Care in the Church

Care in the Church

The Conviction to Care in the Church

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,
to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).
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The conviction to care in the church, must come before care in the church. It is vital that one has conviction to care before they set out to care. This is true for many reasons.
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For one, caring can be difficult.[1] Also, as Albert Mohler has said, “deep beliefs drive visions and plans”[2] and “leadership is all about putting the right beliefs into action, and knowing, on the basis of convictions, what those right beliefs and actions are.”[3] So, it is important that convictions come first.
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What does Scripture say about shepherding care?

First, the word “pastor” comes from the Latin word pastor, meaning shepherd. A pastor is a “shepherd” or “one who cares for a flock or herd.” That’s why “pastor” sounds like the word “pasture.” The two words are connected. “The concept of the leader as a shepherd is a theme with deep roots in God’s written revelation with its foundation in the Old Testament and fulfillment in the New.”[4] We are going to briefly consider some of the passages about God’s call to leaders to provide shepherding care.

Care in the Old Testament

God has always shepherded His people (Gen. 48:15; Ps. 23:1; Ps. 71:17-18; 77:20; 78:52, 72; 80:1; 95:6-7; Is. 40:11; Mic. 5:4). Further, He has provided under-shepherds to lead and care for His people. He has told people that serve as leaders to shepherd His people (2 Sam. 7:7). Ironically, before Moses and David shepherded God’s people, they shepherded a literal flock of sheep (cf. Ps. 78:70-71).

God, for example, knows that unexperienced challenges come with age (2 Sam. 19:35; Eccl. 12:2-5) and He cares that His people are helped with those challenges. Scripture even says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). God deeply cares for His people and wants to see them cared for.

When God’s people are not rightly cared for, He is upset. God says, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture” (see Jer. 23:1-4)! And Ezekiel 34 shows that God takes the failure of His under-shepherds very seriously. He pronounces judgment on them (Ezek. 34:1-10). He promises He Himself will care for them (Ezek. 34:11-22).[5] And He promises that the Perfect Shepherd will come and care for them (Ezek. 34:23-31). This brings us to the New Testament and pastors serving as Jesus’ under-shepherds.

Care in the New Testament

First, is Paul’s powerful exhortation to pastor/elders to “pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). What a high, precious, and important calling! Pastors are to care for what Jesus bought with His very blood. If it is that important to Jesus, how can it not be important to us?

Paul himself provides a powerful example of pastoral care. Paul visited people to “see how they are doing” (Acts 15:36).[6] And his letters showed his shepherding care. His letters were part of his care. So, Paul sought to make disciples and care for disciples. These are complementary callings of church leaders.

Paul shared pastoral concern for God’s people. He wrote “I have you in my heart” (Phil. 1:7) as well as “being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). But Paul didn’t just write letters, he also visited people(Acts 15:36). So, Scripture would have us see the importance of ministry both “publicly” and “house to house” (Acts 20:20).

Second, Peter passed on what he heard from Jesus: “shepherd the flock” (John 21:15-17). Peter relayed the command that we are to shepherd the flock of God that is among us (1 Peter 5:1) yet Peter also reminds us of our motivation: that the chief Shepherd when He appears, will give us the unfading crown of glory (v. 4).

Third, Acts 6:1-7 shows us we must make plans, delegate, and ensure the practical needs of people in the church are taken care of. And Ephesians 4:7-16 shows us that it is not just pastors that are to do ministry, but a big part of pastoral ministry is equipping the saints to do ministry. The church is the body, and each member is to do their part if the body is to function as it is supposed to (1 Cor. 12:4-31). Each member is equipped with gifts from the Spirit (Rom. 12:3-8) and is supposed to employ them for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7). Sadly, a Gallup survey found that only 10% of church members in America are active in any kind of personal ministry.[7]

Fourth, Jesus has compassion and cares for people when they helpless like a sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36). Jesus holds church leaders responsible to care for His precious sheep. The leaders of the church are to keep watch on Jesus’ sheep knowing that they “will have to give an account” (Heb. 13:17). In fact, Jesus sees the care of those who are “down in out” as though it was done for Him. So, as we visit people, Jesus sees it as though we were visiting Him (see Matthew 25:35–36).

