You care about your congregation, both as a whole and for the individuals who call it home. After all, you’ve invested so much time, energy, and heart. How could the fact that you care be in doubt? Yet in many congregations, it is a real question. Sometimes people view the senior pastor as just about getting things done or keeping the engine of the church running. This perception is especially true if your people see you delegating pastoral care, or shepherding, to others; they assume you see it as unimportant.
Now, if you know me, you know I am in favor of delegation. It’s an absolutely necessary skill for a senior pastor. The key is in how it’s done. Certainly in the case of large congregations, the senior pastor cannot shepherd everyone. There are just too many people to care for well. But even in those situations, the senior leader needs to continue shepherding their inner circle of people, whether that’s their staff, or the people they’ve known since the church was small. Shepherding starts at the top and an example must be set from there.
Jesus uses the image of a shepherd throughout his teachings as a metaphor for how God treats us… and how we should treat one another. Even across multiple cultures that do not raise sheep, the term “shepherding” is ubiquitous for caretaking, guiding, and helping. As God guides us, we are to guide those people he has entrusted to us as leaders.
For the purpose of the Senior Pastor Profile, Shepherding means creating a safe and nurturing church body.
Even back as far as Jacob blessing his son Joseph in Genesis, the image of a shepherd has been used as an image for how God cares for his people:
Then he blessed Joseph and said,
“May the God before whom my fathers
Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
all my life to this day,
David too used the same image to demonstrate how God cared for him:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
We see Jesus picking up on the image, casting himself in the role of the shepherd:
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Mark 6:34
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. John 10:14-15
Peter then picked up the image and used in his charge to the elders in the church, urging them to take on the role of a shepherd:
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. 1 Peter 5:2-3
Shepherding is by now an established part of the role of a senior pastor: one who guides.
6 Habits that Demonstrate Shepherding
What does it look like for someone to shepherd? Although it’s a bit different for everyone, here are some of the features held in common:
1. Develops infrastructure for caregiving and counseling
Good shepherding and pastoral care isn’t something that just happens. It’s intentional, and it’s built into the structure of a healthy, growing church. Without effective shepherding structures, even churches that attract many newcomers eventually lose them.
2. Provides pastoral care strategically
An effective senior pastor provides pastoral care effectively. That doesn’t always mean spending the most time caring for the people who express a need for it. There are others–often leaders–who will not express their needs and are just as in need of care. Senior pastors should focus their caregiving on the leadership and those they are close to personally. Then those leaders can also go on to care for others.
3. Establishes a caring church communities
Although it’s often intuitive and hard to quantify, people can sense whether a community is caring. If they feel cared for, they count themselves a true member of the community and they are motivated to stay and serve and give… because this is their community. The people matter to them and they matter to the people.
4. Raises up caregivers
Providing personal relational shepherding throughout a congregation cannot be done by one person–or even just a few people. Senior pastors need to raise up and intentionally equip other caregivers. Too few, and those you have will burn out.
5. Challenges unbiblical behavior and attitudes
Although not every sin needs to be directly challenged–time constraints alone would make that impossible– some unbiblical behaviors and attitudes can damage the church if left unchecked. These need to be challenged in a spirit of both truth and love. Some examples include divisiveness, rampant gossip, and being uncaring toward the poor and the unbelievers. If these spread throughout the congregation, the resulting environment does damage to individuals and to the reputation of the church at large.
6. Keeps the church community moving in biblical directions
As a preventative antidote to the unbiblical behaviors just listed in the last section, good senior pastors will consistently preach the word of God and cast vision for movement in Kingdom directions. The church needs constant reminding of what we are to be working toward. There’s a vision of hope and the future that we cannot risk losing sight of, and it provides motivation for the hard work needed to move forward.
How well are you engaging in shepherding?
If you would like to assess yourself in this area, take some time to reflect on the following questions. Write out your answers for more complete processing, or talk them through with someone if you’re more of a verbal processor.
- What infrastructure have you developed for caregiving and counseling?
- How have you strategically provided pastoral care?
- In what ways have you established a caring church community?
- How have you raised up caregivers?
- When have you needed to challenge unbiblical behavior or attitudes?
- How have you kept the church community moving in biblical directions?
Shepherding is 1 of 12 qualities that have been proven to be essential to successful and healthy senior church leadership. To learn more, read The BEST qualities in a Senior Pastor. Next week, look out for another crucial quality for senior pastors.
One of the greatest ways to demonstrate care is by learning to listen well and ask good questions. Those skills are also the cornerstone of quality coaches! A good coach meets people where they are at, helps them identify their own gifts and talents, formulate goals, and take the next best steps to see their vision become reality. Christian Coaching Essentials was written to get you coaching quickly and effectively. Now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon! Get your copy HERE.
Need help shepherding? A great way to identify and develop shepherds is to take a small group through the Guide for Discipling‘s series on Authentic Relationships. It’s a 5-week study that helps foster care for others. You can download it today HERE.