by Brian G. Bettes
And when they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe], and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch, confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith…” (Acts 14:21-22 KJV).
Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren to every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36 NKJV).
The above verses show that the apostle Paul understood the value of visiting the brethren to encourage them. In fact, Paul spent a great deal of his ministry traveling, visiting, and encouraging the brethren.
During the Days of Unleavened Bread, my wife, daughter, and I had the opportunity to visit with three different congregations, encouraging them, and discussing the meaning of those important days as we celebrated them. We have had the privilege many times to take such trips, with the stated purpose of giving a message of encouragement from the Scriptures, and to fellowship with the brethren.
As shepherd-elders of Christ’s people (some use the terms “ministers” or “ministry,” terms I attempt to avoid whenever possible due to the gross misunderstanding and misapplication of them), we have many responsibilities assigned to us by Him. We are called upon to:
be the “helpers (co-laborers or fellow helpers) of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24);
help Jesus in the “perfecting (completing/finishing) of the saints;”
do the “work (toil/labor) of ministry” (attendance as a servant, aid, service);
“edify (confirm or build up) the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12);
“speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15);
exhort (call near, invite, invoke [by imploring or consolation], beseech, call for, comfort, desire, entreat), and confirm (further support, re-establish, strengthen) the brethren (Acts 15:32, 40-41);
provide “meat in due season” to His household (Matthew 24:45-46);
feed Christ’s flock (John 21:15-17; 1 Peter 5:1-2).
Our role is to work with Christ’s people very much like a shepherd would work with a flock of sheep; hence the moniker “shepherd-elder.” Though the above is by no means a definitive list of the duties of shepherd-elders, it is sufficient to the point being made here. We have a responsibility when we go out to visit, whether it be one person or a large congregation, to bring encouragement to, lift up, bring support to, and strengthen the faith of the brethren. We do this by preaching the truth of the Scripture to them, and also by fellowshipping in the Spirit with them (Philippians 2:1-2).
We have a certain duty to bring the joy of Christ’s salvation, and the ultimate plan and purpose of our Father through Jesus’ sacrifice, to the forefront of their minds. Doing these things always gives me a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity to be an instrument that brings this message of hope to God’s people. It also fills me with an even deeper sense of humility as I replay God’s incredible purpose in my mind, and speak the words to others. There is nothing quite like the realization in the core of your being that the Great God of the Universe is working to reproduce Himself in each and every child He has called—that’s you and me.
One other critical thing we are to do as shepherd-elders is to encourage the brethren to have a closer relationship with our Father and Brother, through the Holy Spirit. I find it nearly impossible to give a message anymore without pointing to God’s incredible purpose in creating us, which is to recreate Himself. The way He is doing that is through His Holy Spirit in us.
Since this hope is given to us by “the love of God [that] has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5), and, we are to transform our minds from the old man by renewing the spirit our minds (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:20-24), God is extending His very Self, His Divine Nature, into us in a very personal way to make this happen.
As shepherd-elders, we have a responsibility to point the brethren toward, and even “nudge” them if possible, into a deeper fellowship with Jesus and our Father. Why? Because fellowshipping with God in the Holy Spirit is the key, in fact it is the ONLY way, for us to have sin removed from us, and His Righteous Divine Nature created in us. John understood this and pushed the saints of his day toward fellowship with God, and with one another (1 John 1:6-9).
What I find most interesting about these trips is, though we are there to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, how much they always “return the favor” by deeply encouraging us. Paul understood this concept, stating to the Roman congregation when he said to them, “…that I may come to you with joy by the will of God, and may be refreshed together with you” (Romans 15:32).
God’s Spirit living in each of us encourages His Spirit within the other. God, by His Spirit, extends Himself into His entire family and unifies us into one heart, and one mind, when we fellowship using His Spirit (Ephesians 4:4-6). We encourage one another by sharing Him whom is within us, with one another. It is an amazing and very powerful circumstance that occurs when we open ourselves up to doing this.
As stated at the beginning, it is a truly a privilege for my family to be able go out and visit congregations, and to fellowship with God’s children. In these interactions, we always pray beforehand that we can bring God’s love, His hope, and His encouragement into the lives of those we will be visiting. We feel very blessed when, through this process, we are uplifted and renewed in our own spirits by the love and fellowship reciprocated to us by His people. When we arrive home, we always thank our Father in prayer for the opportunity to be encouraging, and be encouraged.