Knowing your flock
As church leaders we are shepherds. Of course, it’s better to think of ourselves as under-shepherds, with Christ himself the chief shepherd of God’s people.
As such we are to ‘pay careful attention…to all the flock’ of which we are overseers (Acts 20:28). Jesus says of his own shepherding, ‘I know my own and my own know me’ (John 10:14). Do we make efforts to know our people and for them to know us?
What is the nature of the flock?
A church consists of people and people are made to know and be known. I recognize that there some are very private individuals, but actually all human beings need knowing because God has made us to be relational beings. We are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27, 28) who is, in his very essence, a relational being. He is a God of love within the mystery of the Trinity. The Father knows the Son and the Son knows the Father (Matthew 11:27), and no-one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:11). So, patterned upon him, people need to know and be known.
Our church people must be treated as relational beings by us. If not we will not do right by them. If you treat people like cogs in a machine they will almost instinctively look for a way to break the machine – because they are not cogs, they are people.
Personal relationship is necessary to us. This is why, even educationally (and church is more than a school) a teacher gets the best out of his/her students when he/she tries to know the class as individuals, knows their names, knows their strengths and weaknesses &c. The most effective learning always takes place in the context of a warm relationship.
It is the sheep who have a shepherd who knows them who will trust him and follow him (John 10:26, 27). It’s the same with congregations and church leaders. We may be seeking to move the church on in some way with a new initiative. But at some point during the process people will ask themselves of a leader, ‘Do I trust him?’. It is a reasonable question. They will ask: ‘Is this man competent?’; ‘Is he embarking on this project for our good or his own glory?’.
If we know our sheep we will know their capabilities. We will not be asking them to do more than they are able. If they do not know us how can they know whether or not to trust us? So long as we are trustworthy shepherds, knowing our people and them knowing us makes progress easier.
There is a sense in which a pastor is something of a father and mother to his church (1 Thessalonians 2:7, 11). That is why Paul looks for church leaders who have done well in leading a family (1 Timothy 3:4, 5). The pastor’s family is a test-bed of his people-skills. It is a dysfunctional family where the father is distant and does not know his children. It is the unapproachable and forbidding Victorian papa. As my wife Ann often teaches in her parenting courses, ‘Rules without relationship lead to rebellion.’ That same dynamic applies in churches too.
To neglect people-skills is one of the great mistakes in preparing men for the ministry. The qualities required for church leaders are set out in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. There are 10 character traits and two proven abilities required. We tend to focus all our seminary resources on the first ability – ‘apt to teach’ – while ignoring the second – to be a good ‘people person’ as proved by family life. An observation from my work with churches through the Pastors’ Academy is that hardly any of the problems in conservative evangelical churches today are doctrinal, but almost all of them are to do with a breakdown of relationships. No surprise I’m afraid.
There are some men who go into ministry as frustrated academics. They love the study and the pulpit, but not the people. It won’t do. A pastor I know, who ministers to African congregations, summed it up well. Speaking of congregations he says, ‘They won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’ Wise words. Only by knowing them can you care for them and so teach them.
Knowing your flock leads us in the direction of long term ministry in a church. You can’t get to know people overnight. Nor will they let you come close to them unless they feel you are committed to them.
Maybe there is an analogy here with football and the Premier League. The most successful teams over the years have been those with long-lasting managers. How many years was Arsene Wenger with Arsenal and how many trophies did they win in that period? How many years was Sir Alex Fergusson with Manchester United and what success did they know then? Perhaps Jurgen Klopp is on the same track now at Liverpool.
And long term managers keep good teams together, know their players, and knowing them so well get the best out of them.