Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pastoral Care

There are a number of individuals engaged in the pastoral ministry or career these days. Estimates are above 600,000 in total. Being a pastor is a very difficult job indeed. What is the job description of a pastor and how do we know that we have the right description? Now, when I use the word “pastor,” I am speaking of those men who compensated to provide for the spiritual well-being of a Christian community or congregation. What is pastoral care? There have been many books written on the subject and I suppose I could write a blog with several parts in order to cover the meaning of pastoral care. However, I would prefer to keep it at the high level and cover the basics so that you might be able to glean something from this post. If you are a pastor, I hope to make you think about how you provide this pastoral care to your congregation. If you are not a pastor, I hope to provoke you to think about whether or not your pastor is providing you with the right kind of pastoral care.

To begin with, the pastor is a gift from God to His church. God gives the pastor to the body for a purpose. Think about the function of gifts. They have a role. They do not own their recipient. They serve some purpose of the recipient. God defines the purpose of the pastor. God owns the recipient as well as the gift of pastor. The attitude of the recipient should be one of gratitude. In response to this gift, the recipient fulfills the purpose God has in mind for them in the first place. There are a number of texts in the NT that deal with the role of pastor. For purposes of this blog, I wish to focus our attention on Eph. 4:11-16.

Paul tells us unambiguously that God gave pastors for a very specific reason (Eph. 4:11). First, God gave us pastors for the equipping of the saints for the work of the service or ministry for the building up of the body of Christ. The pastor has a very substantial role in the body of Jesus Christ. He is here to equip the saints for the work of ministry and for building up the body of the Christ. It is the saint’s function to engage in the work of ministry service and to edify and build up one another. It is the pastor’s function to make sure they are equipped for that end. If the Christian is not equipped for service and edification, it is the fault of the pastor. The pastor is not here to make sure the Christian remains entirely dependent on him for everything. The pastor’s function is to create Christians who are equipped, who have the talent, ability and resources for ministry service and edification. This is the primary function of the pastor. This is no small task. When I survey the typical church in America and the typical activities of the pastor, I ask the question, is this objective even receiving any attention? If you attended the typical conservative church in the West, you would conclude that the pastor’s primary job is to prepare a light or high-level sermon that lasts for about 30-45 minutes on Sunday. He may have a counseling session here or there. He has numerous meetings and church business to attend. Of course, there are the hospital visits that make him feel like he really cares about his people. There are a host of dozens of activities and behaviors that pastors are involved in week in and week out. But how many of those activities are actually designed to equip the saints for ministry service and edification of one another? Moreover, how are we doing?

The Greek word katartismos. It is used in The Tebtunis Papyri, “the things for the furnishing of the guest chamber.” Louw-Nida says it means, “to make someone completely adequate or sufficient for something.” It is used in Lu. 6:40 to describe someone who is “thoroughly qualified.” In 2 Cor. 13:9, it is translated “fully qualified.” In 2 Tim. 3:17 is describes one who is “completely qualified.” The pastor’s job is to furnish the saints with the ability to perform ministry service, and to edify. He is to make the body completely adequate or sufficient, thoroughly qualified, fully qualified, completely qualified to carry out ministry service and edification to the body. The idea of the Greek word for ministry, diakonia, is service. It means to provide for something! The Christian is to serve, above all else, God. And in serving God, he/she is to serve the body. But she needs to be equipped to that end. Her service is invaluable to the body. The body requires her service. Without her service, the body will suffer greatly. It is the pastor’s function to ensure that she is able to fulfill her specific call to serve. Specifically, this service is seen in her building up of the body!

The Greek word oikodomeo means to increase the potential of someone or something. We are busy increasing the potential of one another to fully carry out their service to God and to one another. This is seen in our loyalty to the Christian ethic and our love for one another and the world. This potential, realized is seen in our knowledge and sanctification in Christ, our love for the body and our outreach to the lost. We stand for truth with passion. We rescue one another spiritually and materially, and enjoy rich fellowship with one another in Christ. We confront the world with the miracle of the gospel of Christ. How do pastors produce these kind of Christians? Well, they don’t do it by focusing on programs and brief sermons that really don’t get at the heart of those issues that are keeping us from becoming the equipped saints God has called us to be. It takes a deliberate plan on the part of the pastor to produce Christians like this! These are Christians who meet regularly with one another outside the two services we have each week. They share and pray and fellowship. They call you when you go missing for a service or two. They come after you. They confront you when you sin! They don’t let you slide in the name of “love.” They are always talking about Jesus and Scripture and the battle we find ourselves in. They are never satisfied with the status quo. They care about you and their behavior leaves no room for doubt that that is the case. But how do pastors produce Christians like this?

