Pastoring one another in community

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.

5 thoughts on “Pastoring one another in community

  1. Thank you for this excellent summary – no objections from me this time!
    Your underlining of the need to turn ‘hanging out together’ into ministering to one another is hugely important in order for the gospel community to function as it should. I guess my only comment is that it is also important that we allow ourselves to be ministered to by others. There can be a tendency for us to be so determined to intentionally minister to someone else that we subconsciously shut off the possibility of allowing someone to minister to us. Usually it seems to come from the mistaken idea that you’re got to be completely sorted yourself before you can minister to others and that therefore admitting to your own problems or failings somehow undermines your own ability to help someone else (if you see what I mean!).
    Enjoy grace!

  2. Pingback: Tim Chester on Pastoring one another in community

  3. Tim – I totally agree that life in community is the best way to pastor and shepherd each other and going on mission is critical part of being a body but I question your ability to make fully-formed disciples without a strong systematic process as well. Do you see this as a critical piece, not only for leaders, but for all disciples?

  4. Hey Tim – I was at the Total Church NA conference. Thanks for coming and sharing – its been reverberating in my soul ever since… I oversee Community groups at our church and i’ve been processing this idea of “gospel intentionality” together with them. Do you mind if I use this post on a yahoo group discussion to help flesh out what gospel intentionality looks like? Peace to all of you across the sea.

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