How We Embraced Shepherds in Our House Church Network
Yesterday I wrote about the reasons we didn’t (and still don’t) have a titled pastor in our house church network. But our attitude toward the pastoral ministry was also hurting our ability to help people who needed pastoral care. So what did we do?
We Appreciated Our Differences
Several years into our time as a house church network, we began to understand that God had made us different to help us, not to frustrate us. We had been reading different parts of Scripture, including Ephesians 4 and it became increasingly clear that while one or two of the gifts listed there were our personal favorites, we needed all of them to produce the kind of mature church Paul describes there. This meant we’d need to embrace pastoral giftings in order to get there.
We Became More Serious About Church Multiplication
This may sound a little counter-intuitive here, but stick with me. We had hit a point as a church where a number of us who had been part of what we were doing from the beginning were wanting to focus more on evangelism and finding “houses of peace.*” The only problem? We were spending most of our time taking care of the needs within our own fellowships. The needs were real. But many of us more gifted towards church planting and evangelism were spending disproportionate amounts of time caring for these needs. Something needed to change.
So We Identified People With Pastoral Giftings…
As we began to look around our network, we noticed there were already people who cared for others and were trying to be examples to the rest of our network. Some of them had skills in inner healing and deliverance. They also happened to be the sort of people who rushed with compassion towards needs like the ones that were popping up. God had given us people who were gifted in the areas where we had need.
…and We Gathered Them…
Once we knew who these folks were, it was time to get them together. I think a lot of them were unsure of themselves. They had an idea of what a pastor was from some previous experiences, so it was a little bit intimidating to be asked to shepherd people. But one thing that helped was to bring them together from our different churches into one room. Because of our previous attitude toward the word “pastor” we didn’t have a ton of these type of people in our midst. So to hear others sharing about a similar gifting was incredibly helpful.
Instead of presuming to know what we needed and how they could meet it, we asked them: Where does our network needing pastoral care? And how can you guys help us with those needs that you see? Pretty quickly these guys were meeting together on their own, talking about how they could encourage each other in their calling and meet needs where they saw them. Two things were important in this: We trusted Christ in them and we didn’t try to impress an agenda.
…and We Asked Them to Count the Cost…
So this is my thing. I ask people to count the cost a lot. But serving the body can be a costly thing. For us it means being a volunteer and working a job in addition to your role in caring for the flock. It means being part of a discipleship group and pouring your life into others. And it means sometimes there’s not a lot to do, but you have to keep your schedule open. Because stuff comes up. Like the inner city mother who suddenly needs new beds for her and her kids or the marriage issue that needs counseling or the demon that needs to be cast out. No one can time these things. Each of shepherds had to ask, in their own way, was the cost worth it?
…and We Changed The Narrative.
As I said earlier, everyone had an idea in their head of what a pastor was: The Authority Figure. A Position. Theological Training. The Guy Who Knows What to Do. The Paid Guy. The Preacher. All of these things freaked people out. We had guys with legitimate shepherding gifts but were afraid to use them because the bar had been set really high by our culture.
So, we changed the name. We call them shepherds. We told them not to walk around calling themselves a pastor so-and-so**. Just love people like the Lord has gifted you to do. Don’t try and dominate a house church meeting that you’re in. Participate. Show the body what it looks like to participate. But don’t become the center of the ministry. Oh, and nobody’s getting paid. So there’s that.
Now, for some of you reading this, you may be wondering why the heck someone would sign up for a position with high responsibility and little physical reward like this. Peter gives us the answer:
Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.
1 Peter 5:2-5
We encouraged our unpaid, non-titled, non-hierarchal shepherds to use their gifting to build up the body because Jesus will reward them for doing so when He returns. And this has helped us to still be a body, still have multiple, equally valuable gifts functioning and yet benefit from the shepherding gift working in our midst.
That’s our story so far. I’m excited for where the Lord is leading us. I think in the end we’ll see a church that is focused on Christ’s mission and growing the disciples that result from that mission. And through all of it, we will grow up into the image of Christ. Jesus promises it’s what will happen when embrace all of the gifts.
**Just like we discourage people from walking around calling themselves “Apostle so-and-so” or “Prophet so-and-so.”