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This topic addresses the question of "What is a Shepherd?" and "What does a Shepherd Do" and "Do We Need Shepherds?" in the Workshop Rotation Model.

It begins with a general article and continues with posts from members about whether or not they use shepherds (and why), and what their shepherds do. Your responses are welcome.

Does Each Class Need a Shepherd?

An article by Neil MacQueen

In the Rotation Model, each workshop has a Lead Teacher that stays-put in the workshop, -teaching to a new group each week.

And in some Rotation churches, they also have a "Shepherd" who goes WITH each group from workshop to workshop.  

The idea of having class shepherds makes sense, if you can do it right and sustain it. Some Rotation programs never had them, or stopped using them and do just fine without them. Others consider them to be an important part of their model.  

Shepherds have many obvious benefits, but they also come with a program cost. They are a commitment to recruiting, and therein lies the reason some churches drop the concept, or try to fill the need/role in a different way. 

What is a Shepherd in the Rotation Model?

A Shepherd is an adult assigned to go with a specific group of kids into each workshop. Ideally, the Shepherd is someone making a multi-month, if not year long commitment.

 In theory, the Shepherd "gets to know the kids" by being with them every week in each workshop. The Shepherd pays particular attention to the children's needs, while facilitating the lesson. The Shepherd may also have a defined role, such as, opening worship leader. The details of how they interact with each workshop and the lead teacher will vary depending on your goals and needs.

In some Rotation churches, the inclusion of Shepherds in the Rotation start-up plan deflects potential start-up criticism that the kids in rotation "don't have the same teacher each week" and thus, "don't develop a relationship" with their teachers. Thus, it's very common to see Shepherds in the first year of Rotation, and not uncommon to see Rotation churches moving away from having Shepherds in succeeding years.

How many Rotation churches use Shepherds?  Quite a few!  But their definition of "shepherd" varies between "long-term pastoral presence" and "warm body."  

Speaking as one who was there at the creation of the Model, we DID originally include Shepherds in our concept. But in our particular church, we dropped the shepherd role within the first few months because we found that their role was being fulfilled in other ways by other people, and we didn't need "one more position to recruit for."  

Perhaps the question isn't "Should we have Shepherds?" but rather, "How do we fill the Shepherding Need?"  

Here are some thoughts to consider:

(1) No matter what you decide about Shepherds, you can change, so don't sweat it.  Kids need Shepherding! the question is not "if" but "how" you will fill that need.

(2) In some Rotation churches where teachers are well-known to the kids, and tend to teach all year, the teachers fill much of the Shepherd's role, so there's less of a need to assign Shepherds.  This is particularly true in smaller churches and with smaller class sizes.  As well, the steady presence of staff or key leaders can often fill that role of Shepherd in an overall sense. And if your church has an active children's fellowship, where key leaders are always there, then the idea of Shepherds with workshops may be less important.

(3) In larger Rotation churches, there may be more of a need for Shepherds, just due to the sheer size of the program, unfamiliarity of the adults with the kids, and a schedule or format that needs more guided movement from one place to the next (Sheep-herding!). For example, some Rotation churches start Sunday School with an Assembly where the Shepherds play a role.

(4) What generally does NOT work, is when Shepherds have ill-defined roles, aren't trained in their role, don't have a shepherding personality, aren't given specific things to do in the workshop, and don't know what's going on. 

(5)  Shepherds who should be teachers, and Shepherding as Teacher Training!

Many Rotation churches have found that potentially good teachers were opting for the smaller role of "shepherd" when given the option.  This reason alone has caused many Rotation leaders to opt-out of the Shepherd option. In a church where there are only so many good recruiting options, you may need to ask potential Shepherds to step up and be teachers.

On the flip side, some Rotation churches report that "Shepherding" is a great way to discover new teachers. Other's report that it is an additional "recruiting task" they can't consistently manage. So while "Shepherds" seems like an important idea, if it's going to kill your recruiter, you might think again.

(6) "Shepherd" or "Teaching Assistant" ??

Many Rotation churches opt to assign extra help to specific workshops, rather than, recruiting them as Shepherds. One benefit of doing this is that it allows the teaching assistant to get better at the workshop's lesson plan each week too, just like the lead teacher. 

In one-teacher workshops, a Shepherd will obviously play an important role assisting the teacher. And having been in the other workshops, they can be a source of invaluable information to the lead teacher about "what the kids have already learned" or need to go over again.

In "well-staffed" workshops, Shepherds can feel like fifth-wheels. Because nobody likes to feel un-needed, they may say "no" next time they are asked to help.

I had a husband-wife team in a small church who always taught the Drama Workshop together, sometimes with their teen. Thus, the Shepherd we had for Pre-K and 1-2, --which only had 5 kids in the class, felt like we had the kids out-numbered.

