Stuart Olyott’s talk on ‘Shepherding all our people’ at the Banner of Truth Leicester Minister’s Conference in 2008 is simply outstanding on the topic of pastoral care.
Shepherding all our people
This is an area that none of us are doing very well in. Our response to this message is not to say “I’ve got to do better!”
That’s a good response, but it should never be our first response.
Our first response should be to say “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” The good news is that when we do this, the Father will “[feel] compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” Our first response is ‘Father I have sinned’ and He will run and accept you.
1. Biblical Foundations
Two keys texts: Acts 20:28 & 1 Peter 5:2f.
a) What does it means to shepherd?
To look after people.
Make sure that they are fed spiritually. Lead them on the right track. Keep them on the right track. Carry the weak. Bandage the bleeding. Heal the ill. Comfort the distressed. Seek the wandering. Protect every lamb and every sheep from all those wolves, most of which they can’t recognise.
b) Who has to be shepherded?
Everyone. I have to shepherd every elder, and every elder has to shepherd me, the elders together are to shepherd those in the local church they oversee.
c) Why do they have to be shepherded?
Jesus Christ purchased a vast number of men and women, boys and girls, and He doesn’t intend to lose any one of them. The Bible teaches the perseverance of the saints. We are kept by the power of God through faith. The principle means by which we are kept persevering is the life and ministry of the local church led by its pastors and elders. This means the integrity of our pastoral work is key.
d) How do they have to be shepherded?
When did you last sit down and give serious thought to shepherding the flock?
It’s hard work. It’s sacrificial work. It’s emotionally draining work. It’s unselfish work. It’s demanding work. It’s work done with one eye on the future, when all this work will have been worth it.
It’s not about laying down the rules for people, telling them what to do. This has already been done by Jesus. We lead the people of God by setting an example.
For Christ’s sake we work hard, we work long, we work tenderly to look after every Christian in the church.
2. What will all this mean in practice?
a) You must know who is a sheep and who isn’t.
Do they have a credible profession of faith? Profession of faith is credible is the person has faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Find out by asking them a question: Do you pray? Why should God listen to you? Those with a credible profession of faith will answer because of Jesus Christ and what He did for sinners. But you won’t be able to ask that question if you don’t get close to people. What is their attitude towards sin? Does it distress them? Do they have love for the brethren? You can’t find out who is a sheep if you don’t get close to everybody.
b) You must know each individual sheep.
Do you know their names? Next to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the name we love in the world the most is our own name. Do you know where they live? Do you know their family circumstances? Could you go through a typical day in their lives? Do you know what their temptations and joys are? Do you know where they work and who they work with? Do you know their cultural upbringing? What language they speak at home? Do you know what their temperament is like at home? What their strengths and weaknesses are? What their stage in grace is? Their level of biblical literacy? Doctrinal grasp? Level of obedience? Spiritual gifts?
You have to get close to people and spend time with them to find these things out.
c) You must take definite steps to make sure each sheep is looked after.
Preaching: Is your preaching accessible to all the sheep Christ has given you? Can all your people understand it? Is it what Al Martin called ‘Discriminatory Applicatory Preaching’? Is your application as such that people then think that this word is for me? A major part of pastoral work is done in the pulpit.
Church: Does your preaching teach the church what fellowship is? Fellowship is my life wrapped up with theirs, and their life wrapped up in mine. We need to encourage our people to understand this concept of a shared life. Encourage people to spend time with each other. Not all pastoral work can be done by the pastors. Preach fellowship, live fellowship, example it.
Eldership Meetings: Do your eldership meeting start with the minutes? A better way to start would be after a time of devotion around the Word and then prayer, to begin with the question: Is anyone causing us concern? After this talk about the congregation in a systematic way, going down the list. Talk about individuals, not broad categories of people. Organise regular visiting to members. Try and get an elder around to everyone every year. Pray for the congregation together as elders.
Yourself: Do you pray for the sheep? [One way to do this would be to buy a notebook, divide it into 5 sections labelled Monday to Friday. Each section has 4 pages. Page 1 is 1/5 of the members. Page 2 is 1/5 of the adherers. Page 3 is 1/5 of the church organisation. Page 4 is own personal prayer needs.]
Be the person of the place. Be at the start of the different meetings that take place on the church premises.
Necessary visits. There are people who are ill who don’t feel comforted until you turn up. When you hear of bereavement, stop what you’re doing and go straight to the family.
Systematic visiting. First time you visit, find out if they have a credible profession of faith. Second time you visit, find out about their devotional life. Third time you visit, find out about the serving them do or would like to do. And so on.
Hospitality. Giving someone a temporary place in the family. Have people round. Keep an open home. Be happy that people want to come and sit in your home.
Be available. Send out the right vibes all the time. Why do pastors hide out in the vestry before the service? Don’t you think that needs thinking about? Welcome people in their seats. Be around afterwards. Sometimes don’t go to the front door, sit on the front row to chat with people.
Other suggestions: If there are a group of promising men give them training. Create forums where people can ask questions about your teaching as you do it. Sometimes let your pastoral visits determine what you preach.
Don’t forget the thoughtful touches that show you care. Give your complete attention to that person in front of you. A phone call, text, email, handwritten note. Something that is sincere, spontaneous and short. Spurgeon once wrote 500 of these a week.
The pastor’s job is to love and teach, in that order!
A version of it has been written up HERE.