Pastoral care 2: in life groups
At Stromlo we believe that our life groups are a key feature in our personal ministry to one another. We look to these groups to help build relationships, equip people for ministry, support people in crises, encourage personal evangelism, and offer specific and personal prayer for the members. Some people have always viewed their groups along these lines, whereas others are facing the challenge of change as we desire these groups to play an important role in pastoral care within our church.
The purpose of life group Bible study isn’t that people will know the Bible better—it’s so that people will deepen their knowledge and love of God. We want our life groups to be pastoral care groups, in the true sense of the phrase. They are intended to be contexts within the life of our church where people can be encouraged to run the race, persevere through trials, maintain their faith, change our hearts and minds, encourage one another to keep their eyes on Jesus, until the day we see him face to face.
Our points of reference
If life group leaders are to exercise pastoral care among the members of their groups, and if the people in our groups are to pastorally care for one another, then we will each need to look backwards and forwards. We look backwards to the saving grace of God in the Good Shepherd laying down his life for his sheep. We look forwards to the Chief Shepherd returning to usher his people into glory. These are the trig points that give us bearings for our pastoral care.
Knowing one another
The leader will be concerned first and foremost that every member of the group has become a member of God’s flock. Is each person in our group a Christian? Do they know the love and grace of God? Are they trusting in God’s mercy through the death and resurrection of Jesus? Are they submitting to Jesus as the one who rules and directs their lives? If someone is not a follower of Jesus, then the most caring pastoral thing we can do for them is to help them to understand and respond to the gospel. This will likely mean praying for them, catching up with people one to one, reading and discussing the gospel together. There may be questions and doubts to resolve. If there are a number of people in our group who aren’t Christians, then perhaps our whole group might choose to focus on these matters together.
So leaders, do we know where people are at? Have we taken time to get to know people, to understand what they believe, where they’re coming from, what they’re living for, what they’re trusting in? Maybe it’s time for some quiet conversations. This is the starting point for pastoral care.
AS we grow our pastoral heart, we will desire to see each member of our group becoming more and more like the Chief Shepherd. Bible study will be central to this, as we seek to nourish and strengthen the members of our group in the grace of God. Not Bible study so as to know about the Bible, or even simply to know about God. We will examine God’s Word together, so as to get to know God himself.
We want people growing together into maturity. This isn’t measured by how many theological books we’ve read or the Bible verses we’ve memorised. It’s not how much we know, but how we respond to what we know. It’s about being gripped by God’s grace and letting it shape our thinking and speech and behaviour. It’s about the wonder of the gospel freeing us to walk in God’s ways by the power of his Spirit. It’s about not being tossed around by false ideas. It means not being lured away from God by the idols of this world. It’s seen in patiently keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and the things of eternity. This is what pastoral care is about. We can all do it.
Pastoral care will involve praying. We can’t bring about spiritual change. That’s the work of God’s Spirit. We need God to bring about deep inner transformation, and therefore we pray. We are weak and so we pray for God’s strength. God’s strength to persevere through trials and difficulties; God’s strength to stand firm against temptations; God’s strength to remain faithful in the face of persecution; God’s strength to work through our fears and doubts and struggles and selfishness; God’s strength to run the race to the end. And so we pray.
Pastoral care is gospel-shaped. It’s Bible-nourished. It’s prayer-dependent.
Pastoral care is gospel-shaped. It’s Bible-nourished. It’s prayer-dependent. This is God’s idea of pastoral care. We need to grow leaders who will care pastorally for the people in their groups and who will encourage their groups to develop relationships where people care pastorally for one another. Let’s encourage the members of our small groups to become devoted pastoral carers.
I’m sure you are left with a few questions…
So what about things like visiting the sick, counseling, offering hospitality, providing practical helps, supporting couples or parents, caring for the elderly and orphans and widows? Aren’t we called to carry each others burdens? Isn’t this still pastoral care? Shouldn’t we be focusing on these things? Aren’t we expecting our life groups to provide ‘practical’ care to one another?
This will be the topic of the next article.