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.