(7)  Some groups may need a Shepherd more than others.

Younger grades tend to need a Shepherd, especially if class sizes are larger. If you have 6-8th graders in rotation, it's a good idea to have a "cool young adult" go with the teens into each workshop, if for no other reason than to make the mom & dad teachers in each workshop less afraid! 

As you can see, a lot depends on your AGE RANGE, and NUMBERS, and on your available volunteer personnel.

It may also depend on the needs of certain volunteers. Most every church I've been part of has that one special older person who loves to go with the kids, but for whatever reason, doesn't want the responsibility of teaching. So it's quite possible that you might assign a Shepherd based on the needs of that shepherd rather than the kids. 

(8) I'm going to put this last because it's the most controversial (to some).

There is this LEGEND in Sunday School you might call "The Legend of the Amazing Mentoring Teacher".  In this legend, people in the church hope that their child will encounter that one magical teacher who will change their child's life. A Christ-figure, if you will.  This is what some planners and parishioners hope for the Shepherd will be.

And it IS a great hope.  But quietly, many of us have admitted that THOSE LEGENDARY TEACHERS or Shepherds were few and far between in the past, and even more scarce here in the future. We lionize them, --the ones who can hold forth every week in amazing ways. But more likely, we can ALL name several boring teachers who UNDID what the one good teacher did that one year you had them.  

And then there's the teacher who thinks THEY are legendary, but I digress.  

Truth is, in most churches you're lucky to have ONE Legendary Teacher or Shepherd, let alone one for every grade group, every week, all year long.  And here's the thing:  Rotation Modelers accept that deficiency as the reality. If your Rotation has all amazing teachers and amazing Shepherds, and never a recruitment problem, we need to get you a website!    

But if you're in a church like most of ours, we often take who we can get, and the Rotation Model is designed to get the best out of this. That's why we FOCUS ON LEGENDARY LESSONS, and helping regular teachers get better.

The other 'myth' out there that Rotation challenges is the idea that kids need the same teacher each week. That may be true in elementary public school, but in Sunday School, it's a rare luxury these days. Most kids don't even attend every week anymore, and few adults commit to that schedule. Rotation Model is honest about that. In Rotation, we shift the burden of teaching one child onto several teachers and several different workshops. It also gives the average teacher the opportunity to at least APPEAR awesome in the eyes of their kids, -because of the creative workshop and lesson plan.


Instead of a class having the same teacher each week for a single year, what we get in Rotation Model is the SAME GROUP of teachers spending time with ALL the kids over a period of years.  

Very early on in our Rotation Model experiments, we realized that in our rather large-church Rotation Model, that the workshop teachers were often well-known parents, or becoming well-known. And these parents took on a Shepherding role in the workshops and outside of them. (Helped to have a great family ministry!)   Most of our workshop teachers were "REPEAT teachers" throughout the year, and year to year. Realizing our shepherding needs were being met without assigned shepherds, we dropped the designation from our model.

To put it another way, it takes a village, not a legend.

To put it yet another way... 

Rotation Model also gives average teachers the opportunity to act in Legendary Ways!

If you have one fabulous teacher who loves Art and Drama, then in the Rotation Model -ALL YOUR KIDS can be taught by that Legendary Teacher, ...every few weeks, year after year. 

That's what we saw happening... "The Legendary Miss Val" was no longer just impacting 1 grade for 1 year. Rather, EVERY grade was getting the benefits of her legendary abilities EACH year.


If in your church the kids way outnumber the adults, and don't often see the same teachers over the course of the year, and if you don't have a fellowship and family ministry, or you have a lot of unchurched kids, then HAVING SHEPHERDS IS A GREAT IDEA.    

If you have smaller numbers, regular teachers who are known to the kids outside of Sunday School, and if you have other ministries where the kids shepherding needs are being met, then you can guilt-lessly consider not having Shepherds for some or all of your classes.

I hope this brief article stokes your discussion.

The right choice is the one you do well.

<>< Neil

Neil MacQueen is one of the founders of the Rotation Model. He is also a Presbyterian minister and contributor to

Your replies are welcome. Be sure to see everyone's replies and suggestions below.  


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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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Here's a compilation of advice from an older forum on the topic of "Do We Need Shepherds?" and "What Do Shepherds Do?"

Member Kate wrote:

Our workshop leaders are more consistent than the shepherd have turned out to be. So the workshop leaders have taken on some of what were shepherd duties.

I've also found that in OUR church, the shepherds are the hardest to recruit and depend on. I would like to do less recruiting and changing around every week, but our Child Protection Policy requires two background checked adults in every room.

I am fortunate to have Workshop Leaders who are amazing! Better than I could have ever wished for!

