Yesterday we looked at some ways in which we can learn to go deeper behind the exterior of a person’s personality. Now we shall turn our attention to its application.
Application to the church
Despite external appearances, most people struggle with various issues of life—and the Great Shepherd wants to minister to them. As under-shepherds, we need to get below the surface with people to find out where they are in their spiritual life and walk.
We simply cannot settle for increasing the volume of doctrinal teaching or pounding the pulpit harder and expect profound, real change in people’s lives by some sort of spiritual symbiosis. We need to get to really know them.
To put it another way, we cannot afford to allow ourselves to be drawn to some people to the neglect of others based on external criteria. Some are wealthy, some are poor; some are great conversationalists, some stutter; some handle themselves well in social settings, and others do not.
Some are of a “higher” social status, others of a “lower” status in society. Some may have “grated” you wrong at some point in the past, others may have always complimented you.
Some pray in a very flowery way using all the “right” words, while others stumble along awkwardly. As elders, we are called to shepherd them all, even ones we don’t personally “like.” How can we do that? Here are some steps to consider:
Honest self evaluation
First of all, some self-evaluation is in order. As an elder, ask yourself the following:
- Do those with money in my local church get preferential treatment over others?
- Do some voices carry more weight with me because they are louder or more repetitious?
- Do I look for “good pray-ers” (eloquent of speech) to pray at important events?
- Do I spend more time on Sunday mornings (or any other meeting times) with certain people in my social-economic level?
- Do I ever meet with others for lunch or coffee or visit in their homes just to find out how they are doing?
- Do I secretly feel that my status in the world translates into status in the church?
- Do I cover up my partiality with biblical sounding rationale?
- Do I delegate ministry responsibilities based on externals rather than on spiritual giftedness?
In one local church the elders regularly visit believers in their homes, dividing up the congregation between them.
During meetings of the Church
In one church, the deacons took the initiative to relieve the elders of their Sunday morning “service oriented” duties in order to free them to shepherd the flock, greeting, talking, praying with, and just spending time with the people. Nothing is more encouraging to the believers than to see an elder off to the side praying with someone.
Small Group Ministry
Consider small group ministry, following the example of the early church, as a way to get to know the believers on a more personal level. Small groups give elders an opportunity to get to know others below the surface. Indeed, it is difficult to know them when the only contact comes from casual interaction in large group settings.
The bottom line is that to shepherd God’s people, we must go deeper. This takes time, energy and sacrifice. Otherwise, we are left with evaluating their spiritual needs based on the superficial. But the effort to reach deeper with people is rewarded with the joy of ministering to them in their real need.
Editorial Note: This article was first published in Elder’s Shop Notes in July 2004. It is used here with permission of the author. Part 1 was posted in the previous article.