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Corinth was a broken church. In chapter 5 of 1st Corinthians, Paul was addressing one of the perverted outcomes of their brokenness: a man was sleeping with his father’s wife. In this text, it is essential to note the primary point and force of Paul’s address. He was primarily speaking to the church, not the man’s sin. If you miss this point, it could prove tragic for your local church.
Paul dealt with the man’s sin, but his main concern was the local church. Christ is serious about the purity of His body. Paul was articulating a similar level of severity for the holiness of the body of Christ. There was something wrong with the Corinthian church. They had drifted from holiness, and it was only because they were adrift, this kind of sexual immorality was taking place.
Instructively, the Corinthian church did not learn about this man’s sin when Paul wrote his letter to them. They already knew he was sinning. But they were not biblically responsive to his transgressions, hence the letter from Paul to readjust their thinking about a serious problem in the church about practical biblical love, which was a more significant problem.
Are there people in your church living in sin, but are not being engaged by the local body to help them repent of their sin? Are there husbands and wives living in dysfunction, but the body is not challenging these couples with the hope of restoring them to each other and Christ.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5:6)?
Heed the Warning– If sin is left to heal itself on its own, it will not heal, but grow and fester like cancer and eventually destroy the whole body. Here are a few more practical questions that will help you to assess yourself and your church.
Pastor Biff is overworked. His inbox is full. The phone seemingly never stops buzzing. People outside his church also want his help, while many of the church families were struggling in their marriages. In addition to all of these things, he has to “run the church” (administration) while preparing two messages each week. When I asked who was caring for him, his wife, and his kids, he laughed.
There is “no more room in the inn.” I barely have time to read my Bible and, quite frankly, I use a lot of my preaching prep as my devotional time. I have two or three guys who are doing well in our church, but I spend so much time putting fires out, running the church, and sermon prep, that there is no time to equip them adequately.”
Paul’s vision for the church looked differently from Pastor Biff:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:11-14).
Pastor Biff is busy; there is no doubt about it. Today’s pastor knows that Biff’s schedule demands are normative. The workload of a pastor is more than “showing up on Sunday from 10 to Noon,” as the joke goes. The real issue for Pastor Biff is not that he is busy, but that he is too busy in some ways that do not best serve his local church.
Rather than “equipping the saints to do the work,” he functions like a firefighter who spends too much time putting out trouble, whether the problems are among his congregation or other churches. He goes from one issue to the next, and firefighter Biff has no time to do the preventative care that causes all the fires.
Pastor Biff is going to have to make a decision, a paradigm-shifting one that will affect the entire culture of his church. He has to rethink his values, vision, and practice as it pertains to equipping the saints. This transition will not be smooth, but he’s between a rock and hard place.
I consult with local churches, and busyness is one of the most common themes of these leaders. Busyness is a definition of pastoral ministry, and as long as there is sin in the world and God’s love in the hearts of pastors, this won’t change. The real issue and the practical solution is not necessarily to be less busy but to be more biblically-efficient in soul care practices.
We all can agree that Jesus loved people. Even those who rejected Him were impressed by His love for others (John 11:36). No one bumped into Christ and did not feel His affection for them (Mark 5:34). Even those who talked about Christ told us about His great love for others:
The question is not whether Christ loved people, but what did love look like in His’s ministry? Though Jesus loved everyone equally, He did not help everyone equally. The four gospels represent His calendar, and when you peek into His time management practices, you see Him loving equitably, but equipping particularly.
Christ devoted the bulk of His teaching, wisdom, training, instructing, and equipping for those He planned to turn His mission over to when He left. From the day He called the disciples to follow Him, until the day He ascended, He was evaluating, envisioning, equipping, testing, and then re-evaluated, re-envisioned, re-equipped, and re-tested His core group of leaders. This cycle went on until He left. (This process is how I spend my time and train our Mastermind Students.)
Loving people does not mean giving them all your time. If Jesus gave all of the believers He encountered His best time, they would have received excellent care, but it would have altered His mission. One of the best things Jesus did was devote the majority of His time to His primary leaders.
You and I are, in part, receiving Christ’s care through that handful of leaders that He developed 2000 years ago. If He had spread Himself so thin that He could not equip His core team, that group would not have been ready to step into His place after He left. And we would feel the effect today of His altered mission back then.
Sister Mable has loved Jesus longer than most of the folks at her church have been alive. They say that she is a “wonderful saint of God” whom they want to emulate. She is the first at the building each Sunday, and no one can remember the last time she missed the ladies’ Bible study, except during the heavy snow of ’87.
Most of the 30-something-mothers had been students in her Sunday School class when they were toddlers. She is “Mama Mable” to everyone. Of course, it doesn’t hurt her fame to keep a stash of peppermints in her oversized pocketbook.
Like ducklings following their mother duck, the kids line up each Sunday, hoping Mama Mable will dole out a piece of candy. She is an adorable and indispensable fixture in her church. It’s hard to imagine what life in the church would be like if she were not there.
