Three Encouragements for Pastors Pursuing Wandering Sheep
One of the unintended consequences of the pandemic has been the disintegrating weekly habit of attending the Sunday gathering. What should a pastor do when faced with wandering sheep, those who have left the safe pastures of the local church and found themselves in dangerous territory away from the herd?
Let me encourage you, pastor, to consider three things as you seek out wandering sheep.
First, be prayerful.
Paul commands that “supplications, prayers, intercessions be made for all people” because God “desires all people to be saved.” This is certainly true for pastors and their flock. Prayer’s importance lies in the power of the Spirit to work in the heart of the wandering. So, pastor, as we aim to persuade and plead with sheep to return to the flock, remember that in our own strength “our striving will be losing.”
One practical way to do this is to create a list of members whom you haven’t seen at church in a while. Simply pray for them on Saturday night to gather with some gospel-preaching church the next day.
Second, be patient.
There are at least three types of patience that God produces while we seek wandering sheep.
The first type is pastoral patience with the sheep. There can be great temptation to frustration and anger as call after call, email after email, text after text goes unanswered. The call for the pastor is the same: “Be patient with them all” (1 Thess. 5:14). Wandering sheep often know they are wandering, so a welcoming and gracious call to repentance may be a surprising response.
The second type of patience is procedural, relating to how quickly one may pursue church discipline. If you are in a church that practices church discipline (that’s good!), be slow in employing it on wandering sheep. Be quite sure, insofar as you can, that this member has truly abandoned the fellowship of the church and has no intention of returning. A good rule of thumb: the less you know, the slower you go.
Lastly, God desires to grow you in patience and gentleness. Seeking the lost is one way Christ conforms his servants to his likeness. Unlike Jesus, we are not naturally disposed toward gentleness and kindness, patience and understanding. So God often places difficult, seemingly unreachable people among us so that he may grow us to be more like his patient Son. Pastor, embrace the sanctifying work of God as you seek to shepherd the flock God has entrusted to you.
Third, be persistent.
Prayer is essential, but so is pursuit. So after praying, keep reaching out. Don’t give up. Keep calling, texting, and emailing. Your persistence is a secondary means by which Christ seeks out the wandering. It is a privilege to be used by our Lord to bring back what is rightly his. So, pastor, as you grow weary in pursuing, remember that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15) and “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). If that wandering sheep belongs to Christ, have confidence that “the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4).
* * * * *