Thursday, September 3, 2009

A relook at shepherding

Been thinking about this for awhile, but i think its important to redfine or re-look at our shepherding understanding. Personally i do believe having a mentoring program in Church is a good thing and one when done correctly can encourage the younger christians to grow.

What is the role of a shepherd ?

I do believe as a shepherd one's role is to provide guidance to the person they are mentoring. The important thing is to make sure we do not dictate or tell them what to do.. We are not God and are not suppose to be God over our sheep's life. The aim is to give guidance and advice and allow the sheep to make their own decision.

I have shepherd i know, that actually dictate who and what the sheep should do, where they should study and even who they should marry. That is very dangerous because then we are assuming the role of God.

The greatest problem of a shepherd and leaders

One issue that has been a constant of pain is this, sometimes members tell their shepherd some personal issue in confidence and then in the process, suddenly they found out the whole leadership knows about their issue.

We teach in Hope that if we talk about people without the person's approval then its gossip, but i tell you if a leader talks about a member without the member's knowledge its also gossip. The worst thing i have encountered is when leaders are found out, their excuse is so that we can help the person and learn. I think this is totally wrong, because principle cannot change, if you want to discuss about a member's issue make sure you let the member's know. Personally as a shepherd, if my sheep tell me something in confidence I will not let it out, unless i cannot handle then i would actually ask the sheep's permission or ask them to bring the case up.

I never like telling people's issue upwards without the presence of the person i am discussing because you can either misquote or misunderstood the issue and in the end make a mountain our of a molehill.

Therefore this saying that - every secret has to go upwards is wrong if - the person you are talking about, never knew or is not informed. I tend to dislike it when i attend leader's meeting and leader's discuss personal issues of people in their group. To me i consider it gossip, because the person do not know that this issue has become an open secret.

As leaders we need to uphold the standards we ourselves expect of others. To me I do agree that pastor's should know things happening in church and "if" it relates to the church but alot of times its people's personal struggle so unless permission is first sought before passing on the message, don't just assume pastors have the right to know at the expense of your own personal integrity.

Make sure that when discussing about issues in leadership meeting, no names are used and if a situation becomes too big just ask the person to speak to someone more mature and then pass it on upwards properly.

How to treat the person you are mentoring

Always treat the person you are mentoring with respect and understand that just because they may be our mentee, it does not automatically means they are not intelligent. we somehow have this assumption that all sheep are dumb, its just a paraphase, in reality not everybody would be as dumb as a sheep.

Sometimes we get this false precept that just because they are our mentee, they are not as smart as the leaders, but the problem is that as pointed out by some people, leaders sometimes are raised up very fast, resulting in people with the title but not necessary the experience nor skill to handle issues. I have met many people who i have mentored, who are well-adjusted, intelligent and smart people. They maybe new to the christian faith and lack the knowledge and that is sometimes about it.

Therefore always treat people with respect and in turn your mentee will respect you as a mentor.


Anonymous said...

In the beginning I had a great shepherd who guided me in my walk. After she left the church (for unknown reasons) I got assigned another shepherd. Then I started to notice the manipulation and understood why my original shepherd left.

There's a new way of reporting things to leaders. Shepherds become a friend on your online social network and then act as a spy (big brother) for the leadership. Sometimes they send someone other than your shepherd to become your "friend". They try to control what I say and who my friends are in my social network.

For their loyalty, the shepherds were given rewards (promotion, gifts, or money). Not everyone got this reward, only those closest to the leader.


ex-hope said...

Well, I've heard of 'advise' like this. (Decision) The person can either start a new ministry in Hope, OR join another church which has an established ministry and serve there. ('Advise' given) "God likes people to start things from scratch, so that they can grow, therefore you should stay and start the ministry". What kind of nonsense is that? The intention is good, but when did 'God like people starting from scratch'? Is that even biblical?