Member Judi wrote:

We use shepherds ... not as well as we probably should ... but we've found that they are PARTICULARLY EFFECTIVE helping work one-on-one with the restless children in the groups.

We've also learned that the "shepherding" experience is as valuable to the shepherds as to the children. One lady in her early 70's is unable to move about easily and so she takes our attendance and talks quietly with each child as they come in each morning. The joy that this brings to her radiates on her face and in her enthusiasm. She has found an important reason for coming to Sunday School!

Member CR-R wrote:

Shepherds are an integral part of our workshop rotation church school program! They are the constant in an otherwise changing program.

They meet with their flock at the beginning of the hour, take attendance, ask for joys and concerns, talk about last week's lesson, handout nametags and passports (stamped each week at the various workshops), collect offering, send birthday and "We miss you!" post cards, and assist with classroom management.

Also, because this is such a great position, despite the fact that we recruit shepherds for the full year, it is easy to fill!

Finally, our shepherds wear simple muslin robes and carry walking sticks. It helps them "get into" their special role, signals to other adults the special quality of our program, and adds a flair of fun to the kids.

Member Amy Crane wrote:

We have two Shepherds for each age level and they are "on" one rotation, off the next, but trade with each other when they can't be there on a Sunday which they are scheduled for.

Our Shepherds also help keep our commitment to "TWO ADULTS PER CLASS."

We are following the safety rule of at least two adults in each classroom, so the teacher job has been divided between the Workshop Leader, who delivers the content each week in a specific workshop, and the Shepherd.

 The Shepherd welcomes regulars and visitors during our "buckets of fun" time (from 10:30 to official start of class at 10:45 they gather with their group and the Workshop Leader for that week on a specific colored blanket for their group and play games (Kerplunk, simple card games, marble trail, jigsaw puzzle, don't break the ice, etc.) and chat informally.

During the "lesson time" they help with discipline and act as an extra person directing activities and helping with projects. The last 15 minutes of the class is "Shepherd Time." This is where the lesson is reflected upon and life application is most often discussed. When we began rotation a year ago, Shepherd Time was always a journaling activity. Now we write the plans so it is journaling about half the time and talking and thinking and praying the other weeks. Unfortunately, I tend to write long lessons (can you tell I am long winded? -- and some Workshop Leaders are not good at cutting their part short so the Shepherds can do their thing. 

The area where we need to improve is getting rosters to the Shepherds so they can do the birthday cards and we missed you cards. (My daughter's Shepherds go the extra mile and somehow got that info anyway and have sent her Christmas and Birthday cards, which were very well recieved -- she's in second grade, but I think kids any age love getting mail.)

Member Sheila wrote:

we find that our Shepherds are particularly important with the YOUNGER GRADES, especially when it comes to taking a kid to the bathroom.

Member Chris wrote:

We use shepherds, but are considering re-evaluating a bit.

 Last year we did our 5th-6th group without a shepherd, and that worked great, but wouldn't work for all classes.

We are thinking of having shepherds full time for all groups until Christmas, then using them only for the younger groups, or for workshops that are more demanding.

We do have a core of people that are happy to be there every week, but don't want the prep work of a workshop leader, so it fills a niche for them.

Our shepherds don't have much for specific duties. They take attendance, and are supposed to coordinate the snacks for the classes. They are present for opening music and help get kids settled down for that. They do help some with discipline in the more problematic groups, and help with things like bathroom trips and spill cleanup in the preschool group. We've tried having them do the closing prayer, or handing out the take home pages, but it just seems that works better for the workshop leader to do.

The year we had a group of 12 4-year-olds rotating, we had two shepherds which was quite helpful.

Member Karen wrote:

Our shepherds:

  • Make a minimum 3 month (sometimes longer) commitment to an age group 
  • Come to our monthly Bible study/meeting before each month's new lesson begins
  • Greet kids as they arrive (we meet together in a gathering area before going to workshops)
  • Take attendance
  • Actively participate with the kids
  • Help kids with monthly Bible memory verse, are the ones who the kids tell it to when they know it
  • Are the main disciplinarians
  • Make connections through "miss you" cards, "just because" cards, birthday cards, and other occasions as needed
  • Are an extra pair of hands for the workshop leader when needed
  • Get the last 5-10 minutes of classtime for wrap up, prayer, sharing with the kids

We've found that 'shepherds' are a great way for older members who think they don't have the energy anymore for kids, to participate.

Member Jaymie Derden wrote:

I like to say that shepherds are the glue that hold our Rotation Sunday School together!

I depend on them for so many things.

