As your church grows, and the scope of your shepherding expands because the flock expands, here are a few issues that I believe matter:
Why expand your shepherding care?
Most of your members have had their spiritual beginnings in smaller churches, where access to the pastor—and ministry from the pastor occurred easily, naturally, and often. Easily—because you were often in the same space. Naturally—you were near to them on a regular basis. Naturally—no formal request for care was necessary. You knew what was happening in their lives. They were in the church more often than they are now, and you found it easy to notice them and respond. Often, there was a grapevine filled with immediate knowledge of their hurts and hopes.
Who are your sheep?
When we first think of “pastoral care,” we often think of members of our congregation who are going through a season of pain—physical, mental, or physical. We know different sheep/members are at different places in their lives.
- Obviously hurting—These members let it be known that they are hurting, and they easily and quickly share their hurt—or someone relays their pain to you. You respond with an action of caring.
- Not obviously hurting—but hurting—These members of the congregation give off no signals and have no symptoms that are obvious to us. Or, they may simply be off our radar. It is easy to never notice their pain.
- Obviously blessed—These have experienced some good fortune, good success, or some other specific blessing in life. You usually know of this secondhand, or through some public communication. There are few obvious signals.
How do you shepherd strategically?
- The obviously hurting—Be responsive in some personal way through a visit, a call, a specific communication. And I suggest you let a friend or relative know you are reaching out to the hurting. While they may not indicate an obvious crisis or emergency, you can be sure that to them the pain is real and intense. Immediate caring is well received. While fewer and fewer folks want a visit to their home, they usually welcome a hospital visit, a phone call, or a text, that includes an indication of your care. A prayer is always in order.
- Not obviously hurting –These are those who have not identified themselves as hurting. While staff members and well-networked congregational members may help you here, I’ve seen the best care to these folks happening in a well-planned and executed system of caring. Your pastoral care is present in a phone call, a brief note, a Bible verse, or a prayer.
- Obviously blessed—God likes the very healthy sheep who are at this moment in their lives experiencing little pain. They are experiencing good fortune, good success, and good relationships. They are spiritually up-to-date. Give them a moment of encouragement, congratulations, and/or thanksgiving. Yes, they may wonder why the pastor is reaching out to them, but by the time the visit to the office, the lunch, the coffee visit is over, they will feel cared for—blessed.
Of course, the “how” in our time may be in person, by phone, by personal e-mail or text. It may be via a staff member who says something like this in reaching out, “Pastor (name) wanted you to know s/he is praying for you today.”
To wrap it up, answer these three questions:
- Why shepherd as the church grows/changes?
- Who are your sheep?
- How will you shepherd?
I hope you will sign up on my web site and stay in touch. Send me your best ideas and practices regarding strategic shepherding. I hope to be back with you each month.