Read an Excerpt
Nelson's Church Leader's Manual for Congregational Care
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2010 Thomas Nelson, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTheology of Congregational Care Mark Becton
At many church conventions or conferences, you are likely to find pastors huddled in a hallway wheezing with laughter. Most of the time, it is because they are telling stories on themselves. I was in one of those huddles when a pastor told this story.
He was in his early twenties, and was proud to be pastor of his first full-time church. The church was close enough for him to commute to seminary, which meant whatever he learned in class that week, his church learned too.
One semester he picked up a workbook on hospital visitation and thought it would be good to train his deacons. They met Thursday nights for the next eight weeks. But after the sessions were through, the pastor had learned more than he taught.
Midway through the training the brother of one of the deacons was in a serious farming accident and was flown to the hospital. One of the oldest deacons called the young pastor and said, "Preacher, he's at a hospital you've never been to, so I'll pick you up in my truck and we can go together."
The injured man's room was packed with nine or ten family members. Not long after introductions, the doctor stepped in to examine the wound. The man had been drilling a hole for a fence post, and his leg had been caught in an auger. His injury was hidden beneath a sheet. But when the doctor lifted the sheet to look at his leg, the young pastor decided to look as well.
Seeing the wound had a strange effect on the pastor. Immediately the room became small and very warm. Swaying like a strand of wheat in the wind, he knew if he didn't step out soon someone would have to carry him out. Leaning toward the older deacon who brought him, he whispered, "I need to step outside." Soon the older man followed and found his pastor leaning against the wall. He asked, "Are you all right, Preacher?" Trying to sound strong, he answered, "Sure. I'm fine." But then he began to slowly slide down the wall.
Thankfully, he saw a bay window not far away. The ledge of the bay window was actually an air-conditioning vent. Slowly walking to the vent, he sat on it so the cool air could bring color to his face. After a few minutes on the vent, the deacon walked over to his pastor and gently said, "Preacher, if you don't mind, I need to go home." That was his gracious way of saying, "Preacher, you look worse than the man we came to see."
The next time the pastor met with his deacons to train them in making hospital visits, he kept one eye on his notes and the other on the deacon who watched him nearly faint. Yet not once during the session did the deacon bring it up. However, when the pastor closed in prayer and the men started to file out, the old man spread an ornery smile and said, "Fellahs, let me suggest something. If you plan to make a hospital visit with our 'little' preacher, you might want to take this with you." Out from his pocket he pulled a small bottle of smelling salts.
That story came to mind when I was asked to write a theology of congregational care. Writing a theology of congregational care means the information shared in this chapter comes straight from Scripture. Yet looking back over the years, I have been the pastor of many deacons and others like the old man in the truck. Though they may not have known where to find the chapter and verse in the Bible, they lived those truths and principles beautifully. They cared for so many without even knowing there was such a thing as a theology of congregational care.
Because you are holding this book, your heart for your pastor and God's people is probably like the man with the truck who had to help his pastor make a hospital visit. So on behalf of all the pastors you have helped and the people you have cared for, thank you.
Displaying God's Nature
Providing congregational care is more natural than most realize. When you care for others, you are displaying the nature of God within you. God reminds you of this each time you read Genesis 1:26–27.
26 Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
Every builder, artist, sculptor, and song writer begins their creative work with a vision. Verse 26 uses two words to describe God's vision when He created you. He wanted to create you in His image and likeness.
God's Image and Likeness
The Hebrew word for image (tselem) refers to something cut. Like pagan religions cutting the image of their false gods into wood or stone, Almighty God cut his image into you. You are to be a living, breathing image of God. The Hebrew word for likeness (demut) comes from a root word meaning to resemble (damah). Looking at how God uses these two words in verse 26, you learn something important. Though God cut you to be a walking and breathing image of him, you are not God. You are a resemblance of him. That resemblance is seen in your care for others.
You need to also remember that in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve sinned against God. Their sin marred God's image in them and in you and me. However, 2 Corinthians 3:17–18 explains how God is trying to transform you as a believer so that others can see in you what he originally intended. He wants to see, and wants others to see, His image in you. That transforming process involves cutting away the sin from you so others can see God's image. God's image in you can be seen clearly when you care for others.
God's Nature in His Instructions, the Psalms, and His Names
Again, caring for others should come naturally for the believer. It is a part of God's nature, and God's desire is for His nature to be seen in you.
One of the ways you see the caring quality of God is by reading the many biblical passages where He tells us to help those in need. You have read them many times, but did you realize that there are approximately forty references in Scripture where God charges his people to care for the orphans and fatherless. There are also roughly eighty references regarding the care for widows, and more than two hundred passages that call for meeting the needs of the poor. You even find verses that speak to helping the stranger and alien in your midst (Lev. 19:33–34; 24:17–22).
Yet the best place to capture God's caring nature is in the Psalms. Many are familiar with Psalm 23, but take a moment to read Psalm 146.
1 Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! 2 While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. 3 Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. 4 His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish. 5 Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the Lord his God, 6 Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, 7 Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners. 8 The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; The Lord raises those who are bowed down; The Lord loves the righteous. 9 The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down. 10 The Lord shall reign forever— Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!
Old Testament scholar John Phillips calls the last five psalms "Hallelujah Psalms." They resemble five doxologies at the end of the book of Psalms. It is believed that Psalms 146–150 were written as praise pieces after the completion of the second temple in 518 BC. Knowing that our God is the God of extreme details, Phillips adds that it appears that these five psalms parallel the first five books of the Bible. That means Psalm 146 is the praise piece that reflects what is recorded in the book of Genesis.
