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Phillip’s letter about the new elder shepherding plan

Article posted on Monday, August, 27th, 2007 at 2:45 PM

A New Approach to Elder Shepherding at FPC
This is an edited transcript of Phillip’s presentation at our annual Sunday School “Rally Day” on 19 August, 2007.

Fellow saints,
We read in 1 Peter 5 that elders are to shepherd the flock of God. Shepherding the flock involves defending and confirming the Gospel, pursuing lost and wandering sheep, restoring the repentant, equipping and building up the saints, and encouraging practical godliness. These are tasks your elders take seriously.
The elders and pastors confess that we have not always served you well and consistently in this matter. In 2004 the Session adopted a system which assigned FPC households alphabetically among the elders for the purpose of maintaining contact and accountability. We have concluded that it is time to approach the biblical duty to shepherd the flock of God in a different way. Part of the failure lies in the system, but we also believe the greatest obstacle to shepherding the flock is overcoming our love of ease and convenience.
While we were considering alternatives, Dr. Elliott Greene was here during our Bible Conference, and he spoke in one of his sermons about the church being ‘a community of elder-led priests.’ In other words, elders should lead and care for the flock in a way that encourages mutual sharing of spiritual gifts and care for one another. After months of prayer and discussion, we decided to end the 2004 system and in its place adopt a three-fold plan:

1) Make Sunday School classes the primary vehicle of congregational care. Already Sunday School classes serve as places for: a) Christian education; b) fellowship, sympathy, and care for one another; c) leadership development; and d) connection with new members and prospects where they can ‘get the feel’ of FPC. Members not involved in a Sunday School class generally remain on the fringes of our fellowship and historically have not prospered spiritually, especially when they go through hard times.
Beginning now, an elder is assigned to each Sunday School class. (In a couple of cases, an elder and his wife are moving to a new class. But for the most part, the classes will look the same.) The elder(s) in each class will be seeking to strengthen the bonds of fellowship and address the needs of that class roll.
We think this will benefit the entire church by:
• Simplifying elder shepherding by using existing and functioning networks of relationships. An elder actually sees much of his flock each week, and they see him.
• Allowing elders to mobilize others’ gifts to identify and address needs.
• Identifying and developing possible and potential leaders for the future.
In summary, our vision is for our adult classes to work together, under elder leadership, to identify and address needs. We must transform the “Why doesn’t somebody do something?” mentality into a “Why don’t we do something?” mentality, whether it involves outreach, enfolding prospects and new members, contact with members who are no longer attending and participating, or members with acute or chronic needs.
The elder assignments are as follows:
• Adult/Men’s class- James Boyd and Don Smith
• John Burge class- Eddie Thomas
• Mary Thornton class- Hugh Potts, Jr. and Ken Fowler
• Susan Smythe class – Greg LeVert (will also oversee our assisted living and nursing home resident members)
• Young Adult class – Jeff Camp
• New Young Adult class – Danny Temple

2) Encourage personal and family religion through hospitality and in-home visitation. We want to be energized by the Gospel of Christ and not simply drained by more church activities. We are developing a plan for regular in-home visitation and for encouraging hospitality among all the saints.

3) Modify our current system of elder service. Session has come to the conclusion that there is no biblical warrant for placing time limitations on elder service that necessitate additional nomination and election to return to service. Serving terms causes turnover which creates discontinuity in shepherding, committee work, decision-making and oversight. People, projects and needs in the Church do not adjust annually for experienced leaders to step away and new leaders to step in. Elders should expect to serve the Church unless called by God to serve elsewhere, or they disqualify themselves in some way, or become unable to perform their duties.
As part of this new approach, we are shifting to what we are calling a sabbatical schedule for ruling elders to replace the rotation schedule. After six years of service an elder will receive a year-long break from committee and administrative work. However, the elder would continue the ordinary shepherding of the flock. When the year is over, he will resume his duties. Session may also grant a defined leave of absence in a case of providential hindrances to a man’s fulfilling his duties as an elder.
In other words, those elders who served during the calendar year 2007 are the Session of FPC. Elders who have been on ‘inactive’ status prior to 2007 would remain ‘off-duty’ until re-nominated, trained, examined and elected.

Your elders seek to be guided by nothing other than the purposes of Christ the Chief Shepherd. Our Book of Church Order describes the work this way (BCO 8-3):

It belongs to the office of elder, both severally and jointly, to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of the particular church, but also the church generally when called thereunto. They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children of the church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples. All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people, being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock.

Praise God for the men he called and equipped to shepherd the flock of God at FPC. I know you will pray faithfully and fervently for them. By God’s grace we can fulfill our purpose: to worship God joyfully by proclaiming the Gospel, equipping the saints, and reaching the lost.

For Christ’s Crown and Covenant,