Empowering Co-Shepherds: A Fresh Vision for Shared Pastoral Care

Pastoring a church shouldn’t be a solo endeavor. It’s a collective call, a shared journey — and it’s high time we embrace that truth in every aspect of church life, especially pastoral care. Think about it: within your congregation, there are individuals gifted by the Lord, brimming with potential and divine capacity to shepherd others. They may not be ordained ministers or seminary-trained, but they hold a reservoir of experiences, empathy, and spiritual insights that are too valuable to be left untapped.

The reality is, the burden of pastoral care can be heavy, and no one person, no matter how called, is equipped to carry it alone. This isn’t about delegating tasks; it’s about recognizing the God-given ability within each member of your church to contribute to a nurturing, spiritually enriching environment. It’s about moving from a “me” mindset to a “we” perspective, understanding that shepherding goes beyond the pulpit and should weave through the pews, connecting and empowering members to care for one another.

So, how do we shift from the traditional model, where the pastor is the go-to person for all spiritual needs, to an empowered model, where members are active participants in pastoral care? Let’s walk through this together, step by step. It’s not a quick process, but with prayer, patience, and strategic action, we can cultivate a church culture where co-shepherding isn’t just an idea; it’s a lived reality.

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Biblical and Theological Foundations of Shared Shepherding

Before we dive headlong into strategy and structure, we need to anchor ourselves in the solid bedrock of Scripture. Why? Because every lasting movement in the church doesn’t start with trends or human ideas—it starts with God’s Word. Our understanding of shared shepherding, or what we’re calling “co-shepherding,” has strong roots in Scripture and theology. So, let’s unpack that.

The Priesthood of All Believers

Every believer is called to be a ‘priest,’ serving God and representing Him to others. This priesthood isn’t about titles or hierarchy; it’s about service and ministry. It’s each of us in the church, rolling up our sleeves, ready to serve God by caring for each other. Your role? Encouraging each member to embrace their inner priest!

Spiritual Gifts for Edification

Flip over to 1 Corinthians 12, and you’ll find Paul talking about the church as a body. It’s not just a pretty picture; it’s packed with profound truth. Each member of your church has been gifted by the Holy Spirit, not for their own glory, but for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). Some are gifted in ways that are tailor-made for shepherding roles. Recognizing and activating these gifts is not an optional extra; it’s essential for a healthy, thriving body.

Shared Leadership in the Early Church

The book of Acts gives us a front-row seat to see the early church in action. Notice how leadership wasn’t a one-man show. The apostles, elders, and other members shared the joys and burdens of leading the church (Acts 14:23; 20:28). They were in it together, whether breaking bread, praying, or providing pastoral care. This shared responsibility wasn’t born out of necessity but out of a divine design for communal leadership.

Christ, the Chief Shepherd

Lastly, but most importantly, our ultimate example of shepherding comes from Jesus Himself, the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). His style? Not lording authority over people, but leading by example, serving, and even laying down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). An apostle was one sent out; a delegate. Jesus delegated his power and authority to those taught by him. His ministry was continuously focused on preparing others to do the work he did. Jesus is the one we’re all following, and He’s called leaders not just to feed the sheep but also to nurture other shepherds.

Diving into these truths, we realize this: empowering others in the church for pastoral care isn’t a modern church growth strategy—it’s a return to the biblical blueprint. And when we align with this design, we’re not abdicating pastoral responsibility; we’re multiplying pastoral impact. So, let’s take these rich theological insights and move into the practical nitty-gritty of empowering our congregation for shared shepherding. Strap in; we’re just getting started.

Identifying and Affirming Potential Leaders

Alright, with our biblical bearings in place, let’s wade into the practical stuff. We’re talking about spotting those potential leaders in your church who are ready to roll up their sleeves and join you in the trenches of pastoral care. They might not be standing out with a neon sign over their heads, but believe me, they’re there in your congregation, probably closer than you think. Here’s how you can identify and affirm these folks:

Prayerful Consideration:

Don’t skip this step—prayer is essential. You’re not just looking for volunteers; you’re seeking out those God is already preparing for this role. So, start with prayer, asking for discernment and guidance. Remember, it’s His church; He knows who’s primed for this work.

Fruit Inspection:

You’ve heard it before: “By their fruits, you shall know them” (Matthew 7:16). Keep your eyes peeled for signs of spiritual maturity and fruitfulness in your congregation. We’re talking about folks who are already reaching out, offering a listening ear, or giving wise counsel. These are the unsung heroes holding the fort in small ways—they’re your goldmine.

