The pastor is the shepherd of the flock, and the local elder is the undershepherd. Together they have the responsibility of caring for the sheep. On Sabbath they help to provide proper spiritual nourishment, inspiration, and encouragement through Bible study, worship, and fellowship. Sabbath should be a high experience for every Seventh-day Adventist Christian. Each Sabbath should be a step in spiritual growth and another milestone on the road to holiness. Each service should contribute toward the great objective, “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
However, as important as the Sabbath service is, we can never feel that our responsibility to the flock begins and ends with the Sabbath. What happens during the week may actually determine the salvation or loss of many souls. Here is where the care that the shepherd and the undershepherds becomes exceedingly important.
THE MISSING SHEEP
On Sabbath the anxious shepherd will look carefully to see which sheep are missing. His heart will go out to the absent ones, particularly to those whom he knows are experiencing spiritual struggles.
It is easy to report to the church board that Brother Blank has not been in church for six months, one year, or perhaps several years, but what has been done during that period to encourage the missing member to return?
Visitation with former members have revealed that many of them could have been rescued if they had been contacted, prayed with, and encouraged during the early periods of their declining experience. Eternity alone will reveal how important the visits of faithful pastors and elders have been in saving members for Christ and His church.
There was a time when, as a teenager lad, I had become unsettled and careless. I began slipping away during the worship service, then finally skipped Sabbath School as well. My church was a country church without a pastor, and the full pastoral responsibilities were on the local elders. I shall never forget the night the head elder (a farmer) and one of his associates came to our home. They soon made it known that they had come to see me. Mother directed them into my bedroom, where a friend and I were hanging out. 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 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. I seized the first opportunity to visit him. What great encouragement came into his life, then ebbing away, as I expressed to him my great appreciation for his 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 made that personal appeal!
Church Elder, how is it with you? Do you have the same concern? Are you willing, after a busy day at your office, in your shop, or perhaps on your farm, to leave the comforts of your home and go out 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 type 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 a problem with me. She had been disfellowshipped for lack of attendance. There were extenuating circumstances. Admittedly, she could have made a greater effort to contact the church, but through the experience that continued for quite a period of time, little effort was made by the church to contact her. Finally the post office brought her the news that her name had been dropped from the church records. Thankfully, she is preparing 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 made not only to win 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 the example of the Great Shepherd.
Orley M. Berg was associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference when he wrote this article.
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Please also visit www.ministerialassociation.com or www.eldersdigest.org.