One thing I realised about most shepherds is that, they LOVE to give 'advise', but often they fail to give GODLY advise. They end up giving, personal advise, then putting God into the picture just to make it sound 'Holy'. To me, this is called manipulation. And more often than not, those who are new, or unsure will end up following.

Another thing I find common is that they see people as resources. Take the case I mentioned, they saw the person as a resource, wanted her to stay, so the person could help start a ministry. Instead of thinking, at this point in the person's life, what is best. They thought of church first, then the person 'well being'.

On a personal note, I've been a shepherd, and I've been shepherd-ed by someone. What I did was just be the person's friend. A REAL FRIEND, not some spy. We meet up for brekkies and stuff. And when the leaders asked me stuff about him, I will either be very vague or refuse to answer them. If they want to know something, ask the person YOURSELF, and not send a 'spy'.

I once had an arguement with my sehpherd, which to me, was the straw that broke the camel's back (in terms of me deciding to leave - although it took me 1 year). He was telling me to participate in street evang, but the purpose for him wanting this done is completely different! He wanted us to go for street evang so that we can build the group's spirit... WTH? I refused to go for one, because I thought as a church they've lost the plot of why they're doing it.

I reach out through friends, as I think I'm more effective there. Guess what his response was? "How many people did you save?" There was one last year, but I said none just to see his response. "See, it is not effective" and he started to tell me how he's more effective by 'showing off' how many people he brought to Christ by talking to strangers.

After he finished his show off session, I just said one sentence, "Reaching out isn't about the NUMBERS game, it is about sharing the GOSPEL, WHETHER or not people believe is really between God and them!" He was stumped... guess what did he say at the end? "I think you're just being stuborn" ... I shoke my head and said, there's nothing more to discuss.

I have many other experiences and also heard from others their experience. You guys are not alone.

ex-hope said...

To be honest, I tend to get really fired up when I come to this blog as my heart goes out to all those still in Hope, who are blinded and who are not experiencing the freedom of the Gospel. I feel really sad when I see people do so many things, thinking that it is what God wants. To be saved through works. It's really sad. . . It's as if they came out of bondage (being saved) then entered into another bondage called works.

How we should move on from here? I really think there needs to be certain boundries that a shepherd shouldn't cross. A lot of which have been mentioned by eagle eye.

Next, any adivse given should be based on the word of God. If the word of God doesn't state clearly about a certain issue, the shepherd should leave the decision to the person and not make one for them based on their 'prayers' or feeling or personal experience. They should not pull God into the picture just to add weight to what they have to say.

Next, I think a shepherd should not be a dictator, but a shoulder (to lean on and cry on). Unless it's life and death. What do sheeps do? They wander about, finding grass to eat! As sheep, they have to learn how to make life decisions, handle shit that life throws at them and not avoid it. In Hope, I feel that people are afraid to fail, therefore they do not try. But it is always through failures that a person grows and learn. If people are deprive of that opportunity to fail and grow, I believe it cripples them for life! How are they going to bring up their children? How are they going to handle shit when their shepherd is not around?

As a shepherd, you need to be open enough to hear different views. You need to be able to discuss things out and not stamp your foot down when you do not agree with something. A shepherd is definitely not God, and definitely imperfect. If it's something grey that a shepherd and sheep disagree, all that they should do is agree to disagree. The shepherd shouldn't blacklist the sheep just because they don't share the same views on issues.

Whatever is of God will stand the test of time. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous (PJL), I am very shocked to read your statement about shepherds being given benefits (promotion, gifts or money) to earn their loyalty to their leader.

Surely, this kind of behaviour must STOP! Is this a church or what?? If what you say is TRUE, then this is a very SAD day for Hope. I sincerely hope that there are no churches in HIM practising this.

Eagle_Eye, I do say again that shepherding done the Hope style is very dangerous. Based alone on what Anonymous say, this points Hope into the cult direction. I think Hope is treading on very dangerous ground. The leaders of HIM must really do something to stop this.

I am very concerned indeed.

Eagle_eye said...

