Sheep have a tendency to wander. When they do any shepherd that is doing their job notices and goes to find them. Jesus shared a parable about sheep and their shepherds in Luke chapter 15. In Jesus’ story there is a shepherd that has a hundred sheep and one goes missing. Jesus, asks about the shepherd, “Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” The implied answer is, “yes.”
This story has an implied answer, but it also implies something else. Without stating it, the story makes the assumption that the shepherd was paying close enough attention to notice that he was missing one of his sheep. A hundred sheep isn’t easy to track, but the shepherd in Jesus’ story was diligent and paying close attention. He was watching to make sure that no sheep wandered off. He was always counting, and recounting. “97, 98, 99, hey, where did sheep #100 go?!”
Today many pastors struggle to keep track of the sheep in their care. Some are just not putting in the effort, they are not counting, and sheep are wandering off without them even noticing. Others are trying, but they don’t have the right systems in place to track their sheep effectively. So, how can pastors better track their sheep, notice when they are missing, and go after them when they are?
- Know the flock – First, to track the people in their churches effectively pastors have to know their sheep. This means spending time with them, talking to them, eating them, getting to know them. It also means tracking them by collecting their names, addresses, phone numbers, and putting all that into a directory of some sort. A pastor can’t effectively care for all their sheep until they know how many sheep there are, what their names are, where they live, etc. The first step to effective pastoral care is having an accurate listing of who is in the flock.
- Pray for the flock – Once pastors know who their sheep are one of the most basic things they can do for them is pray. Prayer doesn’t just show concern, but it can also be used to better track the flock. Once you know the people, have their information, it is easy to print out a directory of everyone in the church. Pastors should take the time to pray through a few pages of that directory every day. As they are praying through those directories, they will come across the names of people they haven’t seen in a few weeks and then they can follow-up with those missing sheep. The second thing a pastors can do to effectively track the flock, is to systematically review and pray for every name in church with an eye out for missing sheep.
- Care for flock – Sheep get sick and require extra care. To discover sheep that need some extra attention churches should create a culture of communicating when something is going on in someones life. At my church, we offer a course entitled Starting Point. Starting Point is for anyone that wants to learn more about the church, what we believe, what we are all about, who are staff is, and more. In the class we also talk about how we do pastoral care. We discuss how we visit people in hospital every day, how there is always a pastor on call, and also how we want to know what is going on in peoples lives.
In this class we mention we want to know if they go into the hospital or are having surgery. We ask that they let us know if they are going to be gone on vacation, or if they are missing church because they are caring for their sick mother. When the sheep know there is someone who will care for them, they are more likely to let you know something is going on. Good shepherds know who in the congregation is in need of extra care and attention. The third thing a pastor can do is create a sheet, in Excel or Google Docs, where they are tracking who in the hospital, shut-in, or gone, and follow-up until they are healthy and back at church again.
- Watch the flock – Sheep can get distracted at any time. Sometimes they just wander. There are, however, certain times in peoples lives where they tend to veer off more often. Good shepherds know these times and watch their sheep more closely during them. This could be when they are going through a divorce, or their marriage is strained. It could be after experiencing conflict with someone in the church, or during a time where their work life isn’t great. It could be after a new baby is born, or when a parent dies.
Pastors can discover what is going on in people’s lives by listening, spending time with the sheep, but another good way is through prayer request cards. Churches can provide prayer requests cards for the people in the church to fill out. Weekly, those prayer requests can be copied or scanned and sent out to the various pastors and leaders in the church. Those leaders should pray for the requests, but also review them for situations that might signal something serious going on that might require additional follow-up. Good shepherds know when members of their church are going through these difficult times and they watch them closely, because it is in these times that sheep tend to wander more often. The fourth thing a good shepherd can do is track hurting sheep. When they become aware of events in peoples lives they should track them (perhaps even using the same sheet above), pray, and follow-up regularly with them.
I don’t know if the shepherd in Jesus’ story had any kind of directory, ledger or notebook that he kept on the sheep in his care, but good pastors today do. They literally have a list of sheep that they are praying for and then tracking who they feel like they haven’t seen in a while. They know the sheep that were in the hospital and that they haven’t seen back out at church. They know who is going trough difficult times in their church. And, when their sheep go missing they make visits and calls. They send texts and cards. They can go after the one, because they know the one is missing and they are a shepherd who cares.