The Shepherds Network, which was created in 2011, is an outreach of Harding School of Theology. Their goal is to encourage church leaders and their wives, while providing additional resources to enhance their service to the local church and the Kingdom of God. Shepherds Networks have been hosted in Memphis, with the exception of a northwest connection that was hosted in Belgrade, MT in 2012. The next Shepherds Network will be hosted in Vienna, WV on the campus of OVU from August 1-3.
I first attended a Shepherds Network in Memphis in the fall of 2012 and instantly became a believer in this ministry. Though HST is my alma mater, that is not specifically what drew me to the event. Rather, it was the excitement of knowing that there was an event with resources that could help equip us to appoint elders and deacons. I live in Pennsylvania, where the church situation is generally dire. Many of the churches don’t have elders or deacons and the decline in attendance is symptomatic of a deeper problem. We were no exception. By 2012, our congregation had been 102 years with no elders and the last record of any deacons was in 1916. Our attendance was plateaued and we weren’t reaching the lost.
We wanted to sit at the feet of experienced shepherds and adopt a healthy biblical method of selecting and appointing shepherds and servants. If we were going to appoint shepherds and deacons, it was going to be done in a healthy manner. The result? In October of 2012 I presented to the congregation an outline for walking the congregation through a healthy process of selecting, testing, and appointing elders and deacons. In October of 2013 we appointed our very first shepherds along with our first deacons since 1916! They are godly men and we all joyfully share our ministries together. The church is growing as a result of healthy leadership and we have a much deeper focus and vision on evangelism and restoring sinners.
Shepherds Network is a great opportunity for church leaders to be enriched and encouraged by spending time with other leaders. One of the exciting things about ministry is that we are seeing an increase in resources for elders and deacons. Their ministries are vital to the health of the church, so resources to encourage and equip them are essential. When Paul had his emotional meeting with the Ephesian elders in Miletus, he equipped and encouraged them when he said, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV).