Lesson 13 Principles for Tending the Flock
This theme of this retreat is “Tending the Sheep.” I don’t need to tell you how difficult a job it is to tend the flock of Tenth Church. There are approximately 1,400 resident members. By “resident” is meant people who live close enough to attend church regularly. That includes church members who travel from Wilmington, Delaware, from Princeton, NJ, from Lancaster and Phoenixville, PA. How do we tend a flock that is so spread out? How do we tend a flock that is so diverse racially, ethnically, age-wise, economically, and other ways? How do we tend a flock with troubled marriages, broken families, lonely singles, struggling sinners, the chronically ill, with special needs, spiritually immature, debt-ridden, and other troubles.
The task seems overwhelming and indeed has overwhelmed many an elder, deacon, and deaconess. More than a few have dropped out because of the demanding nature of the work. And our people have felt the effect. Almost half the respondents to our spiritual health survey indicated they do not know an elder or pastor well. Almost half indicated they do not have a support group to come alongside them in time of need. Many in our church feel unknown and uncared for.
And that will change: both the feeling of being overwhelmed by you and that of feeling uncared for by our people. It will change because all that is needed for change has already been provided by our Lord, the Great Shepherd of the sheep.
WHAT HAS BEEN PROVIDED
For the Church
1. Christ has provided the gifts.
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift…. to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ… (Ephesians 4:7, 12).
We do not need to devise new gifts and talents for our work.
2. Christ has provided the servants.
He has raised up pastors and elders to shepherd the flock with prayer and with the Word of God. He has raised up deacons and deaconesses to serve the physical needs of the sheep. We do not need to recruit new specialists.
3. Christ has provided the structure by which to shepherd and serve the flock. We understand it through the Presbyterian form, by which the church is shepherded by the elders and served by the deacons and deaconesses. We do not need to look to a business model or a military model or a sports model.
For Tenth’s Flock
1. The Parish System. We have a system by which we can meet our two-fold purpose: to provide pastoral/diaconal care and to enhance community life. It is our responsibility before our Lord, who has appointed us elders and deacons and deaconesses, to shepherd and serve the whole flock, every single sheep. That is what is meant by pastoral/diaconal care. Community life is also known as body life. It is the gathering and the building up of the sheep through their mutual encouragement. The parish system still cannot completely fulfill that need, but it can play a strong role in encouraging such community.
2. The Parish Team. We have a team by which to minister within the parishes. That team is made up of you – the elders, deacons and deaconesses of each parish – all of you. It includes those of you who are ministers and elders, not elected by this church, but who nevertheless are ordained and called by Christ to serve wherever you are.
3. The ACS Database. We have now a database tool that decentralizes access to membership data and which allows for more accurate data keeping. There is yet untapped potential to more adequately communicate and keep in touch with the flock.
4. The TCA System. We have a developing tool that will allow us to keep in touch with every single resident member in the church. We will talk more about this tomorrow.
5. Home Visitation. The elders are developing in each parish a plan and schedule to go out into the homes of their people. Some of you deacons and deaconesses are already making such visits, and we want to see all of you incorporated into this eventually.
6. Training. In the past, we have had little formal training for the weighty responsibilities we carry. You will note and increase in training both in the Diaconate and in the Session. That will continue and develop.
Here is the point. All the pieces of the puzzle are present. If we complete the recruiting of the TCA’s and put into motion home visitation, we will achieve what has seemed the unachievable goal to care for everyone in the church. We will do it. And we will do it if you buy into three principles.
1. We have to go.
Shepherding and serving means that we have to be more than just willing to help those who ask for help. Rather, we desire to go out to our people.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4).
To shepherd and serve our people, we must go to them. We must understand that our sheep are as likely to stay away as to come to us for help. They may be embarrassed about their troubles. Christians should not have marital troubles. They should not struggle with singleness. Christians should not be in debt. Christians should not struggle with sexual temptation, etc. That “should” keeps them from seeking help. If we are to pastor them and serve them, we have to go to them.
That going may be in church. You walk up to, or sit down with, individuals and ask how they are doing. You take time to probe a little or just be with so as to encourage them to open up.
That going may be a phone call or arranging a place to meet, such as for a meal or in your own home.
That going should include going into the homes of your people. This is where home visitation comes in. Whether it is an elder or a deacon or deaconess, walking into the home of your people signals that you are serious about caring for them. And even if they decline your visit, no one can say “Nobody cares about me.”
2. We have to come alongside.
Shepherding and serving our people means that we willingly come alongside them in whatever state they are in.
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up (Romans 15:1-2).
Apply this verse to yourself as an elder, deacon, or deaconess. How many times have you held back from helping someone because of their attitude? They were not cooperative. They were defensive. They did not appreciate what you have done for them. They would not open up to you. Or they keep getting themselves in trouble, committing the same sins and failing to follow through on the good counsel you have given.
We have got to learn the grace-filled art of coming alongside the weak, whatever that weakness may be – lack of self-control, lack of moral resolve, lack of discipline, and so on. We have got to see ourselves not as rescuers, nor as confronters, but as fellow brothers and sisters with our own failings, who live but by the grace of God, and who will be for our weak brothers and sisters.
3. We have to serve together.
To shepherd and serve our people well, we must work together as a team.
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel…(Philippians 1:27).
And we have got to see ourselves as a team. We are to strive side by side. We are to go forth together, come alongside our flock together. It is serving alone that creates division, but more so, creates discouragement. Our tasks of shepherding and service are too great for any one person to bear.
But if we are working together, consider what can be done. Do some figuring when you get into your parish teams. You should find that you need to recruit less than 15 TCA’s in any parish to cover the remaining households still lacking. If these TCA’s are faithful in calling their people, you as a parish team will keep up with every single member in your parish every month.
Look at your parish list of shepherds – elders and ministers – in your parish. You are likely to find that the shepherds in your parish could visit more than half the households in your parish on the average of ten visits in one year. That’s less than one a month. Every two years, all the households of the church would receive a visit from a shepherd.
Do you get the idea of what could be done? We could end completely the sentence, “Nobody knows me.” Never again could someone say, “I don’t know an elder or minister in the church.”
Now build on that. The calls are being made by TCA’s; the shepherds are visiting in homes. You meet with your parish team and the reports come in. “I had a good visit with the Smiths. They really appreciated my visit. I learned that…their heater is broken…could use help with budgeting…” So now you think through how to help. Maybe a deacon or deaconess makes a visit. Maybe a deacon goes with his elder. Now you are working together and it feels good. What particularly feels good is that you went to one of your flock before there was a problem and built a good rapport. And that you are working as a team.
It can be done. We can care for our flock, all of our flock. We have an act to do – to go; we have an attitude to assume – to come alongside side; and we have a method – serving together as a team. I am inviting you tonight to join in this glorious calling that our Lord Jesus Christ, our great Shepherd and Servant, has given to us as shepherds and servants of his flock.
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