Ken Braddy, director of Sunday School for Lifeway Christian Resources, said of the three roles for Bible study group leaders — teacher, leader, shepherd — his favorite is shepherd.
“Many great people in Scripture were shepherds, including Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Amos, David and others,” Braddy said. “And of course we serve the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.”
Braddy recently presented “Shepherding Your Sheep,” the final of 10 webinars in his Training Thru ’22 series. He noted several well-known shepherds in the Bible.
“The shepherds loved the sheep, and they would put themselves in danger to protect them,” Braddy noted during the webinar. “David said he fought the lion and the bear for his sheep. Shepherding required constant vigilance and a sense of stewardship. The shepherd was responsible to the owner for all the flock.”
Stewardship means the sheep belong to the Lord, Braddy said.
“I’ve had people in every church I’ve served tell me to back off and leave their group alone,” he recalled. “They failed to realize the purpose of Sunday School is to reach people, and new groups do this more effectively. The people aren’t their people, nor is the classroom their classroom! These belong to the Lord and His Church.”
See five tips below for how a Bible study leader can shepherd a small group.
5 characteristics of the Bible study shepherd
First, the shepherd does not drop inactive group members. “I’ve had people say to me that we should drop nonattenders since they mess up our percentage,” Braddy said. “I explain gently that we’re not in the percentage business. And the difference between a class and a community is that we see members as a ministry list.”
Second, every week the shepherd goes after straying sheep. “We cannot wait six weeks out and tell people we care,” Braddy said. “It’s best to make a quick phone call or text, or an email or porch visit to let people know we love them.”
Third, shepherds are pleased with incremental change. “Good shepherds tend to have a long-term perspective,” Braddy noted. “We may not see overnight change in the lives of our group. We prepare well, but we don’t keep our heads down in a commentary all week. We invest in people and encourage them to grow in faith.”
Fourth, shepherds often can be spotted by their meeting space. “If I see a lectern in the room, I think this group has a teacher and little discussion,” Braddy explained. “A judge is elevated in the courtroom as a sign of authority. The best room arrangement is circular with the teacher sitting among the people.”
Fifth, shepherds know their sheep, Braddy said, citing Jim Putman and Bobby Harrington in their book, “DiscipleShift,” who write, “[Jesus’] primary method was life-on-life.” “The good shepherd knows the sheep and their stories and guides his or her teaching accordingly,” Braddy added. “This is another reason that we say the right-sized group should be ‘12, plus or minus four.’ This gives us a manageable community to relate to and teach.”
Finally, Braddy listed five kinds of sheep: guests, prospects, absentees, associate members (who serve the church in other areas) and regular attenders. All have unique needs.
“Carey Nieuwhof said, ‘Nobody should be able to out-local or out-community the church,’” Braddy said. “People are dying for relationship and for connection, and good shepherds realize this.”
Group leaders should purposely create margin in their schedules to “let people in,” Braddy encouraged, and if they feel inadequate, enlist others to help in shepherding.
Podcasts for 2023
Braddy plans to release two seasons of podcasts in 2023, he said. The first will release in February.
“Think Netflix,” he explained. “We plan to do something similar with a season of seven podcasts based on a single theme, and each podcast will be about 25 minutes with me and two or three guests discussing group issues.”
Braddy noted the first season will deal with recruiting workers. The 10 Training Thru ’22 webinars are available for replay at lifeway.com/training22.
Braddy’s book, “Breakthrough: Creating a New Scorecard for Group Ministry Success,” offers suggestions for the post-COVID-19 church.