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Shepherding Discontented Sheep (via Nick Kennicott)

Nick Kennicott considers the delicate pastoral situation of Christians who move from one church to another because of unhappiness with their last church.

Faithful local churches want to grow through the redemption of sinners. Through evangelistic efforts and the consistent administration of the ordinary means of grace, there should be a healthy expectation that there will be new believers joining the church periodically. However, the most significant growth in most local churches is Christians transferring their membership from other local churches. Almost 60% of American churches have an average of 75 members, so it’s refreshing and can be exciting to see new faces with new and different gifts. It is not wrong to want to see the church grow, but it should never be without several important considerations.
There are certainly cases when the discontentment of sheep is legitimate and they have good reasons to leave their church. Sadly, churches can be abusive and authoritarian, or they can be heretical. Additionally, a Christian should have a general desire to be in their church knowing that there is substantial agreement on doctrine and philosophy of ministry. If things change, there may be very legitimate reasons for a believer to look for a new church family. Likewise, Christians are never obligated to remain in a local church and nobody can insist that they must. Church membership is a vital aspect of the Christian life; but, Christians need to be members of a faithful local church, not necessarily any one church that they may have joined at some particular point in time.

Read the whole post at Reformation 21.

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Ten Pastoral Heartaches (via Chuck Lawless)

Chuck Lawless describes ten sources of pastoral heartache.
All the pastors I know consistently express these griefs as a part of their lives. It’s not something to pity, nor are these situations unknown to others, but our calling demands that we can’t avoid circumstances such as these.
We’re invested in people’s lives, the ups and the downs (the sideways and the marking time).
It is by no means an exhaustive list.

  1. We mourn when marriages fall apart.
  2. We hurt when young people make decisions that lead to trouble.
  3. We occasionally beat ourselves up when our sermon wasn’t nearly as strong as we thought it would be.
  4. We sometimes grieve the sin of others more than they do.
  5. We ache when our church must carry out church discipline.
  6. We struggle when the churches we lead aren’t growing.
  7. We sometimes hurt alone when we see the loneliness and struggles of our families.
  8. We quietly grieve funerals for persons who showed no evidence of Christian conversion.
  9. We wrestle with loneliness when we don’t know how to develop strong friendships.
  10. We often feel guilty even expressing any of these thoughts.

Read Lawless’ post for brief explanations of each of these.

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We Are Equally Sinful. We Are Not All Equally Broken or Toxic. (via Brad Hambrick)

Brad Hambrick makes a necessary distinction that is vital if pastoral care and personal support is to be appropriate for people whose problems have different causative conditions:
From the article:

The concern I want to discuss is the tendency to assume that biblical principles like those found in I Corinthians 10:13 mean that all our struggles carry the same weight. The unintended consequence can be that abusive relationships receive the same counsel as garden-variety arguments and instances of low impulse control receive the same guidance as manic episodes.
We’re All the Same
Let me begin with the first sentence of the title: “We are all equally sinful.” Whatever distinctions we make later in this post in no way imply that anyone needs Jesus-on-steroids or a double dose of atonement. There are no varsity and no junior varsity sinners. We are all in the same league (i.e., sinful) and in need of the same Savior (i.e., Jesus) by the same means (i.e., repentance and faith). I fear that, because we want to make sure people understand this paragraph that Christians can neglect to make the kind of assessments discussed below.
There Are Differences
Now let’s move to the second sentence of the title: “We are not all equally broken or toxic.” As I am using these terms, “broken” would refer to things for which we do not bear moral responsibility but create unique challenges for us, and “toxic” would refer to persistent patterns of sin that not only harm others but we punish others if/when they bring them to our attention. From the opening paragraph, the person whose body involuntarily cycles between the extreme highs of energy-grandiosity and lows of depression would be experiencing the “brokenness” of bipolar (not just garden-variety moodiness), and the person who verbally and physically intimidates his-her family and punishes them if it is brought up is exhibiting the “toxicity” of being abusive (not just garden-variety rudeness).

Read the rest of the post here.

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Worship As The Ground Zero Of Pastoral Care (via Zac Hicks)

Picking up Will Willimon’s position that modernity has overly individualised and psychologised contemporary pastoral Zac Hicks points out a primary purpose of corporate worship, the neglect of which weakens both worship and pastoral care.

