Let’s just start by acknowledging that being an elder is much more than being on a board. It’s shepherding the flock, according to Acts 20:28-29.
Now that we have that out of the way, we have to talk about what exactly it means to shepherd the flock.
Yes, elders must shepherd. It’s their job description from the link above. But all of us have some responsibility to shepherd others. The older must teach the younger (Titus 2:3-4). Both men and women must partake in shepherding.
So often those who have the responsibility to take care of those who are less mature (which in reality is all Christians) have a mindset that if we get people in the doors, they will become mature simply through osmosis.
It’s not true, though. Shepherding has many different facets. In this article, we will look at some of the main ones.
““He who gives answers before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13).”
This is probably the most important one. If you don’t know what is going on with people, you cannot shepherd them.
Note: Listening is more than planning what you are going to say while they are talking. When they are baring their soul to you, don’t judge them – at least not immediately. Acknowledge how they feel, even if their feelings are sinful. If they are rejected the second they tell you something private and maybe embarrassing, they will not listen to what you have to say.
Once you have established that you understand how they feel, then, and only then, give the right advice.
Whenever there is conflict, it is because sin is involved somehow. Either the person who is sharing about their life has been hurt by a sin or else they themselves are participating in the sin.
The sin might be something abstract like pride or greed. Even if they haven’t acted on it, their emotions are probably affected by a sin they don’t recognize.
So what are we supposed to do –
2 Timothy 3:16 says that the word of God is useful for correction. It’s our duty to tell people when they are in sin (the negative). It’s also our duty to tell people what they should do instead of the sin (the positive).
Now, believe me, there is a right and a wrong way to confront people. It’s a give and take. You don’t tear people down until they are a pile of mush on the ground. But you also shouldn’t be so light in your speech that they don’t at all feel the weight of their sin. Constantly gauge their reactions to your words and adjust accordingly.
An older man should not privately counsel a young, single woman, okay? That’s just unsafe. Even if nothing happens between them, people’s reputations are at stake and gossips don’t usually take it into consideration.
Now, there are obviously exceptions, like emergencies. But they should be few and far between.
Build Your Relationship
No one will open up to you for real, if you do not have a relationship of trust built between the two of you.
This means you have to spend time with them. The flock needs to go to barbecues with you, watch the game with you, and (am I allowed to say it?) share a drink with you.
You have to be friends. And you have to be intentional about this.
Yes, there has to be a level of respect similar to that of a father/mother and a child, or maybe even just an older brother/sister to a younger brother/sister. But the relationship cannot be cold like a boss to an employee or an officer to a soldier.
How can someone become mature without learning what maturity is? They can’t. Obviously.
So you need to teach them what the Scriptures say. You have to give them a solid foundation in their faith and in their life.
By the way, this includes teaching against what is falsely preached all over the world.
For those who have a passion for leadership (which you should be encouraging in everyone anyway), you should develop them with resources like The Antioch School of Church Planting and Leadership Development, which is also put out by BILD, Intl.
One warning – James 3:1 tells us to be careful if we teach other people. We will be held to a higher standard by God.
Don’t let this deter you from the good work of shepherding. Just be sure you are accurate in what you teach.
Shepherding is intimately involved in planting new churches and establishing existing ones. We have to protect the flock by bringing people to maturity through listening, confronting, being appropriate, building your relationship with them, and teaching them.
It is hard work, but it is worth it. If we do it well, the Chief Shepherd will be pleased (1 Peter 5:1-4).