How Christian Shepherds Serve You
IN MANY places it is possible to observe how shepherds attend to a flock. They lead, protect, and provide for the sheep. This is of interest to Christian elders, since their work includes shepherding activities. Indeed, it is their responsibility “to shepherd the congregation of God” and ‘to pay attention to all the flock.’—Acts 20:28.
If you are a member of the Christian congregation, how can spiritual shepherds serve you? And how should you react to their efforts in your behalf? Why does the congregation need their help?
Protection Against What?
In ancient times lions and other wild animals put flocks in danger and preyed upon individual sheep. Shepherds had to provide protection. (1 Samuel 17:34, 35) Well, Satan the Devil “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.” (1 Peter 5:8) He wrathfully wages war not only against Jehovah’s earthly organization as a whole but also against each individual servant of God. What is Satan’s aim? He wants to discourage Jehovah’s people and even prevent them from ‘observing the commandments of God’ and carrying out “the work of bearing witness to Jesus.”—Revelation 12:17.
Jehovah charged the governmental shepherds of ancient Israel with neglect because his sheep had become “food for every wild beast of the field.” (Ezekiel 34:8) However, Christian elders have a heartfelt desire to protect those in the congregation so that no one is lost through neglect or because of the influence of Satan, the world, or apostate “wolves.” (Acts 20:29, 30) How do the shepherds help all members of the flock to keep their senses and be watchful? One means is by giving well-prepared Scriptural talks from the Kingdom Hall platform. Another is by positive, encouraging conversations before and after the meetings. Still another effective means is by visiting the “sheep” personally at home. (Compare Psalm 95:7.) But what is a shepherding call? How should such a visit be carried out? And who ought to be visited?
What Is a Shepherding Call?
A shepherding call is not merely a social visit with conversation about trivialities. One elder observed: “Most publishers thoroughly enjoy reading a scripture or discussing a particular Bible character. Of course, the elder does not do all the talking. The Kingdom publisher being visited normally enjoys expressing his thoughts on the Bible, and doing this strengthens his own faith. The elder might take along a Watchtower or Awake! magazine so as to discuss an upbuilding article. Perhaps this spiritual discussion is what distinguishes a shepherding call from a social call.”
Another experienced elder commented: “Prior to the visit, the elder spends some time thinking about the publisher he is to call on. What could build the publisher up? Sincere commendation is an essential part of shepherding calls, for it strengthens a person to endure.” Yes, a shepherding call is more than simply a friendly visit that anyone in the congregation might make.
Why Does a Shepherd Visit You?
When an elder visits a home, he is prepared to encourage fellow believers and help them to be firm in the faith. (Romans 1:11) So when one or two elders wish to visit you, how do you react? Said one traveling overseer: “If shepherding calls are made only when something is not quite right, initial reaction to the proposed visit may be, ‘What have I done wrong?’” Loving spiritual shepherds imitate Jehovah, who took care of the psalmist and always ‘refreshed his soul,’ especially in times of distress and special need.—Psalm 23:1-4.
The objective of a shepherding call is ‘to build up, not to tear down.’ (2 Corinthians 13:10) Encouraging, indeed, are words of appreciation for the endurance, the zeal, and the faithful work of the one visited. One elder observed: “On a shepherding call, it is not good to give the impression that one has come with the intention of discovering and discussing problems. Of course, the publisher himself might want to talk about some particular difficulty. And if a sheep is limping or isolating himself from the rest of the flock, the elder needs to do something to help.”
Christian shepherds will undoubtedly take special care of any who are like those described in these words: “The lost one I [Jehovah] shall search for, and the dispersed one I shall bring back, and the broken one I shall bandage and the ailing one I shall strengthen.” (Ezekiel 34:16) Yes, sheep may need to be sought after, brought back, bandaged, or strengthened. Israel’s shepherds neglected these responsibilities. Performing such work requires that a shepherd come close to a certain sheep and attend to its needs. Basically, this should be a distinguishing feature of each shepherding call today.
Healthy Sheep Need Care
Should we conclude that present-day spiritual shepherds need not show particular attentiveness to healthy sheep? Well, when a literal sheep gets into trouble, helping it is much easier if it has confidence in the shepherd. One handbook observes that “sheep are naturally shy of humans, and gaining their trust is not always easy.” Among other things, the same book suggests this basic guideline for winning the confidence of sheep: “Speak to the animals regularly. They get used to the voice, which reassures them. Visit the sheep in the pasture often.”—Alles für das Schaf. Handbuch für die artgerechte Haltung (Everything for the Sheep. Handbook on How to Keep Them Properly).
