Balancing Congregational Care and Congregational Guidance


Congregations are starving for leadership in these challenging days marked by increasingly complex family issues, community and cultural shifts, greater fear and anxiety, and increasing expectations for pastor-led pastoral care.

Congregations are starving for leadership in these challenging days marked by increasingly complex family issues, community and cultural shifts, greater fear and anxiety, and increasing expectations for pastor-led pastoral care.

Yet, if the church is to move forward, these complex challenges can no longer be handled by just pastor and staff. Deacons and others must share congregational care and guidance. How do we balance pastoral care and congregational effectiveness in mission?  

Congregational Care Is NOT the Pastor's Primary Responsibility 

While our traditions and expectations suggest that the pastor is to take care of the congregation's pastoral care needs, Scripture doesn't offer much support for this. Ephesians 4 declares that the "clergy" (a word not found in Scripture) are to be "equippers of the saints for the work of ministry."  

The saints Paul is addressing are the pew people—all the believers. So the clergy is to equip the pew people to do the caregiving and work of ministry. As Baptists, we call this the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and it is a cornerstone of our history. Unfortunately we talk about it more than practice it.   

Furthermore, most of the times "pastor" is used in Scripture, it refers to pew people with the spiritual gift of pastoring/shepherding.  

The role of the clergy, according to Scripture, is not so much caring for as much as leading. 

Deacons Assist in Caregiving and Congregational Guidance 

Because the church's needs and challenges are so great, God created partnerships to "hold up the hands of our leaders" and to "care for the needs of widows in church and community."   

From Exodus to Acts to Timothy and Titus, we can trace the role of deacons and lay leaders as partners in the caregiving ministry. But it is also clear in these and other passages that deacons are partners with pastors in focusing the church on its divinely appointed mission.   

You might want to check out www.laypastors.com for some excellent resources and practical tips for caregiving by laypeople. 

Balancing the Challenge Is Critical 

Far too often I encounter churches with leaders who spend too much of their time and energy fulfilling their personal or their congregation's expectations of pastoral care. Such insures that the leaders have little or no energy for discerning the movement and leadership of the Spirit in the church's future.   

Unless leaders have time to pray, study, reflect and plan for the future, very often a church will become ingrown—few baptisms (other than those children of our families), few new members, few visitors, less and less mission involvement. 

The next thing you know, the congregation is isolated from its biblical mandate to "go into all the world." Such produces a culture of crisis that is very difficult to penetrate and change. We become comfortable in our caregiving and fruitless in our biblical mission.  

Church leaders must create a healthy balance by modeling priorities and spreading out the leadership and pastoral care responsibilities. Deacons can offer such modeling and can help re-educate the congregation about appropriate biblical expectations.  

Eddie Hammett is leadership/discipleship consultant for Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and adjunct professor at Gardner Webb Divinity School.

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