The First Four Months
There is limited literature out there on shepherding in books, articles, and web pages. Very little of it is written from the inside looking out. Of the nine books listed below, only two seem to be from the inside, and one of those deals more with the technical aspects of eldering than the personal side of shepherding. It is as if men pass through a veil of ordination and we never hear from the personal side of them again. We just don't get much of a personal look at what lies on the other side of the veil.
I for one do not understand the reasons for the secrecy. There is not a lot of intrigue in the congregation in which I serve with three other elders. Less than one percent of the encounters I have had are secret or involve confidences. I am just trying to share with those on the "near side"--to the uninitiated--what the first few months of being an elder were like for me. I looked for this kind of information all over the place before becoming an elder over three years ago and just could not seem to find anything like it anywhere.
I didn't know when I began serving in October 2005 that I would one day be writing about the first four, or first six, or first twelve, months as a distinct unit. I didn't know there would be any "distinct units." But for the first four months after the congregation enthusiastically accepted me as a shepherd, Satan went away, so far as the "sin[s] that doth so easily beset [me]" (Hebrews 12: 1, 2) were concerned. In that regard, I felt like I was sharing something with my Savior that He experienced so long ago when, after He had been tempted in the wilderness, Satan left Him alone, to return at a more opportune time (Luke 4: 13). In terms of being released from old weaknesses and temptations, the first four months were bliss for me.
This may have happened because God had something else He wanted me to focus on. One month out, the theme of what I was hearing from the flock was "need." Two months, NEED. Three months, overwhelming, overpowering, pervasive NEED. I thought of Jesus surveying the situation in the first century and remarking that the people were like sheep, needing a shepherd. There were so many things this congregation needed. None of them were easy. To even think of this again brings tears to my eyes once more, the amount of NEED for services and coordination and creative solutions was so great. So many needs--and all at once! Only a few of them were things that I could solve without working through other people or groups of people. Some of the needs, I had no ability to meet. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had reached my limit. At least I couldn't do it in the ways that I had been accustomed to accomplishing things in my former, pre-elder life. My education (although I have three degrees) didn't address all of it. My energy level, though decent, didn't cover it all. "Lord, I can't do all of this!" I cried out while once again on my knees in prayer.
At this point, God had me just where he wanted me. I had arrived at the understanding He wanted me to reach. And to think it took me four months to finally get there! Maybe I'm not such a quick study after all.
Since I arrived at the realization that our congregation's successes would be from God--not directly of my intellect or talent or energy or will--it has been almost as if God has given me and my fellow elders a Midas touch. I can think of only one program or effort that we have introduced in the past 3 1/2 years that hasn't taken off and done well. The one miss hasn't been anything that we couldn't live without.
Books that have been useful in preparing these lessons include:
Anderson, L. (1993). They smell like sheep. West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing.
Gangel, K. O. (1984). So you want to be a leader! Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications.
Grimsley, R. W. (1964). The Church and its elders. Abilene, Texas: Quality Printing Company.
Lewis, J. P. (1985). Leadership questions confronting the church. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate.
Lewis, J. P. (2008). The question of instrumental music in worship. Searcy, AR: Truth for Today World Mission School.
Sanders, J. O. (1989). Spiritual leadership. Chicago, Ill: Moody Press.
Strauch, A. (1991). A study guide to biblical eldership: An urgent call to restore Biblical church leadership. Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers.
White, J., & Blue, K. (1985). Church discipline that heals: Putting costly love into action. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press.
Yeakley, F. R. jr. (1980). Church leadership and organization. Arvada, CO: Christian Communications.
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