But she is also representative of the old guard who wants things always to be how they have always been. Though she is never unkind when stating her preferences, you are never left wondering what she wants you to do. If it was good enough for her, it’s good enough for everyone, and there is no reason to change.
Since Pastor Biff “took over the church,” there has been moderate growth. The sparsely populated church, composed of a middle-age to an elderly demographic, was gaining momentum and favor among the younger couples and singles in the community. Pastor Biff was not compromising the gospel, though he connected with a broader range of people that God was using to grow the church.
The older folks in the church loved him and were glad to see “fresh faces” among the congregation. But they had old ways of doing things. For example, Mama Mable believed the “pastor should come and eat her prized dinner casserole at least once a quarter.” The previous 11 pastors at Corinth Baptist did this; she expected Pastor Biff to do the same.
Pastor Biff is part of a growing number of pastors who have been rethinking what soul care looks like, especially in light of the mandate from Ephesians 4:11-12. He saw no way he could continue to pastor this church the way they expected and adequately care for the folks in a way in which they needed care.
The old guard was not cryptic in letting Pastor Biff know what they expected. Pastor Biff still does not know what possessed him that fateful Sunday night when he yelled at Mama Mable, “Do you want my attention, or do you want my care?” Though his attitude was sinful, his thought was biblical.
Pastor Biff understood the demands of his schedule. He had to shepherd his heart, care for his wife and family while figuring out how to care for his church effectively. One of his goals was to create a quality of care that was transformative. A healthy body, with proper care, has a self-sustaining immune system that can heal itself.
Pastor Biff told his core group that it was humanly impossible to give every person in his church his undivided attention. He helped them to understand how every person could receive his care, but it would not be through him, but through them. He asked them if they would commit to carrying this vision throughout their body. They agreed.
He did not want to have a huge staff to provide care for the church. Fiscally, the church could not afford that. Additionally, he did not believe that paid employees needed to implement his vision. Biff knew that if he could equip a small group of couples who thought as he did, and practiced his practices, each member of his church could receive his care through these individuals whom he was providing this personal envisioning and equipping.
It would be like what Jesus did when he fed the multitudes with bread and fish. Jesus did not individually carry bread and fish to each person. He provided what His team needed so they could distribute the provision to the hungry (Mark 6:41).
The starting point for Pastor Biff was in his own heart. He had to begin by pursuing Christ personally. Secondly, he needed to provide a similar kind of care for his wife and children. Biff understood that without modeling the Christ-life in his heart, life, and family, the depth and realness of his teaching would fall short. He did not want to be just a “carrier of a message,” but he wanted to be affected by the message that he carried.
Thirdly, Biff had to find a core group of two or three couples who not only embraced his vision for soul care in the context of the local church but were actively living it out personally and in their families. Once he found them, he was ready to go. They became what he called his “Peter, James, and John Group.”
Biff created a church within a church with the expectation of equipping this core group to do the work of the ministry. His “Peter, James, and John Group” became his small group leaders. Biff started meeting with the (1) men individually, (2) the couples also, and (3) then the group as a whole. Each husband and wife began to lead a small group, modeling and teaching what they were learning from Pastor Biff.
In time, the church caught the vision. Though every member of the church does not get on Biff’s calendar, each person is receiving Biff’s care through those whom he is equipping to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).
The most common aspect of all of the people I have counseled is the lack of a substantive, vibrant, authentic, relational connection with their local churches. I am not saying these people did not attend a local church. The majority of them did. But for too many, their attendance and participation in their local churches were superficial.
Though what I am about to say is over-simplistic, I have seen two primary culprits for the progressive sanctification breakdown in some local churches. (1) Church people are not forthcoming about what is going on in their lives. (2) Leaders are either preoccupied or are not asking the right kinds of questions.
It is not my desire to throw rocks at anyone, but I do have a vital burden for God’s church. The Lord has called me to bring care to it, and one of the ways I can do this is by letting you know what I am regularly running into with some of the Christians whom I have served.
I believe the best place—outside of your home—for transformation to take place is within the context of the local church. Although we are a para-church organization, we maintain a high view of the local church and encourage all the people we serve to become actively involved in the ministry of a local church to mature and progress in their sanctification.
I believe if people can apply the practical gospel to their lives, while contextualized in a Christ-centered local church, they will then be able to love God and their neighbors in ways that make God’s name great. (Matthew 22:36-40) I long for the day when church members are willing to be transparent about the real stuff in their lives. And I also desire that leaders are envisioned and equipped with proper soul care.
There are thousands of leaders who are caring for their local churches and have discipleship contexts where folks can change and grow. Some local pastors are working feverishly, but all alone. These heroic leaders and pastors are carrying an incredible load. I commend them and praise God for them.
But on the front lines where I work, I see busy church people and leaders who need help in tackling this progressive sanctification breakdown problem. I encourage and appeal to both the laity and the leadership. My call to the church member is for honesty, openness, and transparency about the real stuff in their lives. And I want to serve leaders in showing them how to bring care to the people that the Lord has called them to shepherd.