If there is one image that we see throughout all of Scripture to describe the role of a pastor, it is that of shepherd. As pastors, we are called to shepherd the flock of God. Period.
The most basic function and responsibility of a biblical pastor and shepherd is to KNOW their people, to know their sheep. In the words of Timothy Witmer, before a pastor can “provide proper care he must know the identification of the sheep for whom he is responsible. Jesus not only identifies himself as the good shepherd, but also says, ‘I know my sheep and my sheep know me’ (Jn. 10:14).” In the same way, biblical shepherds must know and identify their sheep. David Dickson captures the heart of knowing the sheep as he describes the relationship that should exist between pastors and their flock:
“He must be acquainted with them all, old and young, their history, their occupations, their habits, their ways of thinking. They and their children should be their personal friends, so that they naturally turn to him as to one on whom they can depend as a kind and sympathizing friend and a faithful counselor.”
It is the responsibility of the pastor-shepherd to get to know the flock, one sheep at a time, to pursue the sheep and engage people on a regular basis. It is not enough to know the sheep as one massive whole on a macro-level, rather we must work to know each person individually, on a personal level. A good shepherd keeps his eyes and ears open as to what is happening in the lives of individual sheep. Shepherds are attentive to the sheep, knowing their spiritual, emotional, and physical condition that they might be served, cared for, and ministered to in a healthy, biblical manner.
Here are a few practical ways pastor-shepherds can work to “know” their sheep:
#1: To shepherd the flock well, it is vital to create an effective, sustainable system for keeping track of weekly worship attendance. Many churches do a poor job of this and as a result their shepherding of the flock suffers. When an individual is gone for two consecutive weeks, a pastor-shepherd will give a call or send a personal note to those who have been absent. The flock must never wonder if their pastor notices or cares that they are gone. They must know we notice and we care! But if this is to happen consistently, a tracking system must be developed. This must be a top priority for effective shepherd leadership.
#2: Beyond reaching out to those who are absent, shepherds should make it a goal to make personal contact with each regular attender under their care by phone, email, text, Facebook, or visit once a month for the purpose of personal pastoral care, prayer and encouragement. In a small church, this is very doable for a disciplined pastor who truly loves their people. In fact it is a joy! As a church grows, it is vital to train up other elders, deacons, or other leaders who can help carry out this kind of personal shepherding vision and strategy.
#3: To help a team of shepherds follow through on their shepherding commitments, it is important for leaders to lovingly hold one another accountable in their joint efforts of caring for the flock. This should take place at a weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly shepherding meeting. This meeting should be a time to share joys and concerns pertaining to the congregation, praying together for each of them individually.
#4: To create a shepherding church culture, it is vital for the flock to understand and hear regularly of the pastoral commitment to shepherd them well. A visit or call should always express genuine interest in how individuals are doing, what their current needs are, and what specific prayer requests they have. Shepherds should expect some of these calls to be short in length, while others may take more time.
 Timothy Witmer, Like Sheep Without A Shepherd, (unpublished manuscript of The Shepherd Leader, 2009), 103.
 Dickson, The Elder and His Work, 15.