Here’s a summary of part of my talk at the North American Total Church conference on ‘making disciples in missional church’.
Pastoral care in community
Churches often have a very professional approach to pastoral care – it’s something done by a pastor or a counsellor. But Paul tells the whole Christian community in Ephesus to speak the truth to one another in love (Ephesians 4:15). The context is the gospel community (Ephesians 4:1-16) and the content is the gospel word (Ephesians 4:17-25).
God has given us the Christian community with all its differences and giftings as the context for change and growth. Paul says Christ ‘makes the whole body fit together perfectly’ (v. 16, NLT).
– you need to help others change
– you need to let others help you change
Pastoral care through the gospel
We help one another change and overcome pastoral problems:
– by ‘speaking the truth in love’ (v. 15)
– by speaking ‘the truth that is in Jesus’ (v. 21)
– as we ‘put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body’ (v. 25)
– as we ‘do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ (v. 29)
We pastor one another through speaking the truth because our underlying issue is the ‘deceitful desires’ of our hearts (v. 22; see also Mark 7:20-23; Romans 1:18-25). Sin promises satisfaction, meaning, identity. but it deceives. In reality it enslaves and destroys. So we need to speak the truth to one another, calling on one another to repent of our idolatrous desires and turn in faith to the truth that is in Jesus.
Ordinary life with gospel intentionality
So missional communities need to create a culture in which we encourage one another to challenge, comfort, console, exhort and rebuke one another with the gospel in the context of ordinary life.
If I’m moaning, I need someone to challenge me to find joy in Christ. If I’m anxious, I need someone to exhort me to trust in my heavenly Father’s care. If I’m ashamed, I need someone to comfort me with the grace of God. It might be another leader; it might be a new Christian. It might be in a scheduled meeting; it might be as we tend someone’s garden together.
This is not just about what happens in a weekly meeting. This is about gospel intentionality through the week in the context of shared lives. We need daily exhortation (see Hebrews 3:12-13). And we need it from people who see us in the daily grind of life, not just when we are on our best behaviour. Anger, frustration, bitterness, sulking, jealousy and malice are all signs that are idolatrous desires are being threatened or thwarted. We need people who see us when we are angry, frustrated and so on so they can challenge those idolatrous desires.
We need to create church cultures in which it is normal to comfort and rebuke one another. One of our dangers is that we only do this in times of crisis. As a result, speaking the truth in love actually creates a crisis. We need to think of church discipline not simply as a final act of excommunication – that kind of discipline rarely works. We need to think of it as a lifestyle of discipleship.
As with mission, this speaking the gospel to one another does not happen automatically. Hanging out with people is not enough in itself. If I go to the cinema or do some chores with you, that is not going to change you on its own. Again, we need ‘gospel intentionality’. We need to engage in every relationship thinking, How can I bless this person? What’s the next step for them? What truth do they need to here? It’s about ordinary life with gospel intentionality.
This material is developed more in chapter 9 of my book, You Can Change.