Jesus often referred to His people as sheep, and He a shepherd. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, instructed Peter to care for His sheep. After serving Peter and the other disciples breakfast in one of His post-resurrection appearances, Jesus gave Peter and the other disciples an important mandate: “Feed my sheep.” It is our mandate today as well. We must feed and shepherd the people Jesus sends to our churches. We must care for the people who are in our Bible study groups because they are our sheep.
Every Bible study group will have five different kinds of sheep for which they must provide protection, care, and nourishment. As you read the list below, ask yourself, “Which of the following kinds of sheep am I ministering to consistently? What kinds of sheep need more of my attention?”
- Absentees – every group has a certain percentage of people who are absent whenever the group gathers for Bible study. It is not uncommon for up to 50% of group members to be absent each time the group gets together for Bible study. An effective leader will not only rejoice over those who are in attendance, but he or she will feel compelled to reach out to absentees. A quick phone call, an e-mail, or a visit in a group member’s home can help reconnect this kind of sheep to the group.
- Prospects – unless the Bible study group is closed to new members, every group should have a prospect list. It is recommended that a group have one prospect for each member of the group. Prospects should always be invited to the social activities of the group, and they should be cared for just as if they were full-fledged members. Prospects, if properly cultivated, often become members of groups. They are a second kind of sheep we must care for.
- People in crisis – It’s a given that if you have a group of people coming together to study the Bible, things are going to get messy at some point. People will experience the ups and downs of life, and you may find yourself in the role of a “first responder.” A lost job, the sudden death of a loved one, or a wayward child may bring a group member to a moment of crisis, and you will be on the front line of ministry to that person, and even his or her family. People in crisis are a third kind of sheep that need our watchcare.
- Associate group members – These heroes deserve your group’s appreciation and remembrance when it’s time to get together and socialize. Associate group members have left your group to serve other people in your church’s various ministries, and they often miss adult fellowship. Keep these sheep on your ministry role and invite them to every fellowship your group has – especially around the holidays. Associate members need to know they haven’t been forgotten, and they need to be affirmed for using their spiritual gifts elsewhere in the church and community.
- Regular attenders – It’s easy to forget about these sheep, but don’t! Although the guest, the person in crisis, the associate member, and the absentee all need your time and attention, so do the loyal group members who are always present. It’s easy to let these “good” group members go un-thanked and unnoticed, but these are the kinds of people who need an encouraging word. Thank them for their regular attendance. Thank them for being a stabilizing factor in your group.
Being a teacher-shepherd isn’t an easy task. There are all kinds of people in your group who need you, the shepherd of the group, to care for them. The act of teaching can be fun and exhilarating, but don’t forget that the real work of shepherding a group happens in between group Bible studies!
Ken Braddy manages Lifeway’s ongoing adult Bible studies and blogs daily about group Bible study at kenbraddy.com