Creekstone desires for every member to experience personal, relational connection, gospel camaraderie, and practical care. As a result of deep contemplation on how to achieve such a lofty goal for our congregation, we believe that decentralizing care is the best way to provide the most effective personal ministry to one another.
This means that our primary (but not only) strategy for “pastoral care” (as it often is called) is not staff-centered nor staff-dependent but is group-centered and group-dependent. In this sense, care is more organic than organized; more natural than formal.
This doesn’t mean that there is no organization. We will see this below in how pastor-elders oversee group life. This is why we say “more organic” than organized. Care in the church is not an either/or proposition, but is both/and. Yes, pastor elders and staff play a role in the caring process, but the front-line, boots on the ground action takes place in groups, where people are growing in knowledge of each other’s specific needs and are in proximity to meet those needs.
In this way, we recognize that “a span of care” relationship ratio of 1 to 12 is more effective than when the ratio is 1 to 150, 1 to 100, or even 1 to 50.
This model is a risky business in a culture that expects personal needs to be met by a centralized, professional, paid staff. But a decentralized model actually is the New Testament model of how pastoral care in a local church is to take place.
A decentralized model actually is the New Testament model of how pastoral care in a local church is to take place.
We see this in the New Testament’s use of the word allelon (ἀλλήλων). The word allelon means “one another,” as in love one another, honor one another, serve one another, carry one another’s burdens, forgive one another, be patient with one another, be kind to one another, teach one another, admonish one another, build each other up, etc.
Allelon is used 59 times in the New Testament. I have listed all of the references below.
The point is that “one anothering” isn’t something that is left to a staff, but something that every member of the body has the privilege and opportunity to experience. We all get to take part in mutually “shepherding” each other with care, accountability, and encouragement. I love that!
Our K-Group ministry (the K stands for the Greek word, koinonia, which means oneness and fellowship) has been designed to facilitate this biblical model of care. While organized small groups, they operate rather organically. The goal is simply to provide a context in which people have the opportunity to experience personal connection, gospel camaraderie, and practical care.
The point is that “one anothering” isn’t something that is left to a staff, but something that every member of the body has the privilege and opportunity to experience.
What then is the role of pastor-elders? As Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:11ff, they are called to equip believers to do ministry. In business terms, we could say the pastor-elders are ministry managers who train and equip the employees, who are the members in the church. They are being equipped to use their spiritual gifts for the edification, maturity, and health of the body so that the church may be, as a whole, equipped to reach the world with the gospel. This equipping and training is done primarily through teaching and modeling, where the pastor-elders serve as living examples to the flock.
While some pastor-elders focus on this teaching and equipping role, others serve by governing the body as overseers, watching over the entire flock to make sure none slip through gaps in the fences. By staying in touch with group leaders, elders are able to identity where individual sheep need specialized care that goes beyond what a K-Group is able to provide. These shepherding/ruling/governing elders also are responsible to adjudicate unreconcilable conflicts among the sheep and enforce whatever discipline may be necessary to restore a wandering sheep to the fold.
By staying in touch with group leaders, elders are able to identity where individual sheep need specialized care that goes beyond what a K-Group is able to provide.
But as far as the day in and day out body life of a congregation, each member is to “shepherd” others, in view of the cross, with practical care, gospel accountability, and mutual encouragement. This takes place in smaller groups, whether formal ministries like K-Groups or in the informal context of organic friendships.
Is there a place for a “Pastor of Congregational Care” to serve on a church staff? I think so. A pastor-elder who is able to focus on equipping members for this specific ministry of “one anothering” would be a valuable use of a congregation’s funds. Someone who is gifted at seeing this congregational care woven in the lives of many would only go toward creating a healthier environment in the body.
Want to keep the conversation going? Just post in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 59 “One Anothers” of the New Testament*