Shepherding Function in the Church

Brandon Kelly

Throughout this year we’re walking through a significant aspect of ministry and leadership in the Church. Often referred to as the Five-Fold Ministry, or APEST, it’s the description of roles given by God to equip and build up the Church for its mission which is found in Ephesians 4. Last month and today, we’re dealing specifically with shepherding ministry.

You can read the initial article about shepherds, Shepherds: Caring for Community, in The Church Advocate here.

And you can read last month’s blog post, Helping Shepherds Support Mission here.

In the latest issue of the Advocate and last month’s blog post, we took time to explore the fourth vocation of the Five-Fold Ministry – the shepherd. The shepherd is someone who nurtures, heals, and builds community. They are focused on helping others feel like they belong and providing an environment that promotes growth and healing.

While the role of a shepherd is important, as are all of the Five-Fold Ministry roles, their purpose is to help the whole body of Christ grow and mature into the image of Christ. Every church and every network of churches needs to function in all five of the ministries, including shepherding. We need to evaluate our ministries and Kingdom work to see if we’re functioning like shepherds as a whole body.

So here are three ways in which your church or ministry can aim to have a shepherding function:

  1. Create Space for Everyone to Belong. While we often feel as though our faith communities are obvious places of belonging, there are two issues that are common that can actually prevent new individuals from feeling like they can become part of the community. The first issue is when there isn’t a bridge from someone showing up for the first time and actually joining into the life of the community. We often do really well at welcoming people we haven’t seen before, but when that person comes back for the fourth or fifth time, we begin to ignore them because they aren’t new and they aren’t rooted in the community. We need to create a path that helps people walk from showing up to belonging, particularly with attention in the middle.

    The second issue that’s common is that as a faith community grows, the desire to “know everyone” becomes a roadblock to belonging. Once a community reaches a certain size, the only way for everyone to know everyone else is to keep relationships at a superficial level because there isn’t any time to go deep. When things stay superficial and deep relationships aren’t formed, then the sense of belonging doesn’t exist. If your community is growing, then you’ll need to create smaller groups where deep relationships can be formed. Don’t try to form relationships when the whole community is together, but instead ensure everyone has a space in a smaller group.

  2. Promote Knowledge of Self and Growth. One of the great ways the church can operate in a shepherding function is to emphasize the uniqueness of each individual, how they are called and gifted by God, and to provide encouragement for individuals to grow in their calling – much like a parent that watches their child grow and brings encouragement into the talents that child has. The family of God needs to be prepared to call out the giftedness they see, perhaps using gift inventories, and celebrate with each individual the call that God has placed in them. From there, the community should help guide each individual towards development, nurturing raw gifts and talents into strengths.
  3. Provide Opportunities for Healing. When moving towards increasing your shepherding function, it’s important to have opportunities for people to heal from the hurts, habits, and hang-ups that they may have. Sometimes this can be done programatically through things like Celebrate Recovery. Other times it can be accomplished through the use of a professional counselor that the community builds a working relationship with. Another opportunity is the ensure each discipleship group has someone with a basic competency in providing care. All of these will allow individuals to move forward and grow.

Do you see these functions in your church or ministry? If not, how can you take a next step towards having a shepherding functioning?

CGGC eNews—Vol. 12, No. 48

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