T he pastor is the shepherd of the flock, the local elder the undershepherd. Together they have the responsibility of caring for the sheep. On the Sabbath day they help to provide proper spiritual nourishment, inspiration, and encouragement through Bible study, worship, and fellowship. The Sabbath should be a high experience for every Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Each Sabbath should be a step in spiritual growth, another milestone on the road to holiness. Each service should contribute toward the great objective: "To make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
In previous issues we have discussed some of the ways in which we can make the Sabbath services more meaningful and helpful. However, we can never feel that our responsibility to the flock begins and ends with the Sabbath. What happens through the week may actually determine the salvation or loss of many souls. Here is where the care of the shepherd and his undershepherds becomes exceedingly important.
The missing sheep
The anxious shepherd will be very careful to notice on the Sabbath day which of the sheep are missing. His heart will go out to the absent ones, particularly to those whom he knows to be experiencing spiritual struggles and reverses.
It is easy to report to the church board that Brother Blank has not been in church for six months, a year, or perhaps several years, but what has been done during that period to encourage the missing member to return?
Visiting among former members reveals that many of them could have been rescued if they had been contacted, prayed with, and encouraged during the earlier periods of their declining experience. Eternity alone will reveal how important have been some of the visits of the faithful pastors and elders in saving members for Christ and His church.
There was a time when, as a teenage lad, I had become unsettled and careless. I began slipping away during the church service, then finally skipped Sabbath school as well. This was a country church without a pastor, the full responsibilities being borne by the local elders. I shall never forget the night the head elder, who was a farmer, and one of his associates called at our home. They soon made it known that they had come to see me. Mother directed them into the back bedroom where a friend and I were having a good time together. It so happened that the friend was also on the list to be visited. So they made a most earnest appeal to both of us. They let us know how much they missed us at the church, and explained how we could be a help, especially to other young people. They pleaded with us to return to Jesus and the church, assuring us that our loving Savior was very willing to forgive and stood eager to help us in our Christian life.
The words touched my heart. I loved the Lord. In fact, as a junior I had already felt the call to the ministry. But then the devil had lured me into the broad and popular way. Now I knew that I must change and the decision for change was made while these humble lay leaders of the church talked and prayed.
A number of years later I learned that this head elder, who for years had given spiritual leadership to my home church was seriously ill in a rest home near where I was then pastoring a church. I seized the first opportunity to call on him. What great encouragement came into his life, then ebbing away, as I expressed to him my great appreciation for the visit that dark night! Tears of gratitude flowed from each of us. I have often wondered just what would have happened to me if he had not come, if he had not had a personal concern for my soul, if he had not made that direct personal appeal?
Brother elder, how is it with you? Do you have that same concern? Are you willing, after a busy day at the office, or in the shop, or perhaps on the farm, to leave the comforts of your home and go out on a night call to search out a missing member of the flock, perhaps a teenager? What efforts are you putting forth to encourage discouraged souls? What are you doing to bring them back to the sunshine of God's love?
The care of the flock has been entrusted to the pastor and elders of the church. This is not an option. It is a decided responsibility. It can be neglected only at the loss of some dear souls. In the larger churches some sort of undershepherd plan should be in operation by which the church membership is organized into groups with undershepherds over each. Where this plan is followed the prime responsibility for seeing that this plan is actually a functioning process rests with the elders. The deacons and deaconesses should be involved, but the leadership by precept and example must come from the elders.
Do not neglect your responsibility
This phase of responsibility is too often neglected, and as a result we have the wrecks of human souls strewn along the highway to the kingdom. Just recently a dear woman came into my office to discuss with me her problem. She had been disfellowshiped for lack of attendance. There were extenuating circumstances. Admittedly, she could have put forth a greater effort to contact the church, but through the experience that continued for quite a period of time there was very little effort made to contact her. Finally the postman brought her the news that her name had been dropped from the church records. Thankfully she is going about to have her membership reinstated in a church in the city to which she has moved. She loved the Lord enough to take the initiative. It would have been much easier for her to have grown bitter and turned completely away from the church.
May the Lord bless both pastors and elders as together prayers are offered, plans laid, and efforts put forth not only to win new souls for the church, but to hold those who have already been gathered in. It is part of the self-sacrificing but rewarding labor that God has called you to do. And in thus looking after the flock you are following in the pattern of the Great Shepherd of us all.
My prayer: Dear Lord, forgive me where I have been unfaithful in my concern for the spiritual welfare of every member of the flock, and where I, as an undershepherd, have failed to search out and encourage the faltering and the weak. Bless our church, every member, and particularly those in special need, and give me wisdom and grace as I seek to be a greater help to them. In Jesus' name. Amen,
Orley M. Berg, was Associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference when he wrote this article.