One of my favorite verses in the Bible is an obscure one from Amos 3:12 which reads, “The Lord says, ‘As the shepherd snatches two legs or a piece of an ear from the lion’s mouth, so she Israelites who live in Samaria will be rescued…'” It is a prophecy that gives us a glimpse into the life of a shepherd. Occasionally, when a predator attacked his flock, a sheep was lost. All the shepherd could do was to rescue a piece or two of it from the mouth of the attacking animal. Why would a shepherd go to such lengths and put his life at risk?
The answer is an important one for group leaders today who are themselves shepherds of God’s people. Perhaps the group you lead is a small one in your living room. Maybe it’s a larger group of 15-20 that meets in a room on your church campus every Sunday morning. No matter the occasion, you’re a shepherd over that group of people. The reason why the shepherds of Amos’ day would risk life and limb to rescue pieces of one of their sheep is this: they weren’t the owners. The shepherds were stewards of the sheep for an owner, to whom they were accountable. At the end of the day, the shepherds had to demonstrate trustworthiness and the ability to care for the owner’s property as if it was their very own. As a group leader, you are a shepherd of God’s sheep. You are responsible for caring for His people. Never forget that the group members aren’t yours…they’re His. You’re the steward. They are His sheep.
As a shepherd, you will have to care for 5 different kinds of sheep in your group. In no particular order, those 5 kinds of sheep include:
- Absentees – in most groups, about half the group members will be absent at any particular group meeting. That means that when 10 people gather as a group, there are 10 other group members who are not in attendance. As a shepherd, you must be sensitive to the fact that your sheep are missing, and you must be proactive in the days between group meetings to go out and find those lost sheep. Were the people sick, working, or simply on a vacation? Was it something more serious? You’ll never know unless you look.
- Prospects – a general rule of thumb is that groups should have one prospect for every group member. A group of 20 people meeting on a church campus every Sunday morning should have a prospect list of 20 people. Those people should be invited to attend the group Bible study, participate in group fellowships, and cared for long before they make an official commitment to the group.
- Associate members – these important adults are the ones who leave your group to start another one, or to serve younger members of your church (kids & students) as their leaders. Your associate members are gone, but should not be forgotten; often, they are. That’s why so many adults are hesitant to leave a Bible study group to serve somewhere else. If you have associate members, include them in every fellowship and activity that your Bible study group has. The associate members can remain connected to your group and get their fill of adult fellowship and contact with friends they’ve left in order to serve.
- Guests – Are you ready for guests to show up to your Bible study? Do you have extra chairs, places at the table, and Bible study materials for them? Are the members of your group coached on how to welcome the guests and make them feel at home? I have been an incognito guest in numerous Bible study groups over the years, and many times I was not spoken to by group members, nor was I contacted by the group leader after my visit. Needless to say, I never considered becoming a part of those groups.
- Regular attenders – the unsung heroes of group Bible studies, don’t forget to appreciate the people who are there in your group each time the group meets. It is easy to under-appreciate people for their commitment to the group if you focus too heavily on the other kinds of sheep mentioned above. Love on those regular attenders and let them know you are thankful for their presence and contributions to the group. These people aren’t squeaky, so they may never get any grease!
“The Lord says, ‘As the shepherd snatches two legs or a piece of an ear from the lion’s mouth, so she Israelites who live in Samaria will be rescued…'” You’re a shepherd. You’re a steward. Take good care of the sheep entrusted to your care.