Shepherding Standing Sheep

Shepherding God’s People Series:

  1. Shepherding God’s People – Overview
  2. Shepherding Weak Sheep
  3. Shepherding Sick Sheep
  4. Shepherding Broken Sheep
  5. Shepherding Lost Sheep
  6. Shepherding Scattered Sheep
  7. Shepherding Young Sheep
  8. Shepherding Standing Sheep

Zechariah 11:16 – Well, we have finally gotten to the seventh type of sheep that we find in our small groups, Standing or Healthy Sheep. Sheep that are “healthy” have the greatest potential for spiritual growth. They are standing up, alert, physically strong, emotionally confident, not lazing around, sleeping, wasting time like they have nothing to do. Remember that we are on a mission to conform to the image of Christ as well as to embrace and carry out the mission that Jesus left for us to do… the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Standing sheep also represent the pool of individuals from which workers and future leaders will come. These are the people who can move the church forward. Unfortunately, these individuals are often neglected because we are usually in crisis mode dealing with other kinds of sheep; those who are sick, lost, scattered, stubborn, self-centered, and totally content with the way things are. It is important to set up a “growth plan” and work with healthy sheep so they can make further progress on the discipleship pathway rather than becoming complacent or stagnant or become a Jesus dropout.

Shepherd’s Responsibility is to Feed the Standing Sheep. This makes total sense because we are used to physically feeding our children. This is a task that cannot be farmed out to someone else, this is a very personal responsibility, but it is also a tremendous opportunity. We get to invest into our kids in all areas of life: relationships, spirituality, social skills, biblical knowledge and experience, worship, prayer life, developing marketable skills in the workplace, guiding them to the greater mission of God rather than the mold into which the world will try to squeeze them. It’s a big task.

So, for healthy sheep to get healthy and stay healthy, we need to be intentional with what a healthy disciple looks like, and develop a workable, teachable, reproducible, and sustainable plan for disciplemaking. This is way more than just getting them involved in a small group. What does a new disciple need to know about his new faith? What does a weak sheep need to gain strength? How can we help a sick sheep and bring them back to spiritual health? How can we find the lost sheep and spiritually help them be raised to newness of life?

The key words I have are 1) intentionality and 2) relational environments. Let’s look at what you can do to minister and shepherd your standing sheep.

1. Assist them in developing a growth plan. To assist someone with a plan it might be a good idea to already have a plan. Maybe you used something in your past that significantly helped you to become mature in the faith. Maybe you need to do a little research on what is available and select something that meets the needs of your disciple. The Navigators has some good material, also check out Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ). I personally was introduced to Masterlife back in the day which was very significant in my spiritual development.

The idea is that we can’t just be topic based or interest based. We need to develop an intentional plan with a scope and sequence we can follow. I have always believed that we need to know the end product (what a disciple should look like) at the very beginning, so we can guide that person toward the intended target. Check out these verses…

Ephesians 4:13; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. – Now THAT appears to be a worthy goal, the stature of the fullness of Jesus!

Hebrews 5:11-14; Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Hebrews 6:1-2; Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.

1 Peter 2:2; like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, – THIS is the place to start, but we can’t leaven them here.

2 Peter 3:18; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. – THIS was Peter’s final words written in Scripture, grow in grace and knowledge of our Savior.

2. Teach them the Commands of Christ. The word used in grammar for a command is imperative. The imperative case is not a suggestion but a command, so it is best to know what these commands are so we can obey them. Over the past decade I have been studying the way Jesus called and taught his disciples. Just maybe, THAT is the plan we need to implement in modern American Christianity. Today it seems that people grow spiritually by opportunity and accident; there’s no intentional plan that leads to the image of Christ. By opportunity and by accident I mean that people take advantage of programs and classes that are offered in the church, and those topics may or may not intersect with where they are on their walk with Christ.

I like to feed my kids on the foods they need rather than just the foods the like. It’s the same with spiritual growth. Without a plan, I might teach my own pet doctrines that may or may not be beneficial to a new believer developing into Christlikeness. Here are a few verses regarding the commands of Christ…

Matthew 28:19-20; Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

John 13:34-35; A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 14:15, 21, 23; “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments… He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” … Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.

John 15:10; If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

1 John 2:3; 3:22; 5:2; By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments… and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight… By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

3. Help them identify their God-given passion and gifts. As in our physical life, we have certain talents and abilities that we develop and exercise as we live life. So, too, we have something called spiritual gifts. These are gifts of a spiritual nature that will allow a believer to carry out a ministry with a certain ease and effectiveness. It deals with how people are wired and utilizes their personal passions and abilities. It’s really a fascinating topic, because not every believer is good at the same stuff, but we can all be involved in something for the kingdom of God. Since we have been given a spiritual gift at the time we first believed, it is our responsibility and privilege to develop that gift into something we can use for God glory. While there are plenty of verse in the Bible that deal with spiritual gifts, and I have taught on this subject in another venue, I will only mention these two verses…

1 Corinthians 12:4-7,11; Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. 6 There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. 7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

2 Timothy 1:6; This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.

4. Place them in ministries where they can become fruitful and fulfilled. Help your healthy sheep to get involved in different types of ministries in the church and in the community. It really is amazing how something in which we had little connection and concern becomes a burden on our heart only after we spent a little time volunteering in that area. Maybe it’s nursery duty, or the crisis pregnancy center, or the homeless shelter, or King’s Companions, or teaching Sunday school, or volunteering for children’s church, fixing things in the church building, and discipling a new believer, investing in teenagers. There is so much that we can try out, and who know, God may open our eyes and our heart to the endless possibilities of fruitful service in kingdom work.

