current membership.
If you are caught in a life-dominating sin, suffered a major grief, or have been diagnosed with a terminal disease, we will care for your soul. If you want fellowship, spiritual conversations, prayer partners, and encouragement, we have ministries. If you want to learn about theology, worldviews, hermeneutics, homiletics, or just the Bible, we have ministries for that, too.
Yet what about those who are members, but aren’t well known or don’t seek out our help? Are the elders content if a person attends the Sunday service about 50% of the time, and that’s basically it? Can we say that we paid careful attention to them? Isn’t there more to having oversight of their lives than that? And if so, how do we do actually carry it out?
WHAT WE PLAN TO DO
I have wrestled with these questions for a long time. I have read Richard Baxter’s seminal work The Reformed Pastor and concluded that his practice of visiting every family every year was for another era. Baxter didn’t have public schools, marching band practice, cross-country, soccer, swim, and golf leagues, cabins up north, wedding showers, and birthday parties to contend with, right? He had a simple town of 800 families.
That said, the fundamental need for elders to know their flock has not changed. This remains a basic tenet of shepherding.
Our goal now? I want every single member of Cornerstone Baptist Church to experience regular pastoral care by the elders. So here is what I am planning.
1. Review with my elders the essential nature of the church and our responsibility to care for every member.
It’s always a challenge to keep the main thing the main thing. I know I have to fight the tendency to become task-oriented rather than people-sensitive. And if the church is growing and we are meeting budget, then it is easy to assume that things are going fine. Does it really matter if one or two fall off along the way? But I am reminded that Jesus was not satisfied with the 99 when the one got lost.
2. Establish a clear vision for a ministry that includes cares for every member of the flock.
Church membership is not primarily for recruiting volunteers to make ministries run better. Church membership is a commitment to help one another make it to heaven. I do not want the church to be satisfied with well-staffed nurseries and clean facilities but to push toward the goal of presenting each member complete in Christ.
Many of our members experience aspects of this in their small groups, but we want to present every member complete in Christ, not just the ones in a small group.
3. Create a shepherding plan driven by relationships rather than reacting to issues.
While doing this, three important considerations must be made: (a) Make certain that we have accurate information. It is impossible to care for a flock unless you know where they are. (b) Assign every member to a specific elder for oversight and care. (c) Lead the elders to develop a care plan for every member
Elders cannot assume that every member is waiting for personal oversight, or wants it. Each member must be given time to build a relationship with their elder so that conversations can get deeper as time goes on.
This plan would start when an elder contacts his members to ask for prayer requests. Eventually, the elders would try to learn about specific concerns in their family, life, or the church and make them aware of ministries that can provide help. Hopefully, elders can help each member establish spiritual goals for the year, and then follow-up with the member to encourage them, counsel them, and pray for them.
ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
Reaching these goals will require, the elders to know how to ask good questions, questions such as:
- What contributes most to your spiritual growth?
- How would you like to grow as a believer in the coming year? Are there some spiritual goals that I can help you work toward?
- What are your biggest fears? Struggles?
- What areas of the church are you engaged in? How has the church affected your walk as a believer? What has been helpful? What has been detrimental?
- Is there anyone that you are evangelizing right now? Tell me about your involvement in Bible reading, prayer, and giving to the church. Do you want to see some growth in any of these areas?
- How is your family? What joys or concerns do you have with them?
- How can the elders pray for you?
An elder will not report everything members say to all the elders. But summaries and urgent specifics will filter back so that all the elders can better pray and teach.
I contacted Stan and Maria yesterday. I wanted them to know that I cared for them, missed them, and wanted to address their concern. I don’t know if they will come back. I certainly hope they do.
Meanwhile, I want every member to know that he or she can raise concerns with someone who knows them, loves them, prays for them, and leads them.
In six months, I will give you an update. Meanwhile, what you do you think? Are you part of a church that has done this and it has gone well? What ideas do you have?