It has been my experience as well as my observation that the most difficult counseling cases typically are the result of people who have not been lovingly, graciously, patiently —and intentionally—pursued for the purpose of discipleship and equipping. For exampIe, I know a pastor who is counseling a couple from another church who have been married for 35 years. They have been members “in good standing” in “solid” churches for as many years. Yet, no one knew that the husband was failing in the leadership of his home for all of those 35 years. He was never intentionally pursued. Consider that if we’re not intentionally, lovingly, graciously, patiently pursuing people, then not much else we do to “equip” will matter. I’d like to offer 4 practical encouragements to help elders and heads of household be more intentional in their shepherding or, actually, in any of your relationships. The mutually constructive Covenantal relationships that we each are involved in require intentionality in order to be effective.
1. Intentionality gives you the opportunity to see real fruit in people’s lives What elder doesn’t want to see others grow in Christ? But that growth does not usually happen without the investment of time in people, earning their trust, getting to know their hearts, and being open with them in return. Intentional pursuit puts us in position to see the real issues in another person’s life and provides the opportunity to address those issues with the gospel so that they can grow.
2. Intentionality communicates that relationships are vital The gospel message comes with a delivery mechanism that the Holy Spirit uses to apply it in people’s lives: relationships. Shepherds in the church and in the home (elders and heads of household) are two vital relational equipping mechanisms (Acts 20:13-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-5; Eph. 4:11; 5:22-6:4). As shepherds, our example of following God’s Word in its applications especially in relationships communicates something to others, particularly heads of household. It communicates either positively or negatively just how important relationships really are to the ministry within the whole body. Consider how different ministry would be if the body were made up of relationships where people were intentionally pursing one another and faithfully applying the gospel (Eph. 4:15-16) to the heart in their relationships. We could reasonably conclude that there would be greater spiritual growth. Further, the crisis counseling cases that keep pastors and elders up till all hours of the night would be fewer because the issues would be addressed at the garden variety level. This is not a Utopian view of ministry at all. It is what Paul writes as an expectation in Ephesians.
3. Intentionality clarifies priorities and identifies where you might be doing too much “WHAT?! Me shepherd? I don’t have time!” We are all busy but this is what God has called elders to do. It is very easy to doubt God’s methodology when it breaks down in human application. But the problem is our application or faithfulness to God’s plan, not the plan itself. If we don’t have time, then we have the opportunity to evaluate our priorities. Through evaluation, we may just find places where we can take some small steps of greater faithfulness.
4. Intentionality forces us to rely more on the strength of Christ Being intentional is hard work that requires reliance on Christ. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians how affliction, weakness, and trial are the way God works in us, driving us to Christ for strength so that He may be seen in us by those who we shepherd. It is hard to go through that refining fire, but, it is the way growth occurs. God uses our struggles with intentionality to show us our own need for him to do this all-important work in and through us. Shepherding is actual and practical or it is nothing. It is a joy to see people grasp the gospel, apply it, and grow! It is even more exciting to see them apply it in their own relationships, to see them grow in their love for others and to see them reach out to their unbelieving neighbors and friends. We should expect to see this multi-dimensional fruit result from honoring the means in God’s Word. But, intentionality is required.