5. Take them to places theologically and practically where they could not go on their own. Help your healthy sheep chew on biblical passages that are difficult or usually avoided. Help them to see the need for spiritual grow, challenge that to get out of complacency and status quo into a posture for growth.

One of the best ways that I learn and grow is by teaching. When I research and prepare a lesson, I get so much more out of the lesson than anyone attending the class. If you’re going to teach it, you do your homework and show up prepared! Truth is, there is a tendency to sit back and coast, taking it easy, the urgency wanes, and this is not a modern phenomenon, check out this passage…

Hebrews 5:11-14; Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

Wow, that passage will preach. Help people go further than they could have ever imagined. Learn the elementary principles but move on toward maturity!

6. Offer them opportunities to apprentice as future leaders or reproduce themselves. As someone is on the discipleship pathway, they need to find someone else into whom that can teach what they have learned and invest themselves into that other person, at the same time they are being discipled by you. This is all about “on the job training.” Jesus did it with his disciples.

He would teach, they would learn, and then he would send them out to practice it. Look back at the story of Jesus sending out the 70 (Luke 10). He trained them, instructed them, then sent them out. Then these disciples returned and gave their report. As you train these future leaders, they need to practice being leaders right now. It is not all about the future.

We can train people into inactivity simply because we will never feel that we are ready to get into the game. We like going to practices, dressing out for the game, and sitting on the sideline in the team jersey, but we can easily tell ourselves that the first string needs to be on the field, not me. I am content to just sit here on the sideline. Jesus got these disciples into the game, and sent them our in twos to experience what he had taught them… on the job training! 

2 Timothy 2:2; The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. – Here are four generations of passing on that which we have learned.

7. Celebrate their progress. We need to be a rejoicing people. When God does something great in our community of the faith, let’s celebrate together! When people party in the church, we are celebrating progress and milestones. Check out Paul’s words to Timothy…

1 Timothy 4:15; Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.

8. Increase their capacity to feed themselves. It is so important for healthy sheep to be able to feed themselves. Can you imagine a child never learning how to make his own sandwich, or turn on the oven, or cook for themselves? Imagine a guy still in kindergarten at age 20; we would think there’s something wrong with that guy. Then we come to discover that he is mentally fine, he just chose to never leave kindergarten; he didn’t want to be promoted to the next grade level.

So, how many people do we know who self-select out of their own spiritual growth. Maybe people deep down feel that with spiritual growth come responsibility; like if I grow toward maturity, more will be expected of me, I’ll have to actually get in the game at some point. Once I’m in the game, maybe the ball will be thrown to me and it will be up to me to advance it toward the goal. Hey, I don’t want all that pressure and responsibility! Put me back on the sideline! The first string should be on the field. By first string, they generally mean the pastoral staff of that 20% of church members doing 80% of the work.

People MUST grow toward maturity and feed themselves. They cannot be other-dependent when it comes to their spiritual growth and personal holiness.

1 Timothy 4:6; In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following.

9. Find opportunities for them to go deeper, if they have outgrown the programs in the church (maybe subscriptions to periodicals and online learning). Not everybody needs to go to seminary, but there are many places where you can go to gain biblical knowledge beyond the information you read in the Sunday school quarterly. We can certainly help you find quality resources that are doctrinally sound.

So, now we have learned about what to do with healthy sheep. Let’s continue to develop these people because of the words of Jesus in John 4:35 – Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.

We need people who are ready to see the harvest and get into the game. The pastor cannot do it alone. He is commissioned to lead us to be on mission with God. His task is to equip the saints for the work of service. How dare we chose to modify the commands of Scripture to allow me to sit comfortably on the bench while others in the church are leaving it all on the field. May God lead us toward greater purpose and fulfillment in the work to which he has called us.

So, seven types of sheep that we find in our small group, please look over the other six in this series. May God bless our efforts as we regularly and faithfully labor for this kingdom.

Related Topics:

1. Will of God. Psalm 37:4; Proverbs 3:5-6; Matthew 7:21; Mark 3:35; Acts 18:21; Romans 8:27; 12:2; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 8:5; Ephesians 5:17; Colossians 4:12; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 5:18; Titus 1:7; Hebrews 6:3; 10:36; James 4:15; 1 Peter 4:19; 5:2; 1 John 2:17

2. Lordship of Christ. Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46; Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9-10; Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Peter 3:15

Credit for the original teaching goes to my mentor, teacher, and friend, Rick Leineweber.

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