When we hear “pastoral care,” we typically think of one-on-one, gut-wrenching meetings between a pastor and a hurting congregant. We think of counselling session, hospital calls, in-home visits, praying for individual’s needs and presiding over funerals. These are all vital, indispensable care practices of any pastor. But the history of the church points us to a centre, a starting place for pastoral care. The pastors of early Christianity saw the core of their ministry to sick, hurting, wounded sheep happening in the context of leading worship. Worship is the ground zero of pastoral care. It is where all pastoral care rightly begins, and without it , all other forms of pastoral care lose their meaning and power. Before I show you why this is so, we need to address another question: How did we ever get to the place where we don’t think of worship when we talk about pastoral care?

The Worship Pastor, Zac Hicks, Zondervan, 2016, pg 123.

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Supporting People Who Are Angry With God (via David Powlison at CCEF)

A wise friend of mine told me that a strong bridge of relationship is required to bear the conveyance of weighty truths.
From David Powlison at CCEF:

your first question is not, “Do I have all the right passages to quote?” but rather, “Do I have this man’s ear? Are we in a conversation where the truth can be savory and relevant, and really touch him?”
When someone’s struggling with anger at God, rather than immediately diving into any number of passages of Scripture, make sure you have his ear. Take a walk with him as a friend. Acknowledge the value of his being honest about his struggle with God. Affirm his current conviction that life in a fallen world can be very difficult and deeply disappointing.

From here.

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Things To Know About Grieving People (via Nancy Guthrie)

Nancy Guthrie has a post about ten things to know about grieving people.
They’re quite helpful, for those supporting the grieving and for those navigating their own grief.
There’s a good range of observations.
Here’s one.

It is extremely hard for a grieving person to have to give a report on how they’re doing. But they do want you to invite them to talk about their grief and their loved one who died.
We tend to approach people who have been through a loss with the question, “How are you?” It is simple enough and it certainly demonstrates caring. But many grieving people feel at a loss to come up with an adequate answer to the question. “Not so good,” might sound pathetic. “Good,” just isn’t the truth. They sometimes feel as if the person asking will judge how they’re doing this grief thing if they’re honest about the ups and downs and waves of grief that sometimes overtake them. Much better is to ask an open-ended question such as, “What’s your grief like these days?” It acknowledges that it makes sense they would be sad and allows them to talk about it.

Read the whole post here.

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Seven Reasons Some Church Members Don’t Want Their Churches To Grow (via Thom Rainer)

Master list producer Thom Rainer provides seven reasons some church members don’t want their churches to grow.
It’s important to know that people who love Jesus as Lord and Saviour and who want others to be saved can fall into these patterns.
They need to be sensitively identified and addressed from the perspective of finding satisfaction in Jesus and the growth of the Kingdom.

From the post:

Obedience to the Great Commission often results in growth in the church. But growth in the church is not always received well by some members. Some of these members have an attitude that the church is there to serve them and to cater to their needs. Healthy church members understand they are to be giving and sacrificial members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).

  1. Loss of familiarity. When a church is growing, it becomes a different church over time. The difference is not necessarily good or bad, but it’s not the same as it was in earlier years. Some church members grieve when they see their churches change. They miss “the good old days.”
  2. Loss of memories. I recently heard a poignant story from a lady whose church was demolishing the old worship center to build a new one to accommodate growth. She and her husband were married in the old worship center. She understandably grieved at the loss of that physical reminder of their wedding.
  3. Loss of comfort. Growth can mean that the closest parking spots are no longer available. Growth can mean that the traffic flow in the parking lot is more difficult. Church members can feel that their creature comforts are compromised by growth.
  4. Loss of power. New people in a church can mean that power bases are diluted. The growth can result in new influencers in the church. Some of the longer-tenured influencers may not like that.
  5. Loss of perceived intimacy. It’s a common response: “I used to know everyone in this church. I just don’t feel as close to members as I once did.” Indeed, growth can mean that all the members may not know each other as they did when the church was smaller.
  6. Loss of worship style. New members and attendees might have different worship style preferences. They often influence church leaders to make changes. Existing members may resent these changes. They might also start worship wars.
  7. Loss of worship time. Growth in the church may necessitate adding worship services or changing times of worship services. Some members may be frustrated that they have lost “their” worship time.