  • Our shepherds are recruited for a school year -- September through May, two per grade level except 1-2 graders who have four.
  • Shepherds work out their schedule so that at least one is available each Sunday (2 per 1-2 grades -- we found that they just needed more hands for certain workshops). During the summer we give our shepherds the summer off and recruit parents (we try to target uninvolved parents) to fill our summer slots. This helps parents understand the way Rotation works and often gets them interested so that they volunteer.
  • Our shepherds take attendance, offering and handle introductions and welcoming visitors. 
  • They participate in games and activities and provide an extra adult hand (2 adult rule at our church too).
  • They provide the relationship building component. 
  • They correspond with children four times a year -- Beginning of school, Christmas, Easter and on the child's birthday.
  • They help with discipline.
  • They help me with evaluation. Shepherds see the whole picture and I count on them to let me know how things are going in general --what is working, what isn't. They are also good at helping me evaluate certain teachers.

    One of the benefits of shepherds that we have discovered is that non-traditional folks seem more willing to be involved with shepherding. I have several grandmothers, moms of older teens and college students and dads who serve as shepherds. They don't have the time or willingness to teach, but the LOVE to shepherd.

Member Brenda wrote:

I haven't used junior highs as shepherds; for the most part they do not have the skills to redirect behavior or more importantly to help the children with the processing of the lesson.

In addition, most junior highers are developmentally focused on their own social needs and don't have the time or the ability to follow through with building relationships with the younger kids.

I have had great success with some senior high students, but again it really depends on the maturity level and the ability of that individual to respond to what comes up.

Junior highs have a high need to feel competant and to try out skills, and I have had good experiences with having them as teacher assistants in the preschool and kindergarten classes.

Maybe what we're really talking about here, then, is NOT SHEPHERDS, but a "Teacher Training Program" ???

Member Neil wrote:

"Shepherds" mean different things to different churches.

 In some churches, they perform a pastoral role.

In other Rotation churches, they are more just "helpers."

In some rotation churches, they are a sneaky training program for future teachers.

Some rotation churches they don't use them at all, or need to use them due to other circumstances. ...or they only use them with the youngest age group.

In the Barrington Church where we first formulated the Rotation Model, we originally had shepherds in the plan, but dropped them after the first year because of some unique circumstances we had going on in that church.

Here are some of those circumstances:

  • We realized that our kids KNEW most of the teachers (who were parents)
  • We had two CE staffers watching out for them (myself and Melissa)
  • We often had a SECOND TEACHER in many of our workshops
  • And perhaps most of all... we had an active family ministry and children's fellowship where many of the pastoral needs were being met, and the kids got to know many of the teachers/parents in these other settings.

Here are the responsibilities of our "guides" (shepherds):

Our classes meet in the gym and then go to their respective stations—the guides meet them in the gym and lead them on to class.

They take attendance, collect the offering, celebrate birthdays, fill out registration sheets for new students, maintain order and discipline, and hand out/collect the journaling folders at the end of class.

They also send follow-up postcards to students who have missed a few Sundays.

We’re a little haphazard with memory work, but the guides go over the verses with the class.

Some of the guides open and/or close with prayer—some have the teachers do that. I would like to give the guides a little more time to do things with the class, but our class-time is only 45 minutes so we’re rushing along as it is.

During the lesson itself, the guides are also a set of helping hands in the classroom. They may help the teacher set things up or hand things out, or assist students as needed with the project at hand. If attendance is low or an uneven number, they may take part in the drama or puppets or other activities.

The students like to see the adults taking part and perhaps even being a bit goofy. Sometimes the guide can help lead the way if the students seem reluctant to try something new (that was more when we first started rotation). Most of the monthly station teachers like having another adult in the room, especially one that knows the kids.

Most of my guides were the former “full-time” Sunday School teachers (they wanted the weekly contact with the students). Even though they weren’t responsible for the lesson and lesson prep, they were a little frustrated at not knowing what was going to be happening in class and how they could best help. We adapted our lesson plan for the teachers to include a paragraph on how they MIGHT utilize the guides. I cut and pasted these paragraphs into a handout for the guides. I also include a paragraph briefly outlining what is happening in each station.

To keep the guides informed on what is happening each month, I give them the following:

• Rotation schedule with stations & locations for the month

• Introduction and Bible background—lists the Bible story with some commentary, the memory verse, goals and objectives, one sentence description of each station. This is the same handout that the teachers get.

• Guide information sheet with the information listed in the above paragraph

• Page with the memory verse printed in big, bold type

This summer, I needed to get some substitute guides to fill in for some long-time volunteers who were leaving the area. Several of the newer members of our church wanted to get involved—a definite answer to prayer."GUIDING" is a pretty non-intimidating way to get involved in Sunday School. Several of the substitute guides over this past year—once they saw what happened in the class—were willing to teach. Yeah!

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