Chasing the sheep

The routine for most churches is that structures start up for the year over the course of February. It means that February is a chaotic time as things ‘start up’. When we get to March, and things are going (with people coming), we can feel that we can breathe a sigh of relief.

However, herein lies a great danger.

The slogan that ministry is about ‘people, not structures’ has been going around for a long time. How easy it is to let it slide.

I have recently been reminded that only 60% of our ‘regulars’ attend on any one Sunday at one congregation at my church. I suspect an underlying reality that a third are almost weekly in attendance, and the other two thirds are on some kind of roster that I have never seen.

For some of these two-thirds of God’s flock, they need to and will grow as they grow in their understanding of the Word of God with the Spirit’s work and become more regular over time. But there is another category who have, or at the very least are in danger of wondering off. Jesus taught that the pastors of God’s flock left the 99 sheep to go and chase the one.

After the hard work of setting up the structures for the year (they are there to help God’s flock too, remember), it is time for the hard work of chasing those who are at the very least in danger of wondering off. As with many other things, prevention is the best cure.

Research seems to suggest that it is most effective when lay people are on the forefront of this kind of work. Whilst a call or visit from the pastor is appreciated, it is hard to get away from one feeling either checked up upon, or that the contact has been made because it is the pastor’s job. And as we begin work in this area at my church, I have been pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastic many lay people are to be involved in chasing the sheep who seem to be wondering away.

It is not the only approach – we would all benefit from using this opportunity to share different approaches.

Either way, with the importance of people, it may be better to think of March as the time when the real work gets underway.

The Rev Raj Gupta is the senior minister of Toongabbie Anglican Church, member of Standing Committee, and Mission Area Leader of the Parramatta Mission Area. He is also a partner with the 'Exploring Effective Ministry under God' team, and currently undertaking a Doctor of Ministry at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDs).

Comments (3)

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  • Colin Murdoch
    March 9, 11 - 5:51am
    Having in place two things will enrich any ministry:
    1. A comprehensive system of proactive Pastoral Care using a combination of paid ministers, laity and others.
    2. Establishing a comprehensive system of "equipping the saints for works of service" using a combination of paid ministers and a much higher % of laity.
  • Philip Griffin
    March 10, 11 - 5:49am
    A timely post, Raj.

    My own experience would suggest that making friendly, encouraging contact with those at risk should be done sooner rather than later, to avoid people 'getting into the habit' of not meeting with God's people.

    I agree with you that this is a task for all of us, and is often more suitably done by those who are not pastors. That said, I have found it helpful to let people know that, if in their discussions with someone at risk, they think a pastor might be able to help that person, that they let their pastor(s) know immediately.

    In that way, pastors will become involved as part of the team approach to seeking for the potentially lost sheep.

    Thanks again for an important post, Raj.
  • Sean Heslehurst
    March 12, 11 - 4:15am
    Hi raj, just a question where is the research that claims that if the lay do this I am interested in reading this because I have often heard the opposite and feel very burdened catching up on the 2/3 when visitors and non Christians need my time as well, let alone the many faithful really regular saints who work hard to bring glory to our Lord.