I understand everyone's concern, I suppose everything can be dangerous if done wrongly. A knife can be a good instrument depending on the hands of the user.

Shepherding or mentoring is a good tool only if used correctly. I think you will find that the biggest problem is most shepherds are not well trained

How many times in truth have we seen even new Christians less than 1 yr old thrust into shepherding or mentoring someone. Without proper training and advice.

I remember the 1st time i did it. I was only given a book and told to teach from the book. No proper training and mind you, we are suppose to counsel people.

I think maybe we should do it like a bible study and have more discussion.

Indeed shepherding can be dangerous if the shepherd himself have no real understanding.

Eagle_eye said...

I must admit I made many mistakes back then, but have since learned to treat people like people.

I think the problem is maybe because Hope was too concerned with numbers to the point that we have to push every one to serve ASAP

We certainly have to be careful

Watcher said...

Hi all,

I am glad that there is a lively discussion on the nature of shepherding. As I have already written elsewhere is this blog, I have reservations about the way shepherding is done in Hope. I shall requote this portion i wrote, in which I also quoted from a book:

"In another book written by a pastor. It is titled "Healing Spiritual Abuse: How to break free from Bad Church Experience". He mentions that the notion of "spiritual covering" is a false doctrine developed by many leaders today to create an ecclesiastical hierarchies with them at the top.The church structure is carried out in a top-down fashion like a chain of command in which each member is suppose to submit to those who are above them who would be their 'covering', like submitting to Christ. To quote from the author, he wrties, Not only is there little or no biblical basis for the idea of coveriing, but it flies in the face of numerous broad-based, biblical teachings to the contrary: the egalitarian nature of church fellowship (Mt 23:8-12), the fraternal nature of church discipline (Mt 18) and the parity among members of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:14-26).'"

I also wrote:

"The reason I quoted from two full-time ministers (one of whom is a pastor) is also to dispel the notion that those who are against the shepherding system are not leaders and are just rebellious. These two documents are written by leaders. So they could provide a leaders perspective on this whole issue. I know some would quote Heb 13:17 about submitting to the leaders authority. I have no qualms about that. But I like to point out that in the preceding verses, the author of Hebrews reminded us to remember the leaders who spoke the word of God to us and recall their way of life (Heb 7).Apparently, the author is not telling us to submit to someone just because he or she is a leader. We submit to them because they have properly taught the scriptural truths (as pointed out by Anonymous when he mentioned 2 Tim 2:2), lived a godly lives (1 Tim 3:1-7 and 4:15-16), and who truly are servants who do not lord it over others(1 Peter 5:2-3). In fact, Heb 13:9 which comes after Heb 13:7 and verse 17, warns us not to be taken in by false doctrines. Thus we cannot just blindly follow any teaching without examining if they agree with Scripture. In particular, the submission to our leaders Heb 13:17, as some biblical scholars have put it, arises becauses the leader has managged to persuade and convince those they are watching to follow their teaching and way of life. Such persuasion and convincing can only come if the leaders faithfully preached the word of God and live it out so that their followers can follow their godly examples. Leadership is not an automatic right, It comes as leaders live it out with responsbility."


Watcher said...

Hi all,

I also wrote:

"Eagle eye and Anonymous is right to point out that we need leaders and shepherds who can guide us in our christian walk and teach us bible doctrines effectively so that our christian life is based on truth. This is clearly commanded by Scripture (Heb 13:7-8, Heb 13:17, 2 Tim 2:2, 1 Tim 4:15-16, 1 Peter 5:2-3).