King David, before he was king, risked his life for mere sheep (1 Samuel 17:34-36). King Jesus gave His life for His sinful people. He’s the Good Shepherd that lays down His life of the sheep (John 10:11). And His under-shepherds are to lovingly and practically care for those for whom He gave His life (Acts 20:28).

Thus, in summary, we have seen King Jesus, the Great and Sovereign Shepherd, laid down His life for the sheep and calls the church to care for His sheep. So, we must do so.

Biblical Delegation of Care

As Acts 6:1-7 and Ephesians 4:7-16 show us, the delegation of care within the church is not only wise, practical, and necessary, it is also biblical. Exodus 18 also shows us the important of shifting care to the congregation. If the church is going to care well as God would have it, care cannot just be left to one pastor or even a team of pastors.

The New Testament teaches that God equips believers. It teaches the “priesthood of all believers” (1 Pet. 2:4-5). That is, those who are new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21) not only have access to God through Christ but they are also equipped to do ministry by the Spirit of God. Therefore, the care of the church is to be done not just by a pastor or pastors, but by the church itself. The pastor is to be the “lead carer” and to equip other “carers” but he is not to do it on his own. Nor can he. So, one of the many things Christian leaders must do, is equip the church to do the ministry of the church.

The church is described in various ways, but the main image of the church is body.[8] And each part of the body is vital. It won’t work as it is supposed to without each part functioning. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12). We are people in need of care, helping people in need of care.[9]

The biblical and effective church will be the church that mobilizes, equips, empowers, and supports Christians in ministry.[10] Many people can do most of what pastors do, pastors must do what most people can’t do.[11] One of the main tasks of pastors is to equip people to do what they can do.

One Christian leader has said, “Caring for 30 people personally is possible. Caring for 230 is not.”[12] So, we must structure bigger to go bigger. That’s essentially what Jethro’s advice was in Exodus 18. “The pastoral care model of church leadership simply doesn’t scale.”[13] So, to care for the church well, as God has told pastors to do, we must do something biblical. We must “equip the saints for the wok of the ministry” (Eph. 4:12).

So, once again, the conviction to care in the church, must come before care in the church. I hope this has helped you towards the conviction part. In a future post, I hope to lay out the specifics of implementing that care.

Notes

[1] “Upon leaving seminary, many a young man discovers that his love for the Chief Shepherd does not extend to a love for God’s sheep. Without dispute, difficulties in dealing with people is the number one cause for ministry dropouts (85 percent according to one denomination)” (David C. Deuel, “The Pastor’s Comoassion for People, ”176 in Pastoral Ministry: How to Shepherd Bibically.

[2] Albert Mohler, The Conviction To Lead: 25 Principles For Leadership That Matters (Bethany House, 2012), 53

[3] Mohler, The Conviction To Lead, 26.

[4] Timothy Z. Witmer, The Shepherd Leader: Achieving Effective Shepherding in Your Church, 9.

[5] The LORD says “I will…” twenty four times in Ezekiel 34. He will shepherd His sheep. The chapter also says “LORD” sixteen times and “Sovereign LORD” eight times.

[6] And remember, John longed to see his people “face to face.” He was not satisfied with letters. He  wanted to visit.

[7] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Church, 365-66.

[8] The church is a family (Eph. 2:19; 3:15), temple (Eph. 2:20-22), army (Eph. 6:11-18; 2 Tim. 2:3-4), and bride of Christ (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 19:2-8).

[9] Taken from the subtitle of Paul David Tripp’s book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands: People In Need of Change Helping People in Need of Change.

[10] Robert E. Slocum, Maximize Your Ministry (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1990), 9.

[11] See Barry G. Lawson, “Lay Shepherding: Developing A Pastoral Care Ministry for The Small To Mid-Sized Church,” 13.

[12] Carey Neiuwhof, “How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches.”

[13] Neiuwhof, “How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches.”

*Photo by Antonello Falcone

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