It’s one of the perennial challenges for church leaders. Do we focus outwardly on mission or inwardly on pastoral-care. At times, it can feel like these two things are in competition. If our focus is always on outreach, then people in the church will go uncared for, unvisited, unsupported. Of course, if we don’t do mission, then will we see any new people? Does that local church have a future?
By mission, I specifically mean intentional Gospel outreach as we seek to share the good news with those who would not naturally come into our gathering and/or who haven’t yet responded to the good news.
– Day to day conversations that every church member should be having with friends, neighbours and family.
– Intentional “cold contact” with people to introduce them to the Gospel This might include door to door and street evangelism but will also include invitation events, social media and running activities such as clubs for young people.
– Preaching the Gospel in our meetings.
The aim of mission is to fulfil the Great Commission. This after all, is the mission Jesus Christ has given to his church to “make disciples.”
It’s also important to think about what we mean by pastoral care. Too often this becomes narrowly focused on visiting the sick and lonely. It is important that we do this as a church together. Indeed, this is simply about loving one another within the body and all members should share this responsibility including the elders who should see it as an aspect of showing hospitality.
However, pastoral care is something a little bit more than that. You see, our responsibility as elders in the church is to see the congregation built up and equipped for works of service so that it will grow together into unity.
Pastoral care therefore involves 1-1 discipleship. This means teaching God’s Word from the front, in small groups and 1-1. It means modelling godly behaviour for others. It will involve answering questions, giving advice, praying with and for people and also being willing to challenge sinful behaviour and wrong doctrine.
Now I think this has two vital implications.
- What we consider “mission” includes pastoral care because it includes discipleship. This means that the evangelists work isn’t finished when they have announced the good news or even when the person has professed faith. Rather, they should have an ongoing concern for the people they witness to. They should want and actively work to see that person rooted in their faith, established in the local church, growing into maturity, using their gifts and telling others about Jesus.
- That mission is not a distraction from pastoral care but the very context in which it best happens.
Let’s look at the second point in a little more detail. Why does pastoral care need to happen in the context of mission? Well if pastoral care is about intentional discipleship, then our aim is to see Christians growing into maturity. A significant aspect of this growth into maturity is Gospel proclamation. We are true worshippers of God when we are telling others about Him and His Gospel.
It is when we are actively witnessing that our lives come under the microscope. Non-Christians observe us to see if our deeds and words tie up. That’s where we are challenged and need to be challenged. It’s as we are active in witness that we are challenged and questioned about what we believe pushing us to grow in our knowledge of God’s Word. It’s when we are actively witnessing that we realise we are stepping out of our comfort zones and need a greater dependence upon Christ
Now take the example of church planting. This is probably the biggest stretch on mission minded churches, particularly if they are not large and if they are planning to send a number of people out to plant. How does church planting support pastoral care? How does it encourage discipleship?
What I think should happen is this.
- Those who are planning to plant a new church begin to think more seriously about what it means to be part of a body together, growing together in Christ in full view of a watching on community.
- This means that they are challenged to grow more deeply in God’s Word and in practical holiness.
- It means that they cannot get away with being passive consumers any more. They have to be actively involved. This means that they need to use their gifts. There’s no-where to hide in a church plant.
- This also encourages a greater sense of family and love for one another leading to natural care and kindness towards one another.
In fact, because of those reasons, I believe that a church that cares about discipleship is likely to have multiplication in its DNA. Discipleship does not happen in isolation. A new Christian is welcomed into a church family, they learn to serve and use their gifts in that family, they tell others about Jesus in partnership with the family. Every time we start a new group, gathering, congregation or church plant, we are creating the actual opportunities for deep discipleship and lasting to happen.
What about those who don’t join the church plant. Isn’t the risk that they get left behind and that key people go making it harder to plug the gaps? Well this can happen and can be disruptive. However, if we think about this properly then what we will want to do is focus on those who remain. The lead planter and new leadership team are taking responsibility for encouraging discipleship among the plant. This means that the leaders who remain are freed up to encourage discipleship among the remaining congregation. It is probably helpful to think of this congregation as also being a new plant. It is starting again, replanting into the original building and community. If we think like this, then we will encourage the members to go through exactly the same process as we described above for the plant.
Mission and Pastoral care are not in opposition. Evangelism and discipleship are not enemies, planting and pastoring are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are vital to each other.