They Smell Like Sheep (New York, NY: Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1997)

My plan for this new blog is to feature a book on 5th Tuesdays.  It will be a book that I have read and found some “mustard seeds” that I think are worth considering.

They Smell Like Sheep is a classic describing the biblical role of shepherds in the Lord’s church.  Since most of us are not familiar with shepherds from observation, it is good to learn the work and function of shepherds in the Bible times.

Part One is particularly helpful:  A Biblical Look at Spiritual Leadership Principles:
Section One:  shepherds
Section Two:  Mentors
Section Three:  Equippers

I think it would be good for every elder to read this book and compare it to what Jesus says about Himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10.  See:  What Can Elders Learn from Jesus About Being Shepherds?

The shepherd and flock relationship eloquently implies at least three qualities of spiritual leadership:  availability, commitment, and trust.  This is how spiritual flocks are formed today (Anderson, Dr. Lynn (2009–11–19).  They Smell Like Sheep (p. 23).  Howard Books.  Kindle Edition).

Suggestion:  read 3–5 pages aloud at each elders meeting and discuss what you read.

1. What did you learn?

2. What is biblical?

3. What is practical?

4. How can we individually and as a group implement this characteristic of a shepherd in serving our flock?

To buy this book from Amazon.com, click on the title:  They Smell Like Sheep

What is a something you do individually or as a group to improve your service as a shepherd?

How Elders Can Function More as Shepherds than Firefighters

As we were discussing prospective elders in one congregation, I suggested the names of two men.  The present elders said, “Jerrie, why do you suggest them.  Neither has any children.”  My reply:  “No.  They don’t have children but they are both professional firemen.  If they were appointed to put out the fires in this church, you could spend your time shepherding the flock.”

But how can shepherds minister to all the sheep?

1. Understand it is part of the job description.  Jesus said that a shepherd “calls his own sheep by name…and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3, 4).  See:  What Can Elders Learn from Jesus About Being Shepherds?

2. Make it a priority.  It is tempting to give all the time available to urgent tasks and not get to the important tasks.  There will always be good things to do to keep bishops occupied and shepherding will not be accomplished unless each one realizes the importance of knowing, protecting, feeding, and caring for the sheep.

3. Have a plan.  There can be a great positive impact when a group of shepherds determine to talk with every member of the congregation.  In one congregation, this was done by a planned program of visitation.  One or two elders would visit a night or two a month in a systematic way.  Another church set up appointments on Sunday afternoons where families would come in and talk.

The best plan I have seen is being done by a church in the Nashville area.  It is a time of getting better acquainted (learning to call the sheep by name) encouragement, prayer, and blessing (talking so the sheep will recognize the voice of the shepherd).  Two shepherds meet with a family during Bible study time on Sunday morning and others on Wednesday night.  One elder does most of the talking; the other takes notes.

You can find a copy of their plan in a PDF file:  Shepherding Guide

…or in a Microsoft Word file:  Shepherding Guide

There are several benefits according to one of the shepherds who shared this with me.

1. The shepherds get to know the sheep, their families, their struggles, their victories, their needs, and who has been and continues to be important to them and their spiritual growth.

2. Since this is announced to the congregation, there is nothing abnormal about seeing people going into a room and talking with the elders.  Everybody is doing it!

3. They learn who each family’s support system is and in time of crisis they know who to call first to assist.

4. They talk with people who would not otherwise ask for help or attention.

What have you done or seen other shepherds do to be more effective in their shepherding?

Elder Appreciation Parties: Why and How

Some questions I like to ask a church when I begin are, “How long has it been since you’ve had an Elders Appreciation Party? How do you show gratitude to your shepherds?”.  I have received some interesting answers. “We don’t do things like that around here.”  “We haven’t had one because we don’t appreciate our elders.”

I believe it is healthy, helpful, and biblical to show gratitude to our leaders.

And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.  Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13, NKJV).

Three reasons to show gratitude to our shepherds individually and as a group.

1. I want to express appreciation for others because I need encouragement myself.  I have tried preaching with and without encouragement and I have found it easier with than without.  I need to treat others the way I want to be treated.  I will reap what I sow.

2. I want our young people to love and value our shepherds and aspire to serve when they are older.  If all they hear is criticism and how inept our leaders are, why would they want to be in a position like that?  When they see honor given to leaders, they see Christians being obedient to scripture and good leaders being treated with the respect they deserve.

3. I want to express appreciation for the good job they do because I want to question and challenge them when I disagree with them.  If all I do is criticize or take them for granted, another criticism will probably be ineffective.  See the last blog post:  4 Ways to Get Rid of a Bad Elder .

I remember some good occasions at my last full-time work, Berry’s Chapel Church of Christ in Franklin, Tennessee.  After our new elders had served a year, we had a party.  There was red carpet for the shepherds and their wives to enter the fellowship area.  The wives were each given a dozen red roses.  Baskets were placed beside each couple where members could place written expressions of appreciation as they passed by, talked with them, and thanked them for their work.

A few years later, some deacons took up private donations and each bishop and his wife were given a weekend at the Opryland Hotel to show our gratitude for their work.

After ten years of service, we presented each shepherd a plaque to remind him that he was loved and appreciated.

Why would a church not show appreciation?  It may be that the shepherds do not express appreciation to each other.  In one church, when an elder was retiring after decades of service, I asked, “What kind of party will we have? Will you buy a plaque and present it to him?”.  The answer, “No.  We’re not going to do anything like that.  You start doing that and all the elders will resign.”  That was the same church where some members said, “We don’t have elder appreciation parties because we don’t appreciate our elders.”  Was there a connection?

Gail and I invited the retiring elder and his wife to our house for a delicious meal.  We gave them a book with a written record of our appreciation for their service and dedication.

A good shepherd told me, “I’ve been serving as an elder thirty years and no one has ever said to me, ‘Thank you.'”  That should not happen.  We need to select and ordain good shepherds and express our gratitude often, “esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.”  The next statement may be connected, “Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:13).

I appreciate each man who is serving and has served as a shepherd of God’s sheep and your family who has encouraged  you and supported you.  Thank you for your time, care, courage, teaching, and example.  May God continue to bless you for your  devotion to Him and His people.

What are some ways you have seen appreciation expressed to the shepherds of a congregation?

What do you plan to do soon to honor one or more of your shepherds?