This is a modified version of a paper the session gives to potential members to help them understand how shepherding works at our church.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17
In II Corinthians 11:22-33 Paul is giving proof of his apostleship by listing the various trials he has had to endure. He mentions beatings, being shipwrecked, thieves, hunger, and sleeplessness. Finally, he mentions the daily, deep concern he has for all the churches. We would not put caring for a church in a list with beatings, but Paul does. Shepherding the people of God requires great diligence and care. Perhaps this is why the author of Hebrews adds the above exhortation at the end of his book reminding his readers to let those who rule do so with joy and not grief. The elders of Christ Church wrote this brief article to show you how you can help us in this task an make sure we can stand before God blameless (Acts 20:26-27).
Before we get to specifics, there is one underlying point that needs to be made: shepherds must know their sheep. Our Lord makes this explicit in John 10, especially verses 3 and 14 where Jesus says that He “calls His own sheep by name” and that He “knows his own.” Shepherding is a hands-on activity. You cannot shepherd sheep from afar. A shepherd cannot mend a broken leg from miles away. A shepherd cannot keep his sheep from running over a cliff via Skype. A shepherd must know and be present with his sheep. This is made explicit in the Hebrews passage quoted above. As elders we must give an account for your souls. That means we must know you. We are going to stand before the Judge of all the earth. Therefore we must know the state of your souls. For many Christians this is uncomfortable. We do not like people asking questions. We want to show up on Sunday and then be left alone Monday through Saturday. But if that happens then would be failing in our task. As elders, we will strive to not be lords over you (I Peter 5:3) and will refrain from being too nosy. However, expect us to be involved.
The writer in Hebrews tells his readers to make sure the elders can do their work with joy and not with groaning. He also tells them that it is to their advantage if they make their shepherds’ job easy. Here are some things you can do to make our job easier
- Regularly attend worship and other events at church with a joyful and attentive heart.
- Pray and read God’s Word daily.
- Seek to grow in holiness and righteousness.
- Pray for your elders regularly.
- Pray that God would raise up more elders and deacons at Christ Church.
- Find ways that you and your family (if you have one) can serve at Christ Church.
- Pray for the other members of the church regularly.
- Encourage us when we do something well (Galatians 6:6).
- Joyfully obey the godly advice we give to you. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to imitate the faith of the elders (13:7), to obey them and to submit to them. We live in an anti-authoritarian age. We are taught from a young age that authority is to be rejected. God’s word does not see things this way. The leaders in the church are to be obeyed. In most cases, to reject the authority of God’s appointed elders is to reject Christ Himself.
- If you disagree with something the elders did or are doing, talk to us about it. If you think that we have sinned against you, let us know. If you have a problem with us, do not spread it abroad among the members of the body. Bring it to us. You have taken a vow as a member of Christ Church to promote the peace and purity of the church and submit to the elders. This vow is tested when you disagree with us or we have hurt you in some way. We are not perfect. If we have sinned, we will confess it and turn. If it is a miscommunication, we will seek to clear it up. If you are wrong, we will correct you gently, following the pattern of II Timothy 2:24-25. The point is come to us if you have a concern.
Below is a list of some, but certainly not all, of the reasons to contact your elders. Please contact us if you are:
-having financial trouble or trouble at work and/or could lose your job.
-having marital difficulties, including sexual issues, communication problems, anger, etc.
-having trouble with your children and you are not sure how to deal with it.
-having theological questions or questions concerning the interpretation and/or application of a section of Scripture.
-having questions or concerns about our worship, a specific sermon, a teaching or practice of Christ Church.
-having physical problems, such as ongoing sickness, miscarriage, etc.
-having a conflict with another member of the church or with someone who is not attending our church that you are unable to resolve peaceably.
-struggling with a sin and need guidance on how to overcome it. It does not have to be what we consider a “major” sin either, such as porn, drunkenness, or theft. Of course you should come to us if you are losing the porn battle. But if you are struggling with bitterness, anger, gossip, spiritual lethargy, or any host of other sins then come to us as well.
-thinking of leaving the church.
We are not encouraging midnight phone calls over minor issues. Many situations are normal and if you do numbers 1-9 listed above you should be able to grow through those situations. But there are some problems which you should not and cannot fight alone. That is when you need to come to an elder.
Here is some additional guidance about bringing problems to the elders.
Do not wait until a crisis develops. One of the problems elders face is people waiting until it is too late or the situation is already messy before contacting us. It is better to contact your elders and find out that it is not a big deal than wait and watch the situation explode. It is easier to pull up saplings than oak trees.
The greatest deterrent to contacting the elders is usually pride. People believe they can work things out without help or advice. Sometimes this is true. But often we need the input of other Christians, particularly those God has appointed over us, to guide us. If there is a problem in your home or life and you do not want to bring it to the elders, ask yourself, why? More than likely the reason is that you do not want your sin to be known or you are too proud to admit weakness. An attitude like this will lead to trouble.
You may worry that you are bothering us. Don’t. We are here to shepherd you. If you think you should call, do. We will listen and hear you. We want to help you.
The head of the household should usually be the one contacting the elders. There are exceptions of course, including a husband who is in serious sin and refuses to come to the elders, a wife that has sin issues and does not know how to bring them up to her husband, and some others. But when there are serious issues in the home generally the husband and wife should be coming to the session together with the husband leading the way.
Nonetheless, the women at Christ Church have direct access to the elders. They do not have to come to the session through their husband. In many cases, wisdom and general respect would mean that if there are marital issues the wife brings them up to her husband first. But again, not always, especially if the husband has shown himself stubborn when there is a need for outside input. The session will let her know if we believe she should go back and discuss this with her husband before talking to us.
The job of those who shepherd the church is summed up well in I Thessalonians 2:8, where Paul says that he not only imparted the gospel to the Thessalonians, but his very life as well. The elders are called to lay down their lives for the sheep just as our Shepherd laid down his life for us. If you would like to look more closely at our task you can read, Acts 20:17-38, I Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-11, and I Peter 5:1-4. Here is what the elders promise to do for you:
- Pray for you regularly.
- Study, obey, and faithfully preach and teach God’s Word.
- Meet with you regularly to see how you are doing in your walk with Christ.
- Use God’s Word as our primary tool for counseling you.
- Point you to Christ the Great Shepherd and His Spirit for both forgiveness of sin and power to overcome sins.
- Set an example for you by leading holy lives in our homes, community, and places of vocation.
- Be gentle with you (I Thess. 2:7) and strive not to be lords over you (I Peter 5:3).
- Exhort, comfort, and charge you as a father does his children (I Thess. 2:11).
- Be involved in your life so that we might faithfully give an account for your soul.
- Rebuke you when necessary.
- Encourage you where you are gifted.
- When a crisis develops, do all we can materially, emotionally, and spiritually to help you.
- Motivate you toward spiritual maturity.
It is our privilege to serve Christ by ministering to you. We have a fond affection and love for all of you. We desire to see you fruitful in every good work. We also long for Christ Church to be a witness in Morgantown of the grace that can be found in Jesus. May God give us wisdom and understanding to shepherd you well and grant you grace to help us do our job with joy and not grief.