At first thought there may seem to be no difference between a shepherd and a sheepherder. On the outward appearance they both accomplish the same job of taking the flock to pasture, making sure they are fed, and returning them to the fold. Each week, pastors, teachers, and support staff accomplish the same goals with the flock God has entrusted them. They gather their flock together, present a spiritual lesson, and send them on their way. The difference lies then inwardly, both in the leader and the flock. It is what takes place in the heart that can quickly determine whether you are fulfilling the job of a shepherd or sheepherder.For a better explanation, let’s consider Genesis 12:8. Talking about Abram, From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the name of the LORD. Focus on two sections. Abram ‘pitched his tent’ and ‘built an altar.’ Abram erected a temporary living environment, yet more permanently constructed a place for worship. How can this apply to us? What does it say to a Senior Pastor, Children’s Pastor, or Sunday School Teacher? Our focus must be on what is lasting. Too often, we are so caught up with our focus on the temporary environment, that we miss the opportunities to allow for something more permanent. Let us be careful not to build our stage sets and pitch our altars. For a children’s church, the focus may be to develop a television competitive service or program that will enthuse the children and drive attendance up. On the outward appearance it may appear that God is blessing because kids are excited to come and the church is growing in numbers. But let’s remember that excitement and numerical growth are not indicators of spiritual growth. For example, I live in a city that recently started an expansion team for the NFL. The excitement has been contagious. Within the first few months of the team’s existence, businesses changed their names to incorporate the name of the team. Off duty police would run outside and sound their sirens for every touchdown during a game. It has been a frenzy of enthusiasm. A new stadium had been constructed to seat the growing number of football fans. We have senior citizen neighbors who had never watched a television football game in their lives now never missing one. Yet, in all of this, there is no spiritual growth. You can be a sheepherder and have apparent success in your ministry but that’s not going to cut it! You must be a shepherd.
A shepherd cares for the sheep. In the passage about Abram, the shepherd is the one whose focus is on building the altar. How much time do you spend preparing for the altar portion of your service or class? This is the time you give the children an opportunity to be personally challenged and changed by the Almighty God. If your kids aren’t experiencing God, then they aren’t having a lasting experience. In the X,Y,Z’s of Children’s Ministry article, there is a section that says Give God Time to Move. Too often we sit back and wonder what could make our children’s church grow or what can we do to change the lives of the kids we are ministering to. It’s very basic. God needs time to move in their lives. Often, we plan the service with a puppet skit, fun songs, a drama Bible story, a fun Gospel illusion, and a really cool trick cartooning, but we fail to leave an ample amount of time for the kids to touch God. Plan your service around a challenge. Make the altar time a commitment to that [spiritual] challenge. Give the kids plenty of time to commit to God in their own words. Give the kids plenty of time to hear from God in their own hearts. Seal that time with quality worship. Here, we are building altars that will change lives.
Let us then consider the healthy balance of ‘pitching tents and building altars.’ If we are not ‘pitching tents’ then we must start. To pitch means to erect and fix firmly in place. This tells us that we must put effort into our class or service. Be sure that everything is fixed firmly in place. Don’t allow yourself to be unprepared. If you need beanbags for Sunday, be sure they are there. If you’re building a new stage set, do it well. Know your lesson. Then ‘build your altar.’ Pray. Meditate. Pray. Allow God to minister the lesson to your heart and life. Seek His guidance as to where He wants to direct the children and what changes He wants to make in their lives. Allow ample time for God and the children to be together during your service. Direct the children to seek God, hear from God, and allow God to change their lives.
This isn’t an easy or quick job. Being a shepherd requires much work and diligence. Consider Genesis 26:25. Isaac built an altar there and called on the name of the LORD. There he pitched his tent, and there his servants dug a well. When you’ve ‘built your altar’ and ‘pitched your tent,’ it is time to ‘dig your well.’ Digging a well is back-breaking work. It requires perseverance, patience, and character. But the results are refreshing and rewarding. So, put in the work required to dig your well. Dig your well deep so you and your children will find the living water that eternally refreshes and cleanses. It is then you will begin to enjoy the true pleasures of being a shepherd.
© by Rev. Gary R. Linn, Children’s Ministry Today