Indeed, we need counsel in our lives, particularly from mature believers.Of course, anyone amongst the believers can alo speak truth to us.We need to be accountable to others, but it need not be just one person. It can be a few christians whom you have close fellowship with. One possible starting point is your cell group or it could also be from outside cell group. As anonymous also pointed out, we may also consider doing away with the one-on-one system. I consider it as artificially imposed, assuming that it will work out well. Close friendships are built from trust and openess and wiilingness of one person to be accountable to the other. The moment it is imposed from top down, the shepherd may end up controlling (knowingly or unknowingly) his sheep, i.e., my sheep must behave or live this, or think this way. His sheep, on the other hand, without the level of trust, dares not share for fear that he might look bad in front of his shepherd, or that the sheep is fearful that whatever he share might be used against him. As a result, this artificially imposed one-on-one system would likely to encounter deep seated mistrust and the burden of hierarchy. In the end, sheeps just become clones of the shepherds, even though both of them are meant to be unique."


Watcher said...

Hi all,

I also like to quote from another writer(Stephen Taylor, PATRON-CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS

"Whilst it is very tempting for Christian leaders to take on the role of protector, provider (or patron), in doing so he is perpetuating a hierarchical
system which is not biblical. The equality of all believers is a clear Christian doctrine which must be upheld at all costs. Christians are all brothers and
sisters, having only one lord and master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Church leaders should avoid being regarded as superior at all costs.
This may not readily be understood by the non-Christian, but fellow Christians need to have their minds renewed in this respect. Leaders need to listen to their members and at times receive instruction from them. Members need to understand that God can as equally speak to them as to their leaders.It is permissible for the leader to do menial tasks, as was displayed by the Lord
Jesus Himself in washing His disciples feet. He does not need to protect himself from such tasks for fear that his importance will be diminished. Rather he should trust in God to enable him to command respect through a life that is a display of the character and nature of Jesus Christ Himself.
The instinct for one to infer greater status to those who have helped (or who may help in the future, i.e. patrons or potential patrons) must also be avoided. When help is given, both the provider and the recipient must clearly understand that their relationship remains as one of equality." (pp.111-112)

The author also writes in his footnote, "I do believe, however, that God will generally lead His church through the leaders
He has appointed. This is does not, however, infer that the leader is more important or of
higher status than the average member. Nor does it mean that he has a greater natural capacity to hear God's voice." (p. 111, footnote 108)

The context of the article is about Thai churches, but some of its observations are useful in other non-thai churches as well.


Watcher said...

Hi all,

Even though I quoted the above, I have no intentions of shooting down the importance of guidance and mentoring in church. It is much needed. As eagle has pointed out, a shepherd or mentor is meant to provide guidance to whom they are mentoring. It is never to replace God. I fully agree with this. In fact, Eagles Eyes observation of dictorial shepherds is similar to the accounts to abusive groups like the International Church of Christ (ICC), which has been considered by many conservative christians and apologetics group to be unorthodox in its practice, such as the intense shepherding system.

As for the greatest problem of shepherd and leaders, Eagles Eyes observation that personal issues being spread like this without prior approval from the one who is facing the personal issue is a breach of trust. Eagle Eye was right on the spot when he explains that by revealing issues upwards without the presence of the person he could misrepresent that persons issues. That would be tantamout to bearing false testimony against your neighbour. It would be gossip. It would end up giving those high up in leadership or those who know about the issue the opportunity to hold that person in bondage, using the issue as a blackmail. I have no issues if one brother spots another brother sinning or having some issues, and that this brothers seeks to speak to struggling brother personally in order that such issues could be settled. This is clearly stated out in Matthew 18. If he listens, then good for everyone. But if the struggling brother refuses to listen, then we might have to get another witness, perhaps a close friend or brother or mentor of that struggling brother, to speak to him in the hope that the brother could be restored. Of course, if the struggling brother refuses to listen, then we might have to get the help of the church to speak to that brother. Thus, while every sin has to be dealt with and every issues handled properly, the need for every secret to go upwards is not biblical in the sense that it is like intruding into the conscience of the every person, possibly resulting in manipulative control of people and "spying" on others to ensure that everyone is behaving correctly. Image is everything. It is like the East German "Stasi" in which every member in society spys on everyone, including their family members, which are then reported to the "Stasi". The information in these "spying" reports have never been released because of fear of the likelihood of breakdown in societal relations. But the church, as Eagle Eye pointed out, should be a place in which the Pastor does have oversight of various issues as he is taking care of the flock,and that it is a place where it is full of grace, forgiving one another of grievances, showing love compassion, restoring one another in love (such as those who are sinning) in way that is loving but not hurting the conscience of the brother or sister.


