“It’s just simple math. Take 525 people and divide them among the 17 elders and you get roughly 31 people they need to shepherd,” declared one elder (with a little embellishment on my part). Makes sense, doesn’t it? – until you realize how difficult shepherding really is.
At the Session retreat last weekend, we mapped out some biblical categories of shepherding God’s people to move them toward the heart of God. Not being literal shepherds ourselves, we needed some help with this. So we noted 6 different tasks a shepherd must do:
• know the sheep,
• search for those who have strayed,
• guide sheep for their growth and well-being,
• protect the sheep from outward and inward attacks,
• warn them when they start to wander,
• heal them (or work towards it) when they are injured and hurting.
None of these tasks are easy because knowing others is not easy. We learn empirical facts about someone, gradually move into a relationship with them, until finally, after many interactions, they trust us with what makes their hearts beat or break. Or maybe they never decide to trust. The “knowing” is never done.
In addition, real people are never predictable. Real people have all kinds of dynamics with other real people in their families and with other sheep. We are almost never shepherding one person in isolation, but a number of inter-related sheep all interacting with each other. It’s no wonder that some of our elders expressed feeling inadequate, and in need of more training. Others expressed real joy in the process of shepherding as they’ve seen individuals and groups grow in Christ – sometimes dramatically.
To put practical feet on what we talked about, we suggested several church shepherding models. Home Groups are always a key element, but what about those not in a Home Group or a Women’s Bible Study group? Pray for the elders as they seek to envision what Shepherding will look like at New Life.
As a growing church, we’ve recognized that our staff structure has not kept up. Too much weight has fallen on some to supervise others. So the Session approved a structure which shares the burden of supervision among more staff members, thus freeing supervisors to invest more time in each relationship. We realize as we have staff changes in the future, the structure will also need to adapt.
We also realize we are now in a place where we are poised to move forward. We’ve accomplished the goals of our last vision process, and we have transitioned from Ron to Anthony. To establish new goals, we need to assess where we are. We could do this among ourselves, but often a third party sees things about us that we don’t. So we have decided to bring in an experienced consultant to help us see our strengths, our weaknesses and provide feedback that can lead to a new vision plan.
Finally, for a second time in two years, we had staff meet with the elders for part of the retreat. This was partly to receive perspective on the organizational structure, but also provided an opportunity for the Session to pray for each staff member. We recognize how important the relationship is between these two groups of leaders.
So it really isn’t simple math. Growth is organic. And it is only the Lord who brings the increase.