Servant Heart:

Jesus flipped the script on leadership—it’s the servants who lead (Mark 10:44). Watch for those who serve without making a fuss, whether it’s stacking chairs, brewing coffee, or showing genuine empathy. A servant heart is a prime indicator of someone who’s shepherd material.

Teachability and Character:

Keep an eye out for humility—the folks who are teachable and open to growth. They don’t have all the answers, but they’re hungry to learn. Check for the fruit of the Spirit in their lives (Galatians 5:22-23). Talent can catch your eye, sure, but it’s character that will hold your trust in the long run.

Affirming Through Small Steps:

Don’t throw them in the deep end—start with small opportunities. Give them responsibilities in areas where their spiritual gifts shine. Offer constructive feedback and watch how they handle both successes and learning moments. Affirmation comes from recognizing their efforts and valuing their contribution, no matter how small.

Spotting these potential leaders isn’t about filling slots in a program; it’s about recognizing God’s hand on His people. When you identify and affirm these folks, you’re not just building a team; you’re nurturing a community of co-shepherds ready to care for the flock. And guess what? You’ll find that the burden is lighter when it’s shared. So, keep your prayer eyes open—God’s got some folks in mind.

Training and Equipping Leaders

Once you’ve identified your dream team of potential leaders—those humble, servant-hearted folks–you need to prepare them to dive into the deep end of pastoral care. Training isn’t about turning people into mini-you’s; it’s about empowering them to be the best version of who God created them to be in their shepherding roles. So, let’s talk about getting them ready:

Personal Development:

First thing’s first—leaders have to lead themselves well. Encourage personal development. This means time management, emotional intelligence, and spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study. You’re not aiming for perfection but growth. It’s about getting stronger, wiser, and closer to God—one step at a time.

Biblical and Theological Training:

They don’t need a seminary degree, but a solid foundation? Absolutely. Make sure your leaders are well-versed in core biblical truths and theology. They should be comfortable navigating the Scriptures and have a firm grasp on the essentials of the faith. This isn’t about winning debates; it’s about guiding with wisdom and truth.

Skills Workshops:

Pastoral care has many faces—counseling, conflict resolution, effective communication, and more. Consider organizing workshops to hone these specific skills. Bring in experienced folks if you can. Remember, practice makes progress. Give your leaders safe spaces to learn, practice, and ask questions.

Mentorship and Apprenticeship:

There’s no substitute for life-on-life mentorship. Pair up your budding leaders with more seasoned ones. Let them see pastoral care in action, the wins and the messy bits. They’ll learn invaluable lessons that aren’t in the books—like the art of listening and the power of presence.

Feedback and Evaluation:

Growth thrives on feedback. Establish a culture where constructive criticism is welcomed, and regular evaluation is standard. Celebrate the wins, and turn mistakes into learning opportunities. Remember, feedback is about building up, not tearing down.

Training and equipping is about stewardship. You’re stewarding the precious people God has placed in your care. It’s not just about tasks and roles; it’s about hearts and souls. As you prepare these leaders, you’re strengthening the entire body of Christ. And remember, you’re not just training followers; you’re raising up leaders who will, in turn, shepherd others. It’s the kind of ripple effect that only God can orchestrate.

Empowering Through Delegation

You’ve got a team of well-prepped leaders, eager and ready. But here’s where the rubber meets the road: delegation. It’s more than just handing off tasks; it’s entrusting authority and empowering decision-making. It’s like handing over the keys to your car—nerve-wracking, but necessary for growth. So, let’s break it down:

Understanding the “Why” of Delegation:

First off, get this straight: delegation isn’t about offloading work because you’re swamped. It’s about multiplying the ministry and giving others a chance to shine. It’s how Jesus operated, right? He empowered His disciples, sent them out, and look at the results!

Matching Tasks with Talent:

Square pegs don’t fit in round holes. Know your leaders’ gifts, strengths, and passions. Delegate in a way that gets them energized about what they’re doing. When folks are operating in their sweet spot, it’s less about duty and all about joy.

Clear Expectations:

Nothing tanks delegation faster than confusion. Be crystal clear about what’s expected. Define the task, set the standards, explain the outcomes, and establish deadlines. And always leave the door wide open for questions. Clear is kind.