For starters, pastors have to really want Christians like this. The truth is that most pastors do not! You see, Christians like this have an odd way of insisting that things are managed a particular way: according to Scripture. A church filled with this kind of Christian is, by nature, a self-accountable church. This can get in the way of goals that may not be quite in line with Scripture. On the other hand, it could be that certain pastors just don’t like the idea of not being able to do as they please without much accountability.

Secondly, a church like this takes a lot more work than its counterpart. The need for a discipleship program is essential if you want a church like this. Someone needs to put that in place and manage it. It needs focus and lots of attention, serious attention. Nothing is more important to the health of a church than a sound discipleship program. Show me a church without a discipleship program and I will show you a spiritually unhealthy church every time. It never fails. There is an extremely high correlation between the spiritual health of a church and the quality of its discipleship program.

Paul says that the pastor has been given to the church for a specific purpose. However, more than that, the pastor has been given to the church for a certain period of time. The Greek word mechris is a conjunction that serves as a marker of continuance, up to a period of time. What is that time period then? The time period until we all attain to the entoteta tes pisteos and tes epignoseos tou huiou tou theou. Until we all reach the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. There are three things that measure how the pastor is doing in respect to his job of equipping: the unity of the church in the faith; the extend of the church’s knowledge in Christ; the spiritual maturity of the congregation. These are the things the pastor should be monitoring on a regular basis. But is that the attitude of the modern pastor? Does he busy himself with the spiritual maturity of the congregation collectively as well as individually? Conversely, does he take the view that their spiritual growth is really up to them? Has he convinced himself that all he has to do is preach a 30-40 minute sermon and his work is finished?

Most pastors, from what I see, are not nearly as concerned about the spiritual growth of their sheep as they are the growth of their church (empire, success). For some, as long as there are no scandals, no divorce, no cheating, etc., etc. they are content, thinking they are doing their job. Others are not even concerned that these sins are taking place. One pastor I know of has had three divorces in his church in three years and he has yet to act to excommunicate a single person responsible for these unbiblical divorces. He is well aware of individuals that are hateful of one of the divorced parties, engaging in malicious gossip and he does very little to deal with the matter directly. Somehow he thinks a sermon or two vaguely touching on the matter is enough. He even advised one man to attend elsewhere because this group of individuals did not like him and it would bring disunity to the church if he returned. Folks, I have news for you: there is no unity in a church filled with groups of haters. Paul is not talking about keeping the peace in the church by allowing people to hate one another and keeping those they hate away for unjust reasons. Paul is talking about the unity of the faith. I think Paul would remove men like this from ministry because they simply don’t belong.

As a result of this work of the pastor, there is a state that the Christian community should reach. One, we should not be tossed about by every wind of doctrine and trickery of men that comes along. There should be stability of doctrine and praxis. Yet we see younger men coming along and attempted to undo everything that has been accomplished in the name of a postmodern arrogance. I call them young blind fools who are so simple in their thinking skills that they consider our current state intellectual and even spiritual progress. Second, we should be speaking the truth in love. The most important thing in our lives should be a burning passionate love for the truth. We should love God’s truth more than anyone or anything else. The Christian community should be a solid rock of age-old tradition soundly speaking God’s truth, demonstrating God’s love, without shrinking back from the tasks before her. She should be a group of closely-knit God fearing, truth honoring, gospel preaching individuals holding one another accountable, singing songs and hymns, and lifting one another up in the grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit. The most talked about program in the church should be the discipleship program.

Finally, the body of Christ is fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part. It is the role of the pastor to equip each individual part so that the body may be fitted and held together, causing the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. This is the primary duty of the pastor, as well as the other gifts of ministry given to the church. The apostles and prophets have done their work. I will follow this post by talking about the virtue of submission to those holy men of God who are executing the office of pastor from the standpoint of biblical integrity. How does a mega-church pastor accomplish his primary function? Good question!

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