Shepherding in the Hard Things

Shepherding is difficult. It is wonderful! However, it can be hard! One of the more burdensome roles of a shepherd is helping people receive the help, care, and support that they need through the painful seasons of their lives. It is hard to provide care that people need and often even harder to help people see and receive the care that is available to them. It is hard to shepherd suffering people when the resources available to them are not being utilized. What resources am I talking about? Mainly those they can receive through the church!

The Care that is Unique to the Church:

In Scripture, we see that God has provided a means of care, support and encouragement in the church that is unique and special for those who are willing to open themselves up to such care. Look at the ideal James calls the church to in James 5:13-14 & 16:

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord…Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect.

 What I see in this passage are two effective means of care the church provides, through which people can be cared for in the difficult times of their lives: Informed shepherds and an involved community! Those who willingly connect and commit to a local church can, and should, receive this kind of care.


The Care Provided by Informed Shepherds:

Over the years, I have heard the comment that no pastor wants to hear, “I was in the hospital, and no one came to see me.” That is tragic! No one EVER wants to hear that. However, James gives us some keen insight as to how this can be avoided. No one should ever be left alone in their seasons of suffering. Therefore, James tells his readers that those who are sick or suffering should “call for the elders of the church, and they are to pray over him.” I want to make a few observations here that should be both a relief to a pastor and provide a structure to better care for the one suffering.

  1. There is a responsibility on the part of the one suffering to inform their church of their situation. It seems to me that in this new frontier of social media, people assume everyone knows what is going on in their lives. Or they are so private they don’t want to tell anyone. I got pulled aside once by a well-meaning church member. He was upset that a friend of his who was in the hospital for a week never received a visit from someone at the church. When I informed this member that neither I nor the rest of the church staff had any knowledge of their friend being in the hospital, the person was amazed. The member then bashfully admitted that maybe he could have informed the church himself! YES! We’re pastors; we’re only human. We are not all-knowing!

  2. The elders (not pastor) of the church are to be called. That is the plurality of pastors/elders/shepherds are to be involved in caring for the flock. Not only are we not all-knowing, but we’re also not omnipresent! We cannot clone ourselves to be in more than one place at one time! No pastor should have to shepherd the entire flock alone! That will burn out the pastor and will cripple the ability to provide the care that elders/shepherds should provide.

  3. Shepherding includes direct care and delegated care. Notice the phrase “one another” is mentioned twice in this passage! Not only are the elders to be involved, but so are others in the community of the church!


The Care Found in an Involved Community:

One of the most significant ways for people to be better cared for and shepherded is to include all members (or however you classify your committed core) in the ministry of care. Church leadership expert Carey Nieuwhof says, "98% of pastoral care is having someone who cares. It doesn’t have to be the pastor.” (emphasis mine)[1] Now, that may sound like an unbiblical cop-out for lazy pastors. However, the exact opposite is true. This kind of ministry is hard. It requires training, organization, and a lot of leadership. 


It also is what we find throughout the New Testament. From the all-member ministry seen in the early church,[2] to Peter calling believers a “holy and royal priesthood,”[3] and James’ admonition for believers to be involved in each other’s lives for accountability, confession, and care; we see all believers called to the task of care!



The beauty of shepherding a flock full of caregivers is that those who are giving care to others will, at some point, be receiving care from others—maybe even those who cared for them in their time of need. One of the most satisfying care calls I ever made was when I called one of our members in the hospital to set up a time to visit. After thanking me for my phone call, she told me that she didn’t need a visit because her whole small group had been to see her, and she was being cared for very well. What a privilege to serve with those who would provide such care!

[1] Quoted from Carey Nieuwhof in the Lasting Impact Team Edition curriculum. This curriculum has been updated and re-released as the Church Growth Masterclass. You can find it here:

[2] Acts 2:42-47 & 4:32-37

[3] 1 Peter 2:5 & 9

Dave Bertolini