Shepherd or Sheep Herder

by Karl Bastian

Remember? Remember when you first got in to children’s ministry? Remember the calling God gave you? The burden you had for children? The awesome responsibility you accepted? The urgency you felt? Back when it was about reaching lost kids and discipling those who had accepted Christ? Remember when the stories were about changed lives and your conversations were mostly about the kids rather than the problems? Remember when you spent a ridiculous amount of time on some minor, but fun aspect of the ministry, just so you could see the faces of the kids light up when they arrived? Remember when you didn’t even notice how exhausted you were?

What changed?

You went into children’s ministry because you wanted to be a shepherd of children – and all too soon you became more sheepherder than shepherd. Just getting the kids where they need to be and hoping to have a reasonable adult-to-child ratio became a weekly battle. Managing volunteers, appeasing parents, buying supplies, keeping the senior pastor, as well as the janitor happy, answering voice mail, e-mail and snail mail and countless meetings gradually took over. Before you knew it, being a minister gave way to being an administrator. And somewhere the kids got lost in the shuffle. Oh, the kids are fine. Yet you are beginning to feel your heart for ministry fading and you secretly miss when you were just a volunteer, and not in charge of the whole operation.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

Children’s Ministry has gone nuts. Seriously. It’s less than a hundred years old and yet we’ve made it into an empire more daunting and menacing than the Galactic Empire! How did the Church survive for so many generations and produce such godly saints without all the trappings of our modern ministry? Perhaps all our advances are a part of the problem. Could it be that all we have created to help us has in part become a hindrance? An entire industry of resources and programs (and websites!) has exploded and what do we have to show for it? Just statistics that seem to suggest that kids are worse off spiritually than ever before. How can this be?! Where have we gone wrong?

We forgot our calling to be Shepherds.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Acts 20:28

I have always loved the title, “Children’s Pastor” because it means that you are a shepherd of children. In my first ministry, I was offered the job as “Coordinator of Children’s Ministry.” Fresh out of Bible College, I didn’t want to be too presumptuous, but I gently asked that since they had a “pastor” for every other people group in the church from youth to singles to adults to seniors to missions and even for the ‘music,’ would they consider allowing me to be a PASTOR for the children instead of a “coordinator.” I had no interest in coordinating, but pastoring kids? I was all over that! Granted, there was a lot of coordinating to do, but it’s the difference between the end and the means. If you are coordinating in order to shepherd, that’s fine. But when you find yourself primarily administrating, the joy gradually, but steadily, evaporates.

Choose to be a Shepherd first and foremost!

Whether your “official” title is children’s pastor or not – that is what you are. The point is if you are in a leadership role over children God has called you to be a Shepherd. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be… eager to serve.” I Peter 5:2 

But how do you get SHEPHERDING back to front and center in your ministry when you are responsible for so much administratively? As with any key change in life or ministry, it starts by asking the right questions. Let me challenge you with some questions that could change your ministry and impact the lives of the children, parents and volunteers with whom you work. I’m not going to give you “answers,” as the answers will vary from person to person and church to church. But I will offer some suggestions that are well worth considering and that can help move your ministry back toward being more focused on shepherding and less on administrating. Let me challenge you to print this article out and with a fresh pad of paper or journal; go to a place where you can think, reflect and pray without distraction.

What do you think it means to be a Shepherd? Don’t bother trying to come up with a perfect definition, just describe it – use specific examples or ideas of what you think it looks like to be a shepherd or to experience shepherding from the recipients perspective.

What aspects of your ministry can be described as Shepherding? This is just between you and God, so you can be brutally honest. When do your children, volunteers or families feel shepherded in your ministry? (or do they?)

What are your programs actually successful at? List all your programs or activities, then state what the purpose of each is, and describe how well each is fulfilling that purpose. What does success look like? How do you measure success?

What consumes your time? How effective is it? What are the tangible results that you can point to that merit the time invested? (Example: if you spend 10 hours a week on a family newsletter, is that more effective than say, spending 10 hours visiting families in their homes to talk and pray with them? Perhaps the newsletter, as great as it is, needs to go!)

What if you discontinued a project, would anyone notice? What do you do “just because?” If you listed everything you do in order of priority, what would be on the bottom half of the list? What if you discontinued that bottom half?

What project would you start that would surprise and delight people? Pretend you had someone to do ALL the administrative stuff for you, but you still had to work – what would you do to fill your time? Could those things actually be more effective in the long run?

My guess is that when you get to this line, you’ve only read the questions above – not taken the time to answer them. That’s O.K., but don’t neglect to take the time to thoughtfully reflect on them, and WRITE your answers. There is power in what you commit to paper rather than just allowing your reactions to be passing thoughts. Lee Iacocca said, “The discipline of writing something down is the first step toward making it happen.”

AFTER you have taken some time to gather your thoughts on the questions above, and whatever other ideas are stimulated, you are ready to start taking some serious and strategic steps toward becoming more of a Shepherd and less of a Sheepherder. Let me suggest FIVE STEPS you need to walk yourself through. (No one else will do this for you!)

1. IDENTIFY WHAT YOU’D LIKE TO BE DOING
You have more control over your life than you’d like to believe. It is time to stop making excuses and start DOING what YOU determine is most important. The most important things in life never happen by chance – they must be scheduled.

2. EVALUATE WHAT YOU ARE DOING
Take a hard honest look at how you spend your time. How do you waste time? What is optional? What pays the least dividends while costing the most time? Be ruthless at eliminating the time-killers in your life.

3. MAKE A LIST OF PRIORITIES
It can be the most powerful thing you do! Make a list of what is most important to you, and then put them in your schedule. Do this as early in the day as possible. If that day comes and you can’t do it, it’s O.K. At least you will see what didn’t get done and be able to reschedule it. But good intentions that are not scheduled will never happen. You will never get everything done, but you can choose what gets left undone. Make sure it isn’t the most important that gets left behind!

4. CHOOSE THE BEST
There is no end of good opportunities that confront you every day. Learn to say “no” to the good for the sake of the great. Look at your priorities every week at the least, (every day is ideal) and determine “TODAY I will get this done.” Discard all your past excuses; there is never anyone to blame but yourself. Own it and live it.

5. DELEGATE THE REST
Believe it or not, God has wired other people to love doing what you hate doing. I used to feel bad to ask others to do what I didn’t enjoy. I thought I was being cruel, until I finally learned there are people who enjoy what I hate, and are better at it! A principle I try to live by in my ministry is “only do what only I can do” and have others do the rest. “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.” John 10:12

I Peter 5:8 urges us to be “self-controlled and alert” because our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour. Our children are his primary targets. You are not a “hired hand” you are a shepherd! Determine to be both alert to what our kids truly need and then self-controlled in order to take back your ministry and make it one that shepherds, not just herds.

With God’s help and some hard determined work YOU CAN do it. What are you waiting for?

Karl Bastian has over fifteen years of experience as a full time Children’s Pastor in large, small, and mobile churches. He is also the founder of Kidology.org, one of the leading Internet destinations for those who minister to children. He has a Bible Theology degree and a Masters in Children’s Ministry. Contact Karl | Website: www.kidology.org

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