Touching the sheep

22 Apr

A shepherd touches his sheep every day. This point was made by a good friend in a sermon on Psalm 23. In the same way, a good pastor or church leader should maintain contact with the members of his flock, the local church.

On the one hand, I agree with the statement. Ministry is a contact sport. Personal contact communicates care and compassion. The members of a local church need to know that their pastor, elders, and leaders are concerned about them and know their needs.

On the other hand, I struggle with how to live up to this standard. I wrestle with self-doubt already, feeling like I’m never doing enough to lead, feed, guard, and care for the congregation of my church. Add to it the expectation that I need to have personal contact with everyone every day, and …

I also struggle with the idea because if a pastor like myself takes this burden on himself, it will ultimately limit the size of the church. Somewhere along the line, I read that the average person can know and remember about 200 names. If that’s true, no church can grow beyond 200 people.

For a church to grow, the pastor has to change his mind about three key areas of ministry. One change is to realize there is more than one way to touch a person. The pastor touches the congregation through his preaching. Everything from sermon preparation to preaching itself to posting the audio or video of the sermon helps the pastor touch the congregation. If he writes a blog or a newsletter or a book, he is touching people. The pastor can touch individuals through cards, notes, email, phone calls, conversation in the hallways, dinners in his home, having coffee, or a myriad of other ways. Perhaps the most important way to touch people is by praying for them by name. The pastor can also touch his leaders by training them, sharing the load of ministry, and debriefing them after their task.

In my church, I touch everyone when I preach on Sunday mornings. I touch a smaller group in the adult SS class I teach. Over the past two years, I have touched a group of men on Tuesday evenings in our Men’s Fraternity meetings. I touch the kids by teaching periodically in our Awana ministry. I touch our leaders in our elder and wives’ monthly Bible study and by participating in various board meetings. I invest in pastors and leaders in Russia when I go once a year to teach them.

For the church to grow, the pastor also needs to change his mind about the nature of his task. Rather than taking on the burden and doing all the work himself, the pastor’s primary task is to equip others for ministry (Ephesians 4:12) so that the body builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:16). The pastor needs to enlist others in the task of shepherding, train them to do it well, and then step out of the way and let them care for others.

While I agree that the sheep need to be touched every day, one person cannot shoulder all the responsibility. In our church, we have enlisted our Sunday School teachers and small group leaders as the primary shepherds of the congregation. Their task is to make sure the people in their classes and small groups feel cared for. Since not everyone is in a class or small group, we have enlisted our Deacons and Deaconesses as part of a safety net to make sure no one slips through the cracks.

In one sense, the pastor shepherds the leaders who in turn shepherd the people, and all are cared for. In this way, we strive to practice the “one another” commands of the New Testament.

One other change the pastor needs to employ is to remember that he is called to please the Chief Shepherd, not the people.

Galatians 1:10 – For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? It I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Some expect the pastor to do all the work. Some don’t value a hospital visit from an elder or a deacon. Some expect the pastor to show up at every activity and board meeting. Some will never buy into this approach of the body ministering to the body. But the pastor has to decide if he is going to focus on pleasing people and burning out, or pleasing God by obeying his commands and changing how he does ministry.

1 Peter 5:1–4 – 1So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.


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