I have been a Pastor for over two years and I have learned a lot during this time. By far, the thing I have learned the most is the concept of “Pastoring your people where they are and not where you want them to be.” This may seem like a backward philosophy of pastoring but it is actually the correct one. By pastoring your people where they are but also leading them to where they need to be, you will genuinely find balance in your pastoring and shepherding. Consider the following about what it means and what it does not mean.
What It Does Not Mean:
- It does not mean that Scripture is not the final authority.
- It does not mean that a Pastor can’t be consistently working towards growing a church to spiritual maturity.
- It does not mean that one can compromise the truth of Scripture especially in the areas of essential theology.
- It does not mean that one can use it as an excuse for a lack of biblical progress.
What It Does Mean:
- It does mean that progress will look different in each body of believers.
- It does mean that a Pastor must make an accurate assessment of where the people are in relation to their maturity in Christ.
- It does mean that the time frame to spiritual health will expand or retract based on the starting point.
- It does mean that the Pastor will have to make adjustments to vision and expectations as progress is made.
The preceding is not an exhaustive list for this subject but it is enough to start you thinking about this subject matter. As I am currently in the midst of learning how to accurately apply this last sentence to my life, I’m continuing to grow in my knowledge and application of it from the Word of God as I shepherd the people of God.
1 Peter 5:2-3 states the following, “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock” (NASB).
From these verses which provide instruction to the elders, we can gain a few insights into the shepherding role of the Pastor/Elder.
First of all, we are instructed to “shepherd the flock of God among you,” meaning that one must remember that the flock is never our flock. It is God’s flock and will never be anything other than God’s flock.
Secondly, we are to shepherd the flock among us. The next verse states that we have a flock that is “allotted to your charge” meaning that this flock has been allotted to the Pastor by God. Now, keep one thing in mind, while I may refer to Pastor or Elder (singular), the biblical instruction is for churches to have a plurality of elders and not just one. Certainly, it should be the goal of any healthy church to be overseen by a plurality of elders since that is what inspired Scripture teachers.
We see that the instruction is to shepherd and exercise oversight of the flock that is among you. This is key for a few reasons because it identifies the office of elder as the one having the oversight and the leadership over the flock. Notice that is does not state that one should shepherd only if the flock is mature and walking in Christ. It just says that we, as elders, are to oversee and shepherd the flock that is among us. This means that there will be great variety in not only the individual Christians that comprise the flock among us but also that each body of believers that comprise local churches will be diverse in their individual levels of maturity and understanding and obedience to biblical truth.
Each local body of believers will have a unique starting place on their sanctification timeline. One of the most important efforts that need to be made by an elder or body of elders is to accurately assess where the sheep are and what are their most basic needs. What this means is that things a typically mature congregation would be expected to do, one may have to have far more patience in a less mature congregation while shepherding and overseeing them.
How does one begin the process of taking their congregation from where they are to where they want to be?
First of all, you have to remember that while we should Pastor our congregation based on where they are, this does not mean that we do not lovingly lead them closer every day to where they need to be. It just means that if you shepherd a group based on where they should be when they are not there, then you will run into a variety of problems that could be avoided from simply realizing the current state of the flock among you.
After you discover where your flock is then the process can begin to lead them to greater maturity in Christ. This process takes three steps:
- Start Small – Keep the focus and the scope small. It is ok to dream big but goal planning needs to have a small scope and be reasonable. This way there can be real achievable results that can be measured along the way.
- Do Something – A congregation will never achieve anything unless they do something and change. A status quo approach equals status quo results. The basic definition of insanity is doing things the way you have always done them and expecting a different result. Without implementing change, all the planning and goals in the world will be wasted.
- Build & Grow – After you have kept the focus small and reasonable and after you have done something, then you can assess and make changes in order to build on what you have accomplished. Make sure to be patient, balanced, and consistent when determining how to build and grow.
To have real balance in pastoring, you must be leading your flock to greater love, faith, and obedience to Jesus Christ through preaching the Word and modeling the Word in your own life. At the same time, you must also allow the flock that is among you to grow at their own pace. Some of the sheep will grow and mature faster than others. Discipleship is about duplication and the One we are to be duplicating is Jesus Christ. This means that it is not about us but Him.
Trust Christ entirely and allow Him to show you how to be a balanced under-shepherd because He is the Chief Shepherd. This can happen through consistent study of the Word of God, it can also happen through engaging in true elder accountability with an experienced elder in your church or with one in your community. Additionally, it can also come through prayer and gaining your own experience as you grow in the knowledge of Christ.