Watcher said...

Hi all,

As to how you treat the person you mentor, Eagle Eye is right to comment that we must treat our mentees with respect. We must never think of our sheeps as unintelligent. Simply put, we must never patronise (which connotes looking down on others). If I may add, it was widely assumed in the Hope churh that I came from that the last thing a shepherd should do is to listen from their sheep, assuming they are spiritually immature than they are. Well, this is outrightly a very proud attitude. As eagle eye has summarised other writers inputs, some people may have risen up so fast in leadership that they may not have the skills to do so. To give another side of the story, it is possible that those who are mentored are actually more spiritually mature than those who are the mentors. How is that possible? While this is rather unusual, it is possible that those who are mentored may actually be very matured Christians than those who mentoring them. Simply put, if we just assign shepherds in a mandatory way to sheeps, what is the basis of the arrangement? Is it by comparing maturity in Christ? or some other factors? Once this permanent shepherd comes in as our personal mentor, the sheep has to degrade himself, seeing himself/herself as inferior to his/her mentor or shepherd. In fact, as this point, I do not see the need for a compulsory personal shepherd, for in the end it will be a medieval-like priestcraft in which the priest is the intecessor between me and God, resulting in a hierarchical system, as pointed out by the author I quoted. Only Christ has that right to be my Mediator. Taylor, in his article I quoted, stated that though leaders are appointed by God to lead the church, it does not mean they are superior to other average members. God can also speak to through average members.

Having said that, shepherding and mentoring is important. It should be built on friendship and trust, not artificiall assigning in the church. We should follow mentors who have lived godly lives, and to whom we can trust and to whom we know can guide us in our lives. In fact, I once heard of a mentor saying that it need not be just one mentor but a few mentors as well.


Watcher said...

Hi all,

From what Ex-Hope shared, I experienced very issues you faced. About the sharing of the gospel, I admit I struggle with evangelising. So I do not dare to comment much. I know that when I was a very young beliver,recommitted to God in Hope, and less than one year, my shepherd (who is my UL then) thrusted me to get involved in leadership, street evangelism and so on. Personally, my favourite way of evangelising is sharing the gospel to my friends, not street evangelism. I have "not led anyone to Christ" yet. However, I did share the gospel at various times, although not regularly at I should. I hope to change in this aspect and be more fervent in sharing the gospel. However, I believe that even if I could share the gospel so regularly, lets say one hundred times per month, in the end, whether that person comes to know Christ is in the hands of God's sovereign and secret will. This is what Ex-hope was trying to convey, and that I heard from a Pastor from an anglican church and a Canon(also from an Anglican church) coming to similar conclusions that we must faithfully share the gospel to the lost but whether they will accept the gospel and belive in Christ, we must it to God. Ex-Hope shared:

"I reach out through friends, as I think I'm more effective there. Guess what his response was? "How many people did you save?" There was one last year, but I said none just to see his response. "See, it is not effective" and he started to tell me how he's more effective by 'showing off' how many people he brought to Christ by talking to strangers. After he finished his show off session, I just said one sentence, "Reaching out isn't about the NUMBERS game, it is about sharing the GOSPEL, WHETHER or not people believe is really between God and them!" He was stumped... guess what did he say at the end? "I think you're just being stuborn" ... I shoke my head and said, there's nothing more to discuss."

