The undershepherd plan

Local church elders have a vital role in nurturing members.

Harold Howard is director of stewardship for the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

The Saviour is the shepherd of the church. In local congregations the pas tor is His chief undershepherd, and lay elders are individual undershepherds. Working together, pas tor and elders must care for the flock.

At weekly worship services the pas tor and elders provide spiritual nourishment, inspiration, and encouragement through Bible study, worship, and fellowship. However, what happens through the week may determine the salvation or loss of many souls especially those not attending church. Here is where the care of the undershepherds becomes vital.

The undershepherd plan operating in Michigan is one way to coordinate the ministry of lay leadership. Church membership is divided into geographical areas with an elder over each. This "parish" is in turn divided into smaller units of deacons and deaconesses conducting two-by-two visitation. They report to their supervising elder about members who need special attention or encouragement.

The ministry of deacons and deaconesses as unit leaders supplements but does not substitute for the visitation of pastor and elders. The pastor continues general visitation as his schedule permits, and local elders visit in the parish they supervise. What makes the difference with the undershepherd plan is that pastor and elders can focus on members who have particular needs, as reported to them by unit leaders.

Duties of local church elders in the undershepherd plan

  • See that the undershepherd plan is functioning well your prime responsibility.
  • Plan for quarterly meetings of undershepherds.
  • Appoint a records secretary for your unit.
  • Make visits in your parish in response to needs identified by unit leaders.
  • Keep the pastor and church board informed of the progress of members in crisis.

Duties of unit leaders (deacons and deaconesses)

  • Become acquainted with families in the little flock of their unit. Visit each home at least once a quarter, more frequently in caring for unusual physical or spiritual needs.
  • Report to the records secretary the names of those physically unable to at tend worship services.
  • Report at once to the records secretary any situation requiring immediate follow-up, such as serious illness, discouragement, interest in Bible studies, etc. Confidential reports should bypass the secretary and go directly to the pastor or elder.
  • During home visits encourage faithfulness in family and personal devotions, regularity in church attendance, and active participation in church activities. Arrange for transportation if needed.
  • Take note of those absent from the weekly services and send or deliver personally a church bulletin.
  • Report to the pastor or elder the names of those in your district who would like a Communion service in their home.
  • In case of death, be sure that meals are provided for the family on the day of the funeral.
  • Report to the records secretary any changes of address of members in your unit.
  • Communicate to the church office any newsletter or bulletin items from your flock, such as birthdays, anniversaries, job promotions, graduations, etc.
  • Be alert for prospective members moving into your area. Get acquainted with them and invite them to services.
  • Visit and nurture new members in your unit.
  • Attend the quarterly meeting of the undershepherds. At that time return the visitation report form (one for each family) to your supervising elder. Confidential information should be conveyed in a sealed envelope.
  • Make suggestions for improving local implementation of the under shepherd plan.

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Harold Howard is director of stewardship for the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

September 1992

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