In a previous series of posts about drawing people into the life of the church, I had a post specifically on shepherding – or what I think of as individual care and concern for people. Jesus is called our shepherd (John 10:11-18), and church leaders are to shepherd their flock of believers (I Peter 5:2). I also think individual Christians have a responsibility to care for each other. We don’t want to forget the many “one another” verses in the New Testament and place all the responsibility on the pastors. Yet, I think church leaders have a special responsibility to shepherd their flock.
Sadly, it seems less common for leaders to shepherd their flock. I observe pastors who seem to view themselves as primarily pulpit fillers, or as the person who supervises the church work from the distance – only getting involved in one-on-one pastoral work if there is a big problem or special situation. Not much effort is made to get to know the people in the congregation. This is my general experience over the last few years and certainly there are exceptions, but I’ve heard others voice similar concerns.
Reading through a book recently on the Puritans, I was very touched by some of the shepherding methods and efforts to get to know everyone in their parish. One of the Puritan pastors (Richard Baxter) had a parish of 800 families – or about 2,000 adults. Baxter would meet individually with families at a rate of 7 or 8 a day, two days a week, so as to get through nearly all 800 families in the parish each year. Other pastors followed Baxter’s methods as well, because it was successful.
They would see more conversions to faith and more growth in faith through personal interaction with families – than with any amount of preaching.
Now, the Puritans did excel at preaching and certainly did not neglect it, but essentially they found that they reached more people through ministerial labor and personal spiritual care.
This makes sense to me. In fact, my response is “no, duh!”. Taking a personal interest in someone can make all the difference in the world. Knowing that someone cares can be a powerful encouragement. Yet, I find shepherding is too often neglected today. At one local church in my area, pastors do not even meet with people who want to become members! (I share more in this post.)
I appreciate the methods shared by a modern day pastor who is concerned that everyone in his church be personally prayed for and contacted each month. I wonder if he got his ideas from the Puritans? Read his methods here: “How can I make sure that I am regularly shepherding everyone in the church?”. There is also a part two, where he addresses how this can work even in a large church. Here is an excerpt from his post:
I created a prayer guide with each member of the church broken into a 28 day chart in alphabetical order. This is to represent the first 28 days of each month. On day 1, I pray for those 5-6 people or families. Then, I try to make some kind of personal contact with them that day in the form of a home visit, email, hand written card, phone call, facebook note, or text message to let them know I prayed for them on that day. Lastly, I ask in that moment of personal contact if there is anything I can do to serve them. For those I haven’t seen recently, I will usually call or go see them to get an update on how they are doing in general.
I repeat the same process for day 2, then day 3…all the way to day 28. If I am faithful and consistent in this process (which I never do perfectly) I would have prayed and made contact with all those who have been entrusted in my care in one month.
I really don’t want this post to come across as one where I am berating pastors. Being a pastor is a tough job. Certainly there are still pastors out there who…pastor! Yet, I can’t help but notice a trend away from pastoral care.
One thing I’ve observed is pastors abdicating “pastoring” because they seem to see it as the role of the “small groups” in the church. Within each small group everyone will care for each other, and the pastor only occasionally steps in if there is a bigger problem. Certainly those in small groups should be caring for one another, but again, its this pastors “supervise from the distance” idea. Hmm. This doesn’t sound much like Jesus or a shepherd for that matter. Jesus and shepherds took time for individual people or sheep.
In addition, I think pastors/leaders set the tone and atmosphere for a church! That is a critical point. If a pastor is really “pastoring” this affects the whole church, and church members themselves will be more likely to show shepherding care to each other. If pastors are not leading by example, it can lead to a uncaring church atmosphere. Well, I guess I’ve been on a soap box long enough. Thanks for listening.