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Pastoral Care as Discipleship through Life's Challenges

  • 24 August 2017
  • MinistryLift blogger

As I sat in church, I saw her: burden showing on her face with tears gently flowing over her cheeks. I moved quietly from where I was to sit at her side and said, "Can I help?" This woman was not new to the congregation—not a seeker, but a longtime member. The sadness in her eyes matched her sorrowful words as she said, "I don’t think I can tell anyone in church what is really going on in my life." 

A heaviness came over me and lingered with me as I reflected on the depth of what she was saying. This woman feared sharing her burden with believers. How could that be? In the times of life's great challenges, we need to be drawn not just to the house of the Lord, but to the community of believers. Pastoral care—the demonstration of Christ’s compassion—should be found within the community of faith.

Charles Gerkin wrote of the need to rediscover the congregation as the primary agents of care for the members, saying that "in a sense, we who have from generation to generation made up the Christian community have always known that the primary source of Christian nurture and care lies in the gathering together of God's people" [1]. Gerkin asserts that while knowing this, we as a community of believers have given the dominant emphasis of this ministry to the ordained. It is important therefore for each of us as believers to remember that the term pastoral as used in our Judeo-Christian tradition has a communal connotation denoting the care of the community for its members. Ronald Sunderland states, "It derives from the figurative language of Jewish scriptures and, supremely, from the Lord's care of Israel (Psalm 23, 80)" [2]. 

As I sat with the woman who was burdened by life, could I enter her story, hear it for what it was, and demonstrate God as not only present, but active in her life? Could I enter in without the platitudes or the rush for her to claim victory? Could I just be with her in her challenge until she could see her burden in Christ's hands?

How to Incorporate Accountability into Your Discipleship Approach

  • 9 August 2017
  • Randy Wollf

two women talking and listeningReggie McNeal has said, "Genuine spirituality lives and flourishes only in cultures and relationships of accountability" [1]. If this is true, and I believe it is, then accountability must be an essential element of our disciple-making strategies.

According to Dr. Dave Currie, accountability is "the volunteer surrender of your life to the regular and frequent scrutiny and encouragement of another person for the purpose of ongoing life transformation that brings glory to God" [2]. 

Currie believes that this kind of accountability helps people get perspective on current problems. It paves the way for support in tough times. It provides a consistent challenge to grow. It helps keep us focused on the future and to take necessary next steps in our personal growth. In the words of Bob Proctor, "Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result." 

Now, it's important to realize that the most effective forms of accountability combine loving graciousness with tenacious and consistent support. Accountability should not be legalistic or brutal. It's meant to provide just enough pressure to initiate and sustain growth at an optimal pace.

So, what does accountability look like? It's simply discussing what's going on in your life. What are your current struggles? What are the possibilities that excite you? It's talking about the emotions that you experience, particularly those that are recurring emotions. Accountability provides an opportunity to explore our primary relationships. It's a place to ask hard questions.

In his book entitled Cultivating a Life for God, Neil Cole shares a number of accountability questions that people can ask each other in what he calls "Life Transformation Groups"—groups of two or three Christians that meet weekly to help each other grow in their relationship with God. Cole includes the following questions from James Bryan Smith and Richard Foster: 

Reading with Discernment

  • 28 July 2017
  • Keith Reed

men reading with magnifying glassIn 2014, it was reported that 90% of the world’s data was created within the past two years [1]. The exponential rate in which information is being created not only floods us with options, it surrounds us with content that is extremely recent. Many of us read articles and blogs that are written by authors we’ve never heard of or published by organizations we know little about.  

This requires us to develop guidelines to determine what is truthful. As we encounter volumes of new content each day, it is important to develop criteria to assess what we are reading. New is not necessarily better. Not all opinions are equally valid. Choosing to consume information without a critical eye is a recipe for being deceived.  

Let’s remember that Jesus called himself "the truth" (John 14:6) and that he was sent into the world to "testify to the truth" (John 18:37). He also highlighted the importance of discernment by warning his followers of being deceived [2]. 

  • "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them." (Matt 7:15-16a) 
  • "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." (Matt 10:16)  
  • "Watch out that no one deceives you." (Matt 24:4) 

How do the warnings of Jesus apply to our current context?

Let's remember that much of the content we read today is designed to create a following. Individuals with the largest followings are typically regarded as experts, even if their message is Biblically flawed or misleading. Expertise is attributed to those with an established platform, regardless of whether the subject matter has anything to do with that person's actual expertise. The more followers a person has, the more credibility they receive. This is the formula that empowers actors to sell their nutrition books and athletes to rally support for their political campaign. It's not always a bad thing, but it does carry the risk of having questionable content influence many people over a short amount of time.  

Every reader should also be quick to consider the source of what they're reading. Considering alternative perspectives can be a fruitful experience, so long as we're reading critically. The danger comes from digesting and adopting whatever we come across without comparing it to Biblical truth and time-tested doctrine. 

Here then are my suggestions for reading with discernment:  

1. Consider education – what have they studied?