Pastoral care 3: life in our groups
We’ve previously seen how the Bible describes pastoral care as being under God, leading God’s people, by the word of God’s grace, into eternity with God. Pastoral ministry looks back to the Good Shepherd dying for his sheep and looks forward to the return of the Great Shepherd who will gather his sheep for eternity. These are the trig points that give us bearings for caring for one another. Pastoral care is shaped by the teaching and modeling of God’s word of grace. It prayerfully depends on the power of God’s Spirit to change people’s hearts and minds. These are the priorities of the one true Shepherd, God himself, and they should shape the priorities of our church and life groups.
As we seek to live out God’s word of grace in our lives this will profoundly impact how we live with one another as God’s people. We’ve been called into God’s family as his adopted children. We’re now united with brothers and sisters in Christ having the same Spirit who unites us to each other. (Ephesians 4:3-6)
When we gather in our life groups we get to share in a small family gathering. We catch up with each other, hear what our Father has to say, we’re reminded of the awesome work of our Father’s number one Son, and we attend to family business together. We also hear what’s been going on in each other’s lives, seek to encourage and spur each other on, celebrate family joys and share in family worries and sorrows, and we bring our requests and offer thanks to our heavenly Father.
Families exist even when they’re not together. This means our groups have opportunity to express our relationships in Christ throughout the week in other ways. Obviously, we see each other at church. This is a natural place to catch up and connect. It’s worth thinking about what we can follow-up from our group meetings at church, and vice versa. It helps to build relationships by connecting with one another over meals, coffees, and doing social things together. If we have space in our calendar, there’s great value in catching up with different members of our group on a regular or semi-regular basis. It’s amazing how much better people know one another simply by spending time chatting over dinner every now and then.
One way of turbo-charging relational connections in our groups is to spend time away as a group. A weekend away at a holiday house will often be worth a year of weekly meetings in getting people comfortable with one another, and deeper into each other’s live. Meals together on a weekly or monthly basis, occasional social nights, prayer and testimony evenings are all ways of strengthening the bonds between the brothers and sisters in our groups.
Some families are big on remembering special events. Perhaps we could create a calendar for our group and celebrate each person’s birthday, wedding anniversary, or other significant special occasion. Discover each person’s favourite cake or special ice-cream or whatever as a way of showing we care.
The Apostle Paul provided a model of family-type pastoral care in the way he went about his ministry to others. He taught, dialogued and reasoned from the Scriptures with the people he served. But he also invested his life into them. He used words and life to communicate with integrity the life-changing message of Christ. He used family language to describe his ministry and relationships with the Thessalonian Christians—mother, father, brothers and sisters (1 Thessalonians 2:7-13, 17-20).
Whether we are a leader or a group member, we have the opportunity to invest in each other’s lives. As Paul worked night and day for his church or ‘life group’, it won’t hurt us to put ourselves out for each other, to go the extra mile. Let’s seek to put each other’s needs before our own. What can we do that will make a practical difference in the lives of one or two of our brothers or sisters?
Well-functioning families spend time doing things together. Dysfunctional families sometimes pass like ships in the night and grow apart in the process. I understand how busy we all are, and it might be that our relational ‘dance cards’ already seems very full, but it will make a big difference to others, especially those who are new to our church or group, if we spend time together.
It’s helpful if we haven’t filled our lives such that there’s no time left for anyone new. God may well bring people across our paths just so we can reach out to them and serve them. As new people visit our church we don’t want to be so busy that we end up being inhospitable or rude. It’s not helpful if we’re the awkward member of our life group who’s always too busy for the social get together.
Let’s consider how we can connect with others. Do we share similar interests? Maybe we work in a similar area, department or business. If we’re going bike riding, catching a movie, having a night at the pub, inviting friends around for a barbecue, going for a Saturday site-seeing trip, playing touch footy, scrap-booking, joining a gym, hanging out in a cafe after church, heading to a sporting event or concert, or whatever else you’re into, then why not think about inviting others?
If we care deeply for others—our brothers and sisters in Christ, and those who don’t yet know him—then we will want them to share eternity with us. We’ll want them to meet Christ, to grow in spiritual maturity, to run the race, to keep trusting in Christ, and to reach the finishing line rejoicing in their Saviour. If we’ve ever run cross-country, long distances, or even marathons, then we will appreciate the importance of support from others. Sometimes it’s the spectators who’ve made the effort to get alongside the track and cheer us along. Sometimes it’s our fellow runners who encourage us. It’s so helpful to have a running buddy who keeps pace with us, urges us up the hills, or sticks with us when we hit the wall. It’s tough trying do it all on our own.
As we run the race, we shouldn’t have to do it alone.
God wants us to be there for each other. As we run the race, we shouldn’t have to do it alone. We’re urged to keep up with one another often. We need each other: the support, the encouragement, the help along the way. The Christian life is tough and there are so many obstacles and difficult times that we need to spur each other on. The writer to the Hebrews is focused on Christians making it all the way to the end, remaining reliant on the grace of God in the gospel, and keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. In the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ, he urges his readers to consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:23-25)
We are urged to consider how – to think in advance – about how we can keep each other living and growing as followers of Jesus. This begins at home before we head to church or gather in our life group. Who will be there? What’s going on in their lives? What was it we prayed for them last week? I must remember to ask them about it. (Hint: it helps to keep your own prayer diary, jot notes, pray during the week, and follow up with people.) I wonder how they are getting along with their boss who’s been giving them a hard time? Have they had an opportunity to share what they believe with their mates? Speak with them about what you’ve been praying, ask for other things to pray, show a spiritual interest in one another. Time to stop cruising. If the best we do every time we meet is discuss our latest ride, grumble about work, and engage in small talk, then we are missing out on wonderful opportunities to love one another.
We should aim to notice notice if people in our church or group are struggling. Perhaps some have doubts, others are being tested by their unbelieving families, some are battling the weariness of chronic illness and rarely get to the group. How can we encourage and spur on these brothers and sisters? We could commit this to prayer, make regular personal contact, put our mind to ways that you could be helpful. Any Christian can do this sort of thing. We don’t have to be the pastor, or the leader, or the designated pastoral carer to be an encouragement to others. Anyone can and should do it. The love and support of brothers and sisters shows the family of God functioning well.