I do not question the evangelistic zeal of Ex-Hope's former shepherd. I hope to learn from his zeal as well. But it seems that Ex-hope's former shepherd believes that he was THE ONE who saved the unbelievers and brought them to know Christ. While there should be preachers who would share the gospel so that the lost might hear, it is by hearing the word of Christ that the lost comes to faith in Christ, and that it is the Holy Spirit who rengenerates and renews the hearts of unbelievers to be spiritually alive so that they can, in repentance, by faith believe in Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and be saved. Human agents are important in that they share the gospel, but it is ultimately the Holy Spirit who does the regenerative work so that the unbelievers can believe in the message of the gospel. We should not rob God of His glory for He is the one, by His grace, saves the elect.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Eagle_Eye and Watcher for your comments. I just wonder if the leaders of HIM even see this shepherding issue as a concern? Do you know if Ps. Simon is concerned or any of the other leaders?

Watcher said...

Hi all,

Interestingly, Ex-Hope pointed out that many shepherds like to give advise (but not godly ones). I believe there are those who give advice because they do out of sincere love and concern. I applaud this and I can testify to this.

When Ex-Hope says "One thing I realised about most shepherds is that, they LOVE to give 'advise'", the "LOVE" could actually mean a desire to control, to show oneself as spiritually more mature than others, so that they can gain a sense of security and feel significant based on their supposed superior mentality.

To conclude, I like to give an example I read (and I paraphrase it) regarding the controlling mentality. Suppose one person say to me,"I am your shepherd and I want to guide you." (although it is not clear by what basis he claims to be my shepherd and why I should automatically submit to him) And I reply to him,"I agree that i need to listen to shepherd and come under spiritual authority and seek their guidance.However, I already have a few brothers who are spiritual mentors and I come under their guidance. They are also my leaders." Then he gets angry and claims that I am rebellious.

You see, the example I give shows that it is not my submission that is in question. It is because i have not submitted to HIS (that person who claims to be my shepherd without any basis) authority. Sad to say, that is perhaps the driving mentality to come up with various hierarchical systems, such the intense shepherding style as witnessed in some churches, so as to gain control and power over believers, under the pre-text of "guiding" their flock.


Watcher said...

Hi Anonymous,

eagle eye brought up the issue of shepherding as a matter. I feel the same way as him on numerous issues. That is why I have written extensively in this blog. I talked about shepherding and the dangers of doing works to earn your justification before God, because they are crucial issues that needs to be settled. Eagle Eye and Ex-hope have brought up these issue and I added on to their comments.

Hopefully, someone out there would listen and bring about needed changes.


ex-member said...

My suggestion is that the shepherding system should be abolished.

It is has more disadvantages than advantages though the intention is good in covering every person.

Actually this system restricts as too many layers of bureucracy is created. It divides or creates walls subtly between leaders and members.

Shepherd role should reserve for the CL where he/she disciples and raise up leaders.

If we throw the discipleship or shepherd's role to members. They will only raise up followers. Cos followers breed followers while leaders breed leaders. And the kingdom of God need more leaders, not followers.

Members who are keen or ready to mentor should not be given title of shepherd. The word has been too loosely used that the standard has dropped drastically.

Members who learning to mentor can be just called follow-upper. The difference is the level of authority entrusted.

Moreover, if everybody in the church is doing shepherding, we unconsciously become inward and self-serving. This happens cos everyone is busy in the church, but not out of the four walls of the church serving the unchurch who needs the gospel.

I believe this is a common issue among those in Hope where most of the days of the week is invested in church activities- shepherding and being shepherded etc... but not time to build meaningful relationships with our real family, colleagues and friends around us t win them to Christ.

95% of our time is in church. Which is not healthy as we limit our love and faith in the confinement of a silo.

In my opinion, methods of discipleship can change but principles of discipleship retain.

ex-hope said...

"If we throw the discipleship or shepherd's role to members. They will only raise up followers. Cos followers breed followers while leaders breed leaders. And the kingdom of God need more leaders, not followers."

I agree with this statement. This is probably why it's hard to change everyone that's in there. Because follower have been built up, layer upon layer over the YEARS... These followers end up becoming leaders, thus the cycle continues...