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The fall is here and so are Shepherding Groups

September 04 2018
September 04 2018

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Living in South Texas means we can’t count on falling leaves and changing weather to tell us autumn is here. The temperature will still be in the 90s long after the first official day of fall in September, and we will be wearing shorts and T-shirts for months after other parts of the country have moved on to jackets and long sleeves. But if anyone is in doubt, the fall is here. School buses are back on the road, and pictures of smiling children on the first day of school fill our social media feeds. Summer is over and that means things have changed.

We experience those changes both in our families and at church. San Antonio is a military town, and so at Redeemer our summers have always meant that we say goodbye to cherished friends whom God is moving on to serve elsewhere in his Kingdom. In particular, this past summer was a big year for those kinds of transitions and I know that we are all sensing that loss.

Even for a church accustomed to such yearly transitions though, 2018 brought an unprecedented amount of change to Redeemer. Recently Redeemer had the privilege of launching Trinity Grace Church under the leadership of church planter Michael Novak and his wife, Rachel. While previous church plants Redeemer has supported have drawn small numbers of Redeemer members, the core planting group of Trinity Grace in Northwest San Antonio was heavily populated by Redeemer families, some of whom had been at Redeemer since its earliest days.

We rejoice in the strong start that foundation has given Trinity Grace — from conversations with Michael, I know Trinity Grace is doing very well, and that is cause for celebration. At the same time, when a new church is planted, the mother church goes through a season of transition. While our friends have not left San Antonio, Trinity Grace’s launch has affected Redeemer in many of the same ways moves do. We have sent out valued teachers, active volunteers, ministry leaders, and beloved friends we no longer see next to us at church on Sundays.

In spite of all these transitions, the chairs in the sanctuary are not empty during worship services. In fact, Redeemer’s attendance is tracking very similar to previous years. That can mean only thing –– there are as many or more new people coming to Redeemer as have transitioned out. This is exciting news! If you’re new to Redeemer, we’re thrilled that you have joined us on God’s mission in our city, and we encourage you to jump in and serve.

These new faces should also be an encouragement to those of us who have weathered the transitions of this year. Year after year, Redeemer’s growth is a wonderful sign that God is continuing to bless and use Redeemer for his purposes in San Antonio. It means that Redeemer’s foundational commitments to joyful worship, God’s freeing grace and serving our city in word and deed are still stirring the hearts in our congregation to engage in ministry.

Still, all of this transition, especially when added to the size of Redeemer’s congregation, can feel a bit overwhelming –– not just to our new arrivals but also to our longest serving members. The bigger Redeemer becomes, the harder it is for our members, particularly our newest ones, to feel at home and experience genuine care in the Gospel. 

For these reasons and more, the Session has spent more than a year discussing how they might better shepherd and connect with Redeemer’s growing membership. The chief outcome to that discussion was the decision to establish Shepherding Groups throughout the congregation.

Though these ideas are still being worked out, a Shepherding Group will be formed of two, three or four existing Community Groups joined together under the oversight of one or more Redeemer Ruling Elders. In case you’re wondering, these will not be strictly geographical parishes, but communities of Community Groups.

The hope is that these groups will help connect the entire membership of Redeemer to its leadership, community and mission. The Session longs for every member to feel that they are known and cared for, valued participants in Redeemer’s ministry and experience accountability for living in the truth and grace of the Gospel.

It is also important to distinguish Shepherding Groups from other programs of ministry. Unlike other discipleship opportunities at Redeemer (e.g. Spiritual Formation Adult CE classes, Community Groups, Men’s and Women’s ministries, Young Adult Ministries, etc.), the goals for Shepherding Groups are broader and more holistic in focus. As Shepherds, Redeemer’s Ruling Elders want to help members experience a personal connection in the church and encourage participation in Redeemer’s overall program of discipleship. It’s not so much the expectation that these shepherds will be day-to-day disciplers, as much as those who will encourage Redeemer members to engage with the regular discipleship opportunities occurring at Redeemer.

In addition, Redeemer’s growth also makes it difficult for our pastors to attend to all of the pastoral needs we face as a congregation. Therefore, Shepherding Group leaders shall provide members with another important point of personal, spiritual guidance in times of crisis, transition or significant life events.

To fulfill their purpose, Shepherding Group leaders will focus on four practices:

• Care & Visitation: Shepherding Group leaders will have primary responsibility for ensuring new members to their group are welcomed and integrated into a community group, visitation during hospitalizations or the death of a loved one, and guidance during times of crisis.

• Community Group Visitation: Through periodic visitation, Shepherding Group leaders will encourage strong community group participation, provide guidance to their leaders and ensure that group members are well informed about important church initiatives.

• Prayer: Shepherding Group leaders will exhibit their spiritual leadership by knowing their members well enough that they might be covered in prayer. It is hoped that Shepherding Groups will promote a greater practice and culture of prayer at Redeemer.

• Gatherings: Two to three times per year, Shepherding Groups will gather together to practice hospitality and celebrate our common life together.

This is an exciting development and one that will surely enrich and strengthen the Redeemer community. Our hope is to form our first Shepherding Groups this fall, so stay tuned for further communication. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me, one of the other pastors or any of the ruling elders.


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