Help Those Who Stray From the Flock
“Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost.”—LUKE 15:6.
1. How has Jesus proved to be a loving shepherd?
JEHOVAH’S only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, is called “the great shepherd of the sheep.” (Heb. 13:20) The Scriptures foretold his coming and showed that he was a unique Shepherd who sought to find the “lost sheep” of Israel. (Matt. 2:1-6; 15:24) Moreover, as a literal shepherd might give his life in order to protect his sheep, Jesus died as a ransom sacrifice for sheeplike ones who would avail themselves of his sacrifice.—John 10:11, 15; 1 John 2:1, 2.
2. What may have caused some Christians to become inactive?
2 Sadly, some who seemed to appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice and made a dedication to God no longer associate with the Christian congregation. Discouragement, health problems, or other factors may have weakened their zeal and caused them to become inactive. However, only as part of God’s flock can they enjoy the serenity and happiness that David spoke of in the 23rd Psalm. For instance, he sang: “Jehovah is my Shepherd. I shall lack nothing.” (Ps. 23:1) Those in the flock of God lack nothing in a spiritual way, but that is not the happy lot of sheep who have strayed. Who can assist them? How can aid be provided? Indeed, what can be done to help them return to the flock?
Who Can Help?
3. How did Jesus show what is needed to rescue lost sheep of God’s pasturage?
3 Earnest effort is required to rescue lost sheep of God’s pasturage. (Ps. 100:3) Jesus illustrated this when he said: “If a certain man comes to have a hundred sheep and one of them gets strayed, will he not leave the ninety-nine upon the mountains and set out on a search for the one that is straying? And if he happens to find it, I certainly tell you, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that have not strayed. Likewise it is not a desirable thing with my Father who is in heaven for one of these little ones to perish.” (Matt. 18:12-14) Who can help sheeplike individuals who have strayed from the flock?
4, 5. Elders need to have what attitude toward God’s flock?
4 If Christian elders are to help sheep who have strayed, they must bear in mind that the flock of God is a congregation of people dedicated to Jehovah—yes, a precious ‘flock of God’s pasturage.’ (Ps. 79:13) Such dear sheep need tender care, and this means that loving shepherds must take a personal interest in them. Making friendly shepherding calls on them can be very effective. Loving encouragement that a shepherd gives them may build them up spiritually and increase their desire to return to the flock.—1 Cor. 8:1.
5 Shepherds of God’s flock have the duty to search for sheep who have strayed and then to try to help them. The apostle Paul reminded Christian elders from ancient Ephesus of their shepherding responsibilities when he said: “Pay attention to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the holy spirit has appointed you overseers, to shepherd the congregation of God, which he purchased with the blood of his own Son.” (Acts 20:28) Similarly, the apostle Peter gave anointed older men this exhortation: “Shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly; neither as lording it over those who are God’s inheritance, but becoming examples to the flock.”—1 Pet. 5:1-3.
6. Why do God’s sheep especially need the care of shepherds today?
6 Christian shepherds need to imitate “the fine shepherd,” Jesus. (John 10:11) He was deeply concerned about God’s sheep and stressed the importance of caring for them when he told Simon Peter to ‘shepherd His little sheep.’ (Read John 21:15-17.) Especially do the sheep need such care today, for the Devil has intensified his efforts to break the integrity of those dedicated to God. Satan takes advantage of fleshly weaknesses and uses the world in an attempt to lead Jehovah’s sheep into sinful activities. (1 John 2:15-17; 5:19) Inactive ones are particularly vulnerable and therefore need assistance in order to apply the admonition to ‘walk by spirit.’ (Gal. 5:16-21, 25) Helping such sheep calls for prayerful reliance on God, the guidance of his spirit, and skillful use of his Word.—Prov. 3:5, 6; Luke 11:13; Heb. 4:12.
7. How important is it for elders to shepherd sheeplike ones in their care?
7 A shepherd in ancient Israel used a long curved staff, or crook, to guide his flock. As the sheep entered or left the pen, they would ‘pass under the crook’ and could thus be counted by the shepherd. (Lev. 27:32; Mic. 2:12; 7:14) A Christian shepherd likewise needs to know and keep track of the flock of God under his care. (Compare Proverbs 27:23.) Therefore, shepherding is one of the important matters discussed by the body of elders. This includes making arrangements to help sheep who have strayed. Jehovah himself said that he would search for his sheep and give them the care they needed. (Ezek. 34:11) So God is pleased when elders take similar steps in an effort to help sheep who have strayed to return to the flock.
8. In what ways can elders give the sheep personal attention?
8 When a fellow believer is physically sick, the visit of a shepherd of God’s flock can be a source of joy and encouragement. The same can be the case when a spiritually ailing sheep is given personal attention. Elders may read scriptures, review an article, discuss meeting highlights, pray with the inactive one, and so forth. They can point out that members of the congregation would be delighted to see him come back to congregation meetings. (2 Cor. 1:3-7; Jas. 5:13-15) A visit, a telephone call, or a letter can mean so much! Giving personal help to a sheep missing from the flock can also increase the joy of the compassionate Christian shepherd.
A Cooperative Effort
9, 10. Why would you say that concern for a sheep who has strayed is not limited to the elders?
9 We live in busy and critical times, so it is possible that we might not notice that a fellow believer is drifting away from the congregation. (Heb. 2:1) Yet, Jehovah’s sheep are precious in his sight. Every one of them has value, as does each member, or part, of the human body. Hence, all of us need to show concern for our brothers and truly care for one another. (1 Cor. 12:25) Do you have such an attitude?
