Hands down, my favorite book on leadership is Henri Nouwen’s In The Name of Jesus. Our special needs ministry team is reading it together as we start another year of ministry, and we’ve reached the point where Nouwen reminds us (via John 21) what our call is from Christ as ministers of His gospel: “Feed my lambs.” Nouwen phrases it this way, “He (Jesus) wants Peter (and us) to feed his sheep and care for them; not as ‘professionals’ who know their clients’ problems and take care of them, but as vulnerable brothers and sisters who know and are known, who care and are cared for, who forgive and are being forgiven, who love and are being loved” (p. 61). What a beautiful picture of how a pastor or shepherd ought to lead and serve their congregation!
May I speak directly to those serving in leadership roles within a local church? Have you taken an inventory of your flock recently? Are there people in your fold who are being left “un-shepherded?” As pastors, we are called to teach and to tend the flock God gives us—Paul speaks to both of these things often (e.g. Ephesians 4:11, Acts 20:28). But this is a difficult task to do alone, in fact, it’s not meant to be done alone (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, Acts 14:23, 1 Peter 5:1-2). Many churches choose to hire or appoint pastors who can help provide oversight and shepherding to a group of sheep who may be more vulnerable or in need of their own shepherd (e.g. children’s ministry or youth ministry). As you ponder who these groups are in your congregation, have you considered those with disabilities? If there are people with disabilities in your congregation without a shepherd, I’d encourage you to find them one – not to separate them out (as can be the danger), but to better enfold them. Whether it’s an elder, a lead pastor, a staff member, or an empowered volunteer; these are sheep that need a shepherd as much as anyone else in the fold.
And I want to distinguish the role/title of a “shepherd” vs. a “director.” I’m not just talking about someone who will facilitate programming (though, it can be an important role). But, at the end of the day, program directors make programs; shepherds make disciples. Now, I know in some of our denominations, the title of Pastor is a sacred one, and I’m not saying you need to change your language. But, I’d like to challenge you to consider the vision for this role and the person who fills it. And if you’re reading this and you are already serving individuals affected by disability in your congregation, I encourage you to own the calling and never forget what Jesus has asked you to do—feed my sheep.
So, as we own this task of feeding His sheep, we must acknowledge the reality that all of us are under the care of the Great Shepherd, and our job is to point people to Him. Let Him lead you, let him care for you, and “may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever” (Hebrews 13:20-21).
Vinnie Adams is the Reflectors Special Needs Ministry Director and Campus Worship Leader at Faith Church in Dyer, Indiana. he and his wife, Kate, currently life in Crown Point, Indiana with their sons, Jakob (4) and Josiah (1).