How does the call to watch over souls relate to size of a church?

I was recently asked this question by a pastor greatly troubled that he felt he was not being faithful in this command in Hebrews 13:17 for pastors to “watch over souls as one who will give an account.”  Knowing the rest of us charged to watch over souls should all possess a bit of uneasiness on this matter, here was my response:

Yes, to some degree, we never care for souls like we desire.  However, I think it is possible to care for souls and be faithful to Heb. 13:17, otherwise the writer of Hebrews would not have commanded it.  It is much harder to do it in a large church, but I still think it can happen.  Here is my basic formula:

For every 100 souls, there must be a full time pastor/elder to watch over them.  I have about 100 members and I am the only full time pastor at my church, but I feel like I am able to keep up with what is going on in everyone’s lives and give the attention where it is most needed with the help of other unpaid elders.

In a church of 500 members, you need 5 full time pastors each with the responsiblity of 100 people.  This formula can work as I have been on staff at large churches.  However, for this to work you can’t have a “Youth pastor, music pastor, discipleship pastor, evangelism pastor, etc.” and accomplish this.  The time of all the full time pastors must be committed to public preaching and teaching and tending to souls.  Apart from some type of diliberate approach of this nature, I think it is difficult to “Watch over souls” as our Chief Shepherd has commanded.

Continue to be troubled as you are brother.  It is a good thing and God uses the burden you feel to make you tenacious in your soul care.  Additionally, it will cause you to strive for faithfulness in caring for souls in a way you wouldn’t otherwise.

For further explanation on this formula, see these previous posts:

Shepherding in a larger church

Shepherding in a smaller church 

Posted in Oversight of Souls
14 comments on “How does the call to watch over souls relate to size of a church?
  1. Chris Poteet says:

    While this sounds logical, I fear it would make some churches hastily find pastors to fill a numerical quota (which I have seen before).

    I would hope the greater desire for those who fill the office is based on necessity contingent only on the availability of qualified men (which I know you would agree with).

    • briancroft says:

      Certainly, only qualified men. Otherwise, you defeat the purpose if you don’t put men who are called to watch over souls in that position.

  2. Bill says:


    After reviewing your older posts, you mentioned that a dedicated elder can accomplish the task of daily shepherding in about 30 minutes.

    In this post you mention that the full time pastor/elders should be committed to preaching and teaching. Are you saying that these full time elders should be spending at least 30 minutes each day in contact with the souls entrusted to them as part of their ministry of the Word and prayer?

    If a church cannot budget to maintain the 100:1 ratio (and I realize the likely need for resource stewardship lessons in this case), is there a different ratio of volunteer/part-time elders to souls?


    • briancroft says:

      Great questions. The 30 minute time is a daily time to pray through the membership directory and try to contact them in some way so that you are keeping up with everyone in some way every month. However, you will not visit everyone, but some for the month. You will not meet for coffee everyone, but some. Most all our time should be given to either study to preach or with our people caring for them. I do believe all of that is a part of the ministry of the word and prayer.

      I would think there would be a way to use part time and lay elders to divide up the souls under your care. The goal would be to have one elder who is regularly tending to someone to be able to report accurately about them to the other elders throughout the year.

  3. Jacob Riggs says:

    Thanks for posting and responding to questions!

    How do you suggest giving every pastor time to preach when there are 5?

    Also, how does senior pastoral leadership work? Do 4 of the pastors technically qualify as “associates”? Thank you sir!

    • briancroft says:

      We have 5 pastors, but I am the one usually preaching on Sunday morning. The others preach a great deal on Sunday evening, which I gave up so that these other men could preach. There are also other opportunities such as Wed. Bible study and Sunday morning Bible Study classes. Also, even if they don’t preach much, the ministering the Word to the flock one on one as they all counsel and care is just as much a part of the “Ministry of the Word” we are called to.

      We shouldn’t get caught up in the name stuff. Different churches do it different ways and I am not set on one model. What I care about is that everyone affirmed as a pastor of the congregation is acknowledged as a pastor and gives themselves to the work of prayer, ministry of the word, and caring for the flock. As long as that functionality is there, call them what you will.

  4. Henry says:

    A 100:1 ratio? I guess my experience is totally different – that sounds very financially draining as well as a recipe for passive religion performed by your personal pastor.

  5. Blake says:

    “You will not be able to do as much ministry as you feel you need to for even one family in your entire ministry.” – A seasoned pastor to a group of seminary students

  6. Richard says:

    I don’t see anywhere in scripture that justifies more than 1 pastor per church. With this in mind if your church needs more than 1 that maybe it is too big and it would be better to split into 2.

    • briancroft says:

      Although a debated issue, if I recall, all references to the office of pastor, shepherd, elder, overseer (same office) in the New Testament is in the plural, except for the passages where the characteristics of one pastor is being described (1 Tim. 3, Titus 1). 1 Tim. 5 specifically describes elders who are fully supported by the church and those who are not.

  7. It helped me a lot (and I am one of the pastors of a Church of 600), to understand and implement the truth that the body of believers watching out for one another is one of God’s means for accomplishing perseverance in His people.
    Hebrews 13:17 emphasizes the leader’s role; Hebrews 3:12-14 emphasizes the role of the people.

    “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (Hebrews 3:12-14)

    Here we learn about God’s intention to use the accountability of Christian fellowship to help believers “hold firmly till the end.”

    “Fellowship” one has written, “is more than unconditional love that wraps its arms around someone who is hurting.It is also tough love that hold one fast to the truth and the pursuit of righteousness. For most Christians, the support side of the equation comes more easily than accountability and the subsequent discipline involved. Which is one reason the behavior of Christians is often little different from the behavior of non-Christians. Maybe it’s because we simply haven’t taught accountability. Or maybe it’s because, in today’s fiercely individualistic culture, people resent being told what to do, and since we don’t want to “scare them off,” we succumb to cultural pressures. But too often we confuse love with permissiveness. It is not love to fail to dissuade another believer from sin any more than it is love to fail to take a drink away from an alcoholic or matches away from a baby. True fellowship out of love for one another demands accountability.” (Chuck Colson, The Body, p. 130)

    It’s the lack of this kind of biblical accountability that is a primary obstacle to the church being God’s instrument of divine transformation in the world. People can talk all they want about church growth and renewal, but if it’s emptied of true biblical accountability, the kind of growth and renewal that pleases God won’t happen.

  8. Dave says:

    “watch over souls…formula, Process, System….”

    I do not have a good gut feeling about such terms when communicating the relationship between an “undershepherd” and “sheep”. I am thankful that the Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep; that He knows His own and they know Him; that His eye is on the sparrow and the very hairs of my head are numbered.

    1 Peter 5 2-4: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

    • briancroft says:

      Don’t look too much into the terminology. They are meant simply to reflect an organizational effort that all people under our care are accounted for. The term “keep watch over souls” comes straight from Heb. 13:17 (NASB).

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  1. […] How Does the Call to Watch Over Souls Relate to Size of a Church? – “I was recently asked this question by a pastor greatly troubled that he felt he was not being faithful in this command in Hebrews 13:17 for pastors to “watch over souls as one who will give an account.”  Knowing the rest of us charged to watch over souls should all possess a bit of uneasiness on this matter, here was my response…” […]

  2. […] post comes out of several questions that have been asked from my post watching over souls in regard to leadership in the church and how those leaders should be labeled.  Should I be the […]

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