Empowerment Equals Authority:

Handing over a task without the authority to make decisions is like giving someone a car with no gas. Useless. Empower them to make decisions. Sure, they might not always make the calls you would, but that’s the beauty of it. Trust them, and they’ll grow.

Resource Availability:

Don’t send them out empty-handed. Make sure your leaders have what they need—resources, information, contacts, funds, whatever’s necessary. It’s like sending soldiers into battle; you have to ensure they’re well-armed.

Communication is Key:

Stay in the loop, but don’t be a helicopter. Establish regular check-ins to offer support, guidance, and feedback. Remember, open communication lines are vital—they encourage questions and ideas and help catch issues before they blow up.

Grace for Growth:

Mistakes? There’ll be a few. That’s part of the process. Show grace. Use these moments as opportunities for growth, not just for them but for you, too. How you handle their slip-ups shows your true heart as a shepherd.

Recognition and Encouragement:

Nothing fuels motivation like affirmation. Celebrate the wins, acknowledge the effort, and give credit where it’s due. Public praise? Yes, please! And remember, a personal ‘thank you’ goes a long, long way.

Delegation is where trust meets action. It’s a two-way street that leads to growth for everyone involved. You’re not just getting stuff done; you’re building people up. And in the end, isn’t that what shepherding is all about? 

Assessing and Improving Collective Care Efforts

So, we’ve laid the groundwork, selected our team, handed them the tools, and set them loose. Job well done, right? The work’s not over; in fact, the next phase is crucial: assessment. This isn’t about pointing fingers at what’s gone wrong. No, it’s about fine-tuning and gearing up for the long haul. So, how do we effectively assess and ramp up our collective care efforts? Let’s dive in:

Establish Feedback Loops

Start with setting up reliable feedback mechanisms. It’s like having your ear to the ground. Create safe, open avenues for congregation members to share their experiences. What’s working? What’s not? You need the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Regular Leader Check-ins

Keep a pulse on your leadership team. Set up routine heart-to-hearts to discuss victories, challenges, and any support they might need. This isn’t micromanaging; it’s fathering your flock of leaders. Remember, they’re shepherding others; make sure someone’s shepherding them.

Success Metrics

“What’s measured gets managed.” It’s not all numbers, sure, but having concrete metrics helps track progress and areas needing a boost. Regular attendance, engagement levels, personal testimonies, or small group growth—whatever reflects the health of your flock.

Adjust and Adapt:

Here’s where true leadership shines. Take the feedback, the data, the personal stories, and be ready to tweak your approach. Sometimes a slight shift is all that’s needed; other times, it’s a complete about-face. Flexibility is a virtue.

Yes, you’ve heard it before—celebrate the wins! But also, take those wins and learn from them. What made them successful? How can you do more of that? Then, rinse and repeat.

Evaluation isn’t the most glamorous part of shepherding, but it is critically important. It’s how good turns to great. So, keep those communication lines open, stay flexible, keep learning, and above all, keep your focus on the One you’re doing this for. Because at the end of the day, it’s His opinion that counts the most. Keep pressing on!

Redefining Leadership in the Flock

If there’s one thing to take home, it’s this: shepherding isn’t a solo sport. It’s a team event, with co-shepherds stepping up alongside the pastor, equally equipped by the Lord, equally called.

This is the part that requires a bit of a mindset shift. It’s not just about our leaders feeling ready and capable; it’s about our congregations seeing them that way. The truth is, authority and respect are earned, not insta-magic the moment someone is tapped for leadership. Our congregations need to understand that these co-shepherds are not deputy shepherds or shepherd-lite; they’re the real deal, equipped by the very same God who equipped the pastor.

As pastors, we are not just trainers; we’re educators. It’s our job to help our congregation see the God-given authority and ability in leaders beyond ourselves. How? By sharing our platform and publicly affirming the gifts other leaders bring to the table. And, most importantly, by stepping back when they step up, showing unshakeable trust in their God-given ability.

Remember, this isn’t about offloading work or diluting pastoral authority; it’s about enriching our church with the wealth of gifts the Lord has sprinkled across our pews. It’s about embodying the truest form of the body of Christ—different parts, different functions, but equal value in His eyes.

A church where leadership is shared, care is multiplied, and every member recognizes the God-given mantle on not just the pastor, but on each leader. That’s the church that truly honors the heart of the Great Shepherd. So, let’s step boldly into this shared calling, friends. The field is vast, the harvest plentiful, and the workers? Well, they’re right there in the pews beside you.

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Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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