A Shepherd’s Task: New Life’s Session Retreat

By Ward Shope

Most of us can handle a little polite chit-chat. In Philadelphia, the question, “What about those (fill in the sports team)?” can put you on safe ground as long as you are a Philly sports fan. But there also isn’t much relationship being built with a smile and a high five. Maybe you’re into craft beers or video games. I’m not sure what the equivalent benign questions are for many women, but I’m guessing there are some. Most of our conversation with people we don’t know doesn’t go that deep.

A different approach is called for when you’re an elder who is charged with shepherding 12-15 households – and maybe you’re not even sure what some of those people look like. How do you start to see what makes those people tick? How do we get a sense of what they long for, what hinders their best desires of serving Christ, or what wounds they carry?

Last weekend, Chris Florence, a pastor and former professor at Covenant Seminary shared his wisdom on shepherding with our elders on Friday evening and most of the day Saturday. Emphasizing that our primary calling as elders is to shepherd (1 Peter 5:1-4), he provided some practical tools in getting to know others. He reminded us that we have a God who reached out to us and initiated relationship. We are imitating him as we reach out to others. Once we know those we care for, we have a solid foundation on which to interact with them whenever a specific shepherding issue arises.

One of the highlights of the weekend was considering a number of case studies based on actual shepherding situations in different churches. He provided a grid to help us wisely think through the various aspects of each case. Often specific facts about a situation are far less important than the meaning people place on them. We were encouraged to think about what each person involved was feeling, and what they longed for. People can react to a situation either faithfully or unfaithfully which can either help or hinder resolution.

Most shepherding matters end up having an impact on a number of people beyond the obvious parties we are dealing with. We were asked to consider who else we should talk to or care for. We are also tempted to carry assumptions or presumptions based on facts that may or may not be accurate. All of these elements enable us respond biblically to needs as God’s Spirit guides us.

One of the most encouraging things was to see how the elders worked together on the cases. We understand that in difficult matters, there is wisdom in numbers. We were quick to know what we didn’t know and to think about next steps. And of course, it was good to hear what actually happened in the cases presented.

There’s much more practice to be done, and more to learn. But this weekend enabled us to take a next step in the shepherding ministry at New Life.