Without love for people, ministry leaders are merely clanging cymbals, making noise without making an impact. People need to be loved, to receive care. The apostle Peter challenged pastors to willingly and freely shepherd God’s people (1 Peter 5:2). A loving shepherd is burdened to ensure the sheep are attended to and receive care and compassion. The Lord rebuked leaders in Jeremiah’s day for failing to shepherd people well:
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” This is the Lord’s declaration. “Therefore, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says about the shepherds who shepherd My people: You have scattered My flock, banished them, and have not attended to them. I will attend to you because of your evil acts”—this is the Lord’s declaration. (Jeremiah 23:1-2)
While expressing love for people in a ministry means distributing care through others, and not feverishly attempting to meet every need, a loving ministry leader wants the people to be cared for. Here are three actions ministry leaders must take to ensure people are cared for:
1. Smell like sheep
Instead of leading from a distance, instead of attempting to lead removed from the people, wise and loving ministry leaders lead among the people they are called to serve. Thus, wise and loving shepherds smell like sheep. Because they are familiar with the challenges, the trials, and the joys of the people, their ministry and teaching is deeply connected to where people are.
2. Value both relationships and systems
Nearly a decade ago, I worked with the research team behind Transformational Church to consolidate observations and frame them so church leaders could understand transferrable principles. We observed that healthy churches are “relationally intentional”; they care for people and implement systems to help them care more effectively. They were not good at relationships and bad at systems. Nor were they good at systems and bad at relationships. Because they valued people, they focused on both relationships and systems to help them do so more effectively.
3. Emphasize groups
In my work with Ed Stetzer on Transformational Groups, we discovered that those who are cared for in a group (Sunday School class, small group, etc.) are much more likely to engage in spiritual disciplines that mark spiritual growth: repentance, sharing the gospel, reading the Bible, serving, and giving. Those in a group are much more likely to be growing because they are receiving leadership and care from godly leaders. It is impossible for ministry leaders to know every person deeply, so groups must be emphasized.