Personal contact is therefore necessary if a trusting relationship is to exist between the shepherd and the sheep. The same is true in the Christian congregation. An elder noted: “Being known in the congregation as an elder who regularly visits the sheep makes it easier to call on one who has problems.” Hence, spiritual shepherds should not try to feed and care for the sheep exclusively at the Kingdom Hall. As far as circumstances allow, elders should get to know the sheep by making shepherding calls at their homes. One Christian recalls that when he was a newly appointed elder, the presiding overseer telephoned and asked him to visit and comfort a brother who had just lost his daughter in a dreadful road accident. The elder admits: “How awful I felt, since I had never called on the brother and did not even know where he lived! It was a relief when a mature elder offered to come with me.” Yes, elders assist one another on shepherding calls.
In preparing for and making certain shepherding calls, an elder may be joined by a ministerial servant who is reaching out for the “fine work” of an overseer. (1 Timothy 3:1, 13) How much a ministerial servant appreciates seeing how an elder serves the sheep on shepherding calls! Elders and ministerial servants thus get closer to all in the congregation, strengthening the bonds of Christian love and unity.—Colossians 3:14.
Planning Time for Shepherding Calls
When one body of elders left shepherding calls to the initiative of the Congregation Book Study conductors, all the publishers in some groups were visited within six months, whereas none were called on in other groups. This moved one elder to say: “It appears that some elders take the initiative and do a lot of shepherding work, but others need the encouragement of their fellow elders to do so.” So some bodies of elders make arrangements for all publishers to be visited by shepherds within a definite period of time.
Of course, an elder or any other publisher can visit someone in the congregation without waiting for special arrangements to be made. Before making a shepherding call, one elder phones and says, “I call on one family each month. Can I visit you for an hour or so sometime next month? When would this suit you?”
Blessings of Shepherding Calls
As pressures from this wicked system continue to increase, encouraging visits by understanding shepherds become ever more beneficial. When all those in the flock are given encouragement and help through shepherding calls, each sheep feels safe and secure.
Concerning a congregation in which all Kingdom publishers were visited by shepherds regularly, it was reported: “The publishers became very positive about the shepherding calls. It was quite common for a publisher to approach one of the elders to ask when he would make another call, as the inquirer had enjoyed the upbuilding discussion during the previous visit. Shepherding calls were one factor that helped to improve the spirit of the congregation.” Other reports indicate that when shepherds lovingly minister in such a way, the congregation can grow in love, unity, and warmth. What a blessing!
Christian shepherds call to promote the spiritual well-being of the sheep. Elders want to encourage and strengthen their fellow believers. If a serious problem requiring counsel should surface during a visit, it may be best to make arrangements for discussion at another time, especially if the elder is accompanied by a ministerial servant. In any case, a prayer to conclude the shepherding visit is appropriate.
Does a spiritual shepherd want to call at your home in the near future? If that is so, be in happy anticipation of the encouragement that awaits you. He is coming to serve you and to strengthen you in your resolve to remain on the road leading to everlasting life.—Matthew 7:13, 14.
[Box on page 26]
Suggestions for Shepherding Calls
◻ Make an appointment: It is usually good to make an appointment. If the elder plans to handle a serious problem, it would be proper to inform the publisher of this beforehand.
◻ Preparation: Consider the person’s nature and situation. Offer heartfelt commendation. Make it your aim to impart an encouraging, faith-strengthening “spiritual gift.” —Romans 1:11, 12.
◻ Whom to take along: Another elder or a qualified ministerial servant.
◻ During the visit: The elder should be relaxed, loving, positive, and flexible. Inquire about the family, its well-being, and so forth. Listen carefully. If a serious problem surfaces, it may be best to arrange for a special shepherding call.
◻ Duration of the call: Keep to the agreed time, and leave while your host is still enjoying the visit.
◻ Concluding the visit: A prayer is appropriate and truly appreciated.—Philippians 4:6, 7.
[Picture on page 24]
Christian shepherds provide spiritual protection
[Pictures on page 26]
Shepherding calls provide fine opportunities for spiritual encouragement