We continue our four part series on how we look out for one another in the Christian Church.

Dear friends in Christ, 

Last week we informed you that our congregation will be implementing a new ministry program called Our Good Shepherd Plan.   The key component of the plan is very simple –  friendship registers.   During the offering the register will be handed down each row, allowing each family (or individual) to record that they were present.     

The primary goal of this plan is to follow St. Peter’s divinely inspired instructions. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (1 Peter 5:1).   If a member has to miss worship regularly because of work or illness, it is our responsibility to continue to feed them with God’s Word in whatever way we can, just as a shepherd feeds his sheep.

The secondary goal of Our Good Shepherd Plan is illustrated by a well-known event in Peter’s life.   

On Maundy Thursday evening Peter told Jesus that if all the other disciples left him, he would remain faithful.  Just hours later Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter had strayed from his Savior.   After Jesus rose, Peter wondered about his place among Jesus’ followers. Would Jesus even want him back?

So one day near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus pulls Peter aside.   (See John, chapter 21.)   Jesus does not berate or scold Peter.   Jesus is gentle.   He asks Peter three times, “Simon, do you love me?”   Three times, reminding Peter of the three-fold denial.    Each time, Peter responded, “Lord, you know that I love you.”  Peter knew that Jesus could read his heart.   Jesus could see that Peter loved him, even if Peter’s recent denials did not demonstrate love.   Jesus then made it crystal clear to Peter that not only was Peter forgiven, but Jesus also still wanted Peter to serve as a disciple.   For every time Peter spoke, Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs… my sheep.”    We would have understood if Jesus had been angry or harsh with people, but instead, Jesus gently restored Peter.   A crushing weight was lifted off Peter that day.   

St. Paul says that what Jesus did for Peter, we want to do for one another.   “If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Galatians 6:1).     

That is a secondary goal of Our Good Shepherd Plan.   While many people miss worship repetitive weeks for legitimate reasons, there are others who begin to miss worship repetitively for illegitimate reasons.   Like Peter, they drift away from their Savior. It might be they are taking a “break” from church. It might be that they got into a quarrel with someone at church and don’t want to see them. It might be that they decided they disagree with some doctrine.   

Scripture tells us that when something like that happens we want to deal with it early on. (Jesus ascended forty days after he rose. So he obviously dealt with Peter in a timely fashion.) The Bible says that sin “hardens” the heart (Hebrews 3:13).   If you quickly talk to someone who is wrestling with a sin, they may be more apt to listen than if you talk to them six months later. Over that longer period of time, the person’s sin may have hardened them.   Think of it this way.  It’s easier to crush an acorn than it is to cut down an oak!    

Therefore, the secondary goal of Our Good Shepherd Plan is to identify when people are slipping into the sin of neglecting the means of grace. If someone starts to fall into the habit of skipping worship, we want to gently encourage them to return to the unique blessings that God offers in the assembly of the saints. That is probably going to be easier to do if we talk to them early on, instead of waiting till they have been absent for many months.   

“Restore that person gently.”    Just like Jesus did for Peter.   That is another goal of Our Good Shepherd Plan.    Next time, we will see why this is so important.