by Elana Shaw
Nothing brings me more joy than seeing the body of Christ thrive. There is something extremely special about seeing a healthy, solid church living out its mandate.
I got saved in a church with a vision “to reach nations and generations through disciple-making, leadership development and church planting.” That was it. That was what the church thrived at doing, and that is what we all focused on doing.
Personally, my heart always beats a bit faster when it comes to “leadership development.” I believe when you focus on allowing young believers to grow at a healthy pace and mature into followers of Jesus who do not get offended easily or get annoyed at how many mistakes the worship team makes, or get distracted by human flaws of pastors, you will see thriving communities because such a church is focused on Christ, not people – and people are drawn to Christ.
While Jesus walked the earth, we see that He spent most of His time investing in His disciples. His focus was to equip His followers to carry forth His Word and deeds when He was no longer with them. And what a task that was? Jesus did not choose mature and educated people as apostles. To name but a few, He chose a tax collector who wasn’t much liked by his fellow disciples, brothers who were known for having tempers, a doubting man who found it difficult to trust Him, someone whom Jesus knew was going to betray Him, and a zealot who was prone to violence and ignored the teachings of the Jewish rabbis who advocated for peace.
Yet, through teaching and discipling (walking with them) Jesus changed this obscure group of people into the twelve that changed the entire world…
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the Bible is very clear about being shepherds to the flock.
1To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:1-4 NIV
How can we be “shepherds to the flock?”
I think the concept of being a shepherd is important to understand. What is a shepherd?
“A person who tends to, feeds and guards the sheep…”
What, then, are the practical ways to “tend to, feed and guard the sheep”?
- We must acknowledge the needs
Acknowledging the needs of those that are part of our congregations, is the first step to shepherding them. This does not only refer to physical needs or looking after orphans and widows, but also to emotional and spiritual needs so that people can become whole in Christ.
Salvation is wonderful and the most important thing, but we also need to extend our hand to help a brother or sister with a physical need.
A pastor I know very well, and a dear friend of mine, started his career as a high school teacher. He spent so much of his own income buying food and clothes for students who were noticeably hungry and needy, “because,” he said, “they will never be able to focus on and understand the concepts of Math if they are hungry or cold…”
We cannot only tend to the spiritual needs, just as we cannot only tend to the physical needs. As the body of Christ, we must acknowledge that certain people are rich in material things, but they are poor in the spirit. Just as some people have a wealth of spiritual wisdom, but they go to bed hungry. We must cater and care for both.
- Nourishment is of utmost importance
“Feeding” the church, refers to providing nourishment for their souls. The Bible is clear that Christians need to be fed “milk” until they are mature to digest “solid food.” This does not happen overnight and sometimes it takes longer for certain individuals to get to that place. As leaders we need wisdom and discernment on how to guide those entrusted to us to a place of maturity, without forcing anything and risk harming their growth.
The only way to ensure that baby Christians don’t stay babies, is to equip them with the Truth of God’s Word. Investing time and effort in the body of Christ is of utmost importance to raise up mature Christians who will stand firm through the toughest of circumstances.
I always ask myself how someone would fare if they were to be sent to the most remote of places for God. Would they be strong enough to endure isolation? Prison? Persecution? How do we cultivate Christians who will not be shaken or fall back into sin when they are not surrounded by other believers?
We must develop a “palate” for the Bread of Life in baby Christians. They must learn to feast on the Word, which will sustain them through every situation life may throw at them.
- We must provide a safe place of belonging
“Guarding” means to “watch over to protect from damage or harm.”
Even though people follow Christ, they still get hurt, battered and bruised. They can fall apart at the seams while singing “hallelujah” every Sunday morning in church. People are great at pretending. How will we ever know if people are truly well if they don’t feel safe to share their deepest hurts, fears and failures with us in an environment that is free of judgment?
It is a tall order to provide a place for people where they can freely share about their sin, but not feel free to continue in that sin. How do we ensure that people feel fully loved and accepted, yet we do not condone sinful behaviour or compromise on the Truth?
I think the answer lies in verse 3 of our scripture – “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock…”
People are never our possessions, and we cannot control them or their choices. They will automatically be drawn to lives lived for Jesus. They will see the fruit of our lives and labour and decide whether they want to taste that fruit too. They will receive sound and solid advice from someone who “walks the walk and talks the talk.” We must be such people – above reproach. So that, when they break before us, we can confidently encourage them (without any condemnation) with the Truth, and through the testimony of our own lives, they will respect and accept our council.
Oh, how wonderful would it be if the Church of Jesus was a place where everyone ran to in times of trouble? How marvellous would it be if we were a whole and healthy people who guarded their hearts against offense? People who seek Truth, even when it is hard to do. People who strive to live in right standing with God, understanding and accepting of the liberating finished work of the Cross and whose sole purpose was to bring glory to our Saviour through serving others like our Servant King did? We can be! By investing into our brothers and sisters and ensuring that they mature to become people who are living lives worthy of their calling!