Pastoral Care (2) Life Groups
Pastoral Care in Life Groups
Many churches are placing a greater and greater emphasis on small groups in the shape of their ministry. They are looking to these groups to build relationships, equip people for ministry, support people in crisis, encourage personal evangelism, and offer specific and personal prayer for the members. Some leaders are finding this difficult. They thought they had simply signed up to lead a Bible study and now they are being called to be little ‘p’ pastors of their little congregations.
I suspect that such confusion and fear has arisen because we have disconnected Bible study from its purpose. The purpose of small group Bible study isn’t that people know the Bible better. Rather, it is so that that they deepen their knowledge and love of God. Our life groups are pastoral care groups, in the true sense of the phrase. They are contexts within the life of the church where people can be encouraged to run the race, persevere through trials, maintain their faith, change their 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 the 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 Our People
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? Are they trusting in God’s grace 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 Christian, 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 the group who aren’t Christians, then perhaps the whole group might focus on these matters together.
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.
The leader will desire to see each member of the 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.
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. 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 life 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 is the topic of the next article.