10 Although the elders take the lead in searching for and helping sheep who have strayed, concern for missing fellow believers is not limited to Christian overseers. Others can cooperate with these shepherds. We can and should offer encouragement and spiritual aid to our brothers and sisters who need help to return to the flock. How may such assistance be given?
11, 12. How might you be privileged to assist one who needs some spiritual assistance?
11 In some cases, the elders may arrange for experienced Kingdom publishers to conduct a personal Bible study with inactive ones who express a desire to be given assistance. The purpose of such efforts is to rekindle in such ones “the love [they] had at first.” (Rev. 2:1, 4) These fellow believers can be built up and strengthened spiritually by considering material they missed while they were absent from the congregation.
12 If the elders invite you to study with a fellow believer needing some spiritual assistance, pray that Jehovah direct and bless your efforts. Indeed, “roll your works upon Jehovah himself and your plans will be firmly established.” (Prov. 16:3) Meditate on Bible texts and faith-strengthening points that you can use in discussions with those needing spiritual help. Reflect on the apostle Paul’s excellent example. (Read Romans 1:11, 12.) Paul longed to see Christians in Rome in order to impart some spiritual gift to them so that they might be made firm. He also looked forward to an interchange of encouragement. Should we not have that spirit when we seek to help sheep who have strayed from the flock of God?
13. What might you discuss with an inactive one?
13 During your discussions, you might ask, “How did you learn the truth?” Reminisce about past joys, encouraging the inactive one to speak about delightful experiences he has had at the meetings, in the preaching work, and at conventions. Comment on the happy times you may have had together in Jehovah’s service. Speak about your joy in drawing close to Jehovah. (Jas. 4:8) Express your gratitude for the way that God provides for us as his people—especially by giving us comfort and hope in our tribulations.—Rom. 15:4; 2 Cor. 1:3, 4.
14, 15. It may be helpful to remind inactive ones of what blessings they once enjoyed?
14 Quite likely, it will be beneficial to remind the inactive one of some of the blessings he once enjoyed as a result of close association with the congregation. For instance, there was the blessing of growing in knowledge of God’s Word and purposes. (Prov. 4:18) When he ‘walked by spirit,’ it was no doubt easier for him to resist temptations to sin. (Gal. 5:22-26) In turn, a clean conscience enabled him to approach Jehovah in prayer and to enjoy ‘the peace of God that excels all thought and that guards our hearts and mental powers.’ (Phil. 4:6, 7) Keep such points in mind, show sincere interest, and by all means lovingly encourage your spiritual brother or sister to return to the flock.—Read Philippians 2:4.
15 Suppose you are an elder making a shepherding call. You might encourage an inactive married couple to reflect on the time when they first learned the truth from God’s Word. How wonderful, reasonable, satisfying, and spiritually liberating the truth was! (John 8:32) How their hearts swelled with gratitude for what they were learning about Jehovah, his love, and his splendid purposes! (Compare Luke 24:32.) Remind them of the close relationship with Jehovah and the wonderful privilege of prayer enjoyed by dedicated Christians. Earnestly encourage inactive ones to respond again to “the glorious good news of the happy God,” Jehovah.—1 Tim. 1:11.
Continue to Show Them Love
16. Cite an example to show that efforts to provide spiritual help really are effective.
16 Do the foregoing suggestions really work? Yes. For instance, one young person who started as a Kingdom publisher when he was 12 years old became inactive at the age of 15. He later became active, however, and has been in the full-time service for over 30 years. His spiritual recovery was largely due to the assistance given him by a Christian elder. How much that spiritual help was appreciated!
17, 18. What qualities will help you to assist someone who has strayed from the flock of God?
17 It is love that motivates Christians to assist inactive ones to return to the congregation. Regarding his followers, Jesus said: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:34, 35) Yes, love is an identifying mark of true Christians. Should not that love be expressed for baptized Christians who may have become inactive? It certainly should! But providing needed help may call for the exercise of various godly qualities.
18 If you are to help someone who has strayed from the flock of God, what qualities might you need to display? Besides love, you may need to show compassion, kindness, mildness, and long-suffering. Depending on the circumstances, you may also need to be forgiving. Paul wrote: “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering. Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave you, so do you also. But, besides all these things, clothe yourselves with love, for it is a perfect bond of union.”—Col. 3:12-14.
19. Why is it worthwhile to make the effort to help sheeplike ones return to the Christian fold?
19 The next study article in this issue will consider reasons why some stray from God’s flock. It will also show how those returning can expect to be received. As you study that article and reflect on this one, be assured that any effort you make with the hope of helping sheeplike ones return to the Christian fold is worthwhile. In the present system of things, many people spend an entire lifetime trying to amass wealth, but just one life is worth much more than all the money in the world. Jesus emphasized this in his illustration of the lost sheep. (Matt. 18:12-14) May you bear that point in mind as you make an earnest and urgent effort to help Jehovah’s dear sheeplike ones who have strayed to return to the flock.
How Would You Answer?
• What responsibility do Christian shepherds have with respect to sheeplike ones who have strayed from the flock?
• How may you be able to help those who are not now associating with the congregation?
• What qualities can help you to assist those who have strayed from the flock?
[Picture on page 10]
Christian shepherds lovingly endeavor to help those who have strayed from God’s flock