Though the psalm could have praised God for His faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, it focused its praise on God's nature. Not only is God praised for creating life (vv. 5–6), He is also praised for the way He cares for the lives He creates (vv. 7–9). There, you read that it is God's nature to provide justice for the poor, food to the hungry, freedom to the prisoners, sight to the blind, strength for the weak (raises those bowed down), love for the righteous, care to those who are alone (watches over the strangers), and relief to the fatherless and widows.
If you live your life consistently, in time you will be labeled for the life you live. That is true of God as well. Eleven times in Psalm 146 God is called "the Lord." It is the most reverent expression attributed to him in Scripture. In the Hebrew, it is the word Jehovah (yhwh). It means "I AM."
Yet throughout the Old Testament, God's caring nature caused other labels to be added. When speaking of God, God is called Jehovah Jireh (The Lord will provide, Gen. 22:14), Jehovah Rapha (The Lord that heals, Ex. 15:26), Jehovah Nissi (The Lord is my Banner/Refuge, Ex. 17:15), Jehovah Shalom (The Lord is peace, Judg. 6:24), and Jehovah Raah (The Lord is my Shepherd, Ps. 23). You cannot escape the cascading evidence of the caring nature of God, nor can you avoid the truth that since God created you in His image it is God's intent for His caring nature to be seen in you. However, some will avoid the opportunities to let God's nature be seen by claiming that such care is not their spiritual gift.
Nature Versus Giftedness
The argument of nature versus giftedness also surfaces in discussions about evangelism. Because Ephesians 4:11 states that God "gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers" many believers think they are to give the responsibility of sharing Jesus to the ones gifted at it—the evangelists. Therefore, it is also likely that some believers think that the responsibility of congregational care should be given to those gifted by God to do it.
Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12 list the spiritual gifts that God gives believers. You witnessed all these gifts in the person of Jesus. After Jesus' ascension to heaven, He gave those same gifts to His followers by placing his Spirit within them. Wisely though, Jesus divided His gifts among His followers so that we would have to work together and depend on Him to continue his ministry.
Among the spiritual gifts are the gifts of service, encouragement, and mercy. Sadly, there is the tendency to let those who have these gifts give all the congregational care. Like giving all the evangelism to the evangelists, not only does this distort God's plan, it also does not allow the passion and nature of God to come through you. By sharing your faith and by extending God's care you fulfill God's desire for your life. You display his image and likeness. And when you fulfill God's desire for your life, you experience real fulfillment in life.
Thus the responsibility of congregational care, like evangelism, is not just for those who are gifted at it. It is for all who have surrendered their lives to Christ. As a follower of Jesus, you will find His Spirit prompting you to let the nature of God come through you in every opportunity you have to care for others.
Congregational care is not just for those with certain spiritual gifts. It is for every believer, for every believer has been created in the image of a caring God.
Sharing God's Care There are times when the needs are more than one believer can meet. After my twenty-ninth birthday, I became the pastor of a church that was dear to me. My dad became pastor of this same church when I was three weeks old. Though we moved away when I was five, I still had fond memories of a wonderful childhood there.
Twenty-five years earlier, the church was a vibrant fellowship in a thriving suburb. The pictorial directory captured the faces of middle-aged, middle-income families, all excited about the future. Many of the members when Dad was pastor were still members when I became pastor. In fact, one older woman took me by the hand on my first Sunday and said, "Oh, I can't believe I changed the diaper of my pastor." A little embarrassed, I asked her to let that be our secret.
Twenty-five years later a lot had changed. The predominantly white, middle-class community was now becoming a patchwork of multicultural, lower-income families. In some ways the church had changed as well. It aged. The facilities were older as was the median age of the congregation. I soon learned that serving an older membership church in a changing community meant everyone had a need. And as their pastor, everyone expected me to meet his or her need. It was the first time I experienced the drain that comes when the care for a congregation and community is not shared.
The drain of caring for others can be hard to describe. The best description I found came from an older pastor who told me, "I feel like the lone milk cow in the pasture. I've got four teats and three of them are dry. I've got a line of calves all waiting their turn, and the calf that's on me now is punching me for more."
Basically, the pastor stated what many say when a congregation does not share in the care of one another. The common cry is "I have nothing left to give."
When you look at examples in the Old and New Testaments, you see God underscoring the importance of sharing the care of a congregation. It cannot be done by one individual, or even a few. It has to be the responsibility of all.
An Old Testament Example
The first example of the need for sharing congregational care appears in Exodus 18. Moses led the exodus from Egypt. With staff in hand, he marched out with two to three million of God's people following him. Though the initial exodus was wonderful, reality soon surfaced.
Consider what would be involved in relocating an entire metropolitan area. You are responsible for their basic needs of food and shelter as well as keeping the peace. It can be overwhelming, and it was for Moses. That is why, for Moses, there was no place like home. He led all two to three million Israelites to the wilderness near the home of his father-in-law, Jethro.
For several nights, Jethro watched Moses meet the needs of everyone. In Exodus 18:17–23, he told Moses what he saw and then made a recommendation to Moses.
17 So Moses' father-in-law said to him, "The thing that you do is not good. 18 Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. 19 Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. 20 And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. 21 Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace."
Excerpted from Nelson's Church Leader's Manual for Congregational Care Copyright © 2010 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.