The church at 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 around with his father’s wife.
In this text, it is important to note the primary point and force of Paul’s address.
It was the church he was speaking to more than the man in sin.
Although the man in sexual sin had to be, and was dealt with, Paul’s main concern was this local church.
Christ is serious about His Gospel and the purity of His church and Paul was articulating the same level of severity for the purity of the Gospel and that local church.
Shenanigans in the church
There was something wrong with the Corinthian church. They had drifted from the Gospel. Because they were adrift, this kind of sexual immorality was taking place. This begs a couple of questions for us:
- What kind of shenanigans are going on in your church?
- And why are they going on?
The Corinthian church did not first learn about this man’s sin when Paul wrote his letter to them. They knew he was sinning.
However, they were not biblically responsive to his sin, hence the letter from Paul to readjust their thinking as it pertained to what true biblical love looked like.
- Are there people in your church living in sin, but are not being engaged by the local body in an effort to help them repent of their sin?
- Are there husbands and wives living in various forms of dysfunction, but the body is not engaging these couples with the hope of restoring them to each other and to Christ.
- How much sin is being tolerated in your local church? How is it being addressed?
Let us be warned: if sin is left to heal itself on its own, it will not heal, but grow and fester like a cancer and eventually destroy the whole body.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? – 1 Corinthians 5:6 (ESV)
Busy, exhausted leaders
Pastor Bill is overworked. His inbox is full. The phone seemingly never stops ringing. People outside his local church seek his help while many of the families inside his church are also struggling in their marriages.
In addition to all of these things, he has to “run the church” while preparing two messages per week. When I asked who was caring for him, his wife, and his kids, he laughed. Then he said,
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 adequately equip them.
Pastor Bill is busy. There is no doubt about that. But for those of you who are pastoring, you know that his schedule and calendar demands are normative. The workload of a pastor can be underrated and it is more than just “showing up on Sunday from 10 to Noon,” as the joke goes.
The real issue for Pastor Bill 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 of the ministry,” he functions more as a firefighter who spends too much time putting out fires, whether the fire is among his congregation or among those from other churches, whom he will not be held accountable for (Ephesians 4:11-12; Hebrews 13:17).
He goes from one fire to the next, bringing perceived closure, but firefighter Bill has no time to do the preventative care that causes the fires.
Pastor Bill needs to make a decision, a paradigm-shifting decision that will affect the entire culture of his church. He will need to rethink his values, vision, and practice as it pertains to equipping the saints.
This will not be easy.
I have been working for and consulting with local churches for many years and busyness is one of the most common themes of the pastors I have had the privilege to serve.
Busyness is characteristic of the work of the ministry and as long as there is sin in the world and God’s love in the hearts of pastors, that won’t change.
The real issue and the practical solution is not necessarily to be less busy, but to be more biblically-efficient as it pertains to local church soul care.
Jesus loved equitably, but equipped particularly
I think we all can agree that Jesus loved people. Yes, I know…that’s an understatement. Even those who rejected Christ were impressed by His love for people (John 11:36). No one bumped into Christ and did not feel His love and affection for them (Mark 5:34).
Even those who talked about Him told us about His great love for others:
- John: For God so loved the world… (John 3:16)
- Paul: Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church… (Ephesians 5:25)
The question is not whether Christ loved people, but what did love look like in Christ’s ministry? Let me propose to you that while Christ loved everyone equally, He did not work with everyone equally.
If the four gospels are representative of the Savior’s day-timer, then when we peek into His schedule we 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 them to follow Him, until the day He went to heaven, His core group of leaders were being evaluated, envisioned, equipped, tested, and then re-evaluated, re-envisioned, re-equipped, and re-tested. This cycle went on until He left.
Loving people does not mean giving them all your time. If Jesus gave all of the believers He encountered His time, they would have received the best care, but it would have been temporary.
One of the best things that the Savior did for us was to devote the majority of His time to His leaders so you and I could benefit from their ministry work two-thousand years later.
We are, in part, receiving the Savior’s care through the leaders He developed.
Re-thinking traditional ways of doing church
Sister Jean has been loving Jesus longer than most of the folks at her church have been alive. She is what her friends call a “wonderful saint of God” whom they want to emulate.
She is nearly the first one to the building each Sunday morning and no one can remember the last time she missed the ladies Bible study, except during the big snow of ’87.
Most of the 30-something-mothers in the church were students in her Sunday School class when they were toddlers. She is “Mama Jean” to everyone.
Of course it doesn’t hurt her fame to keep a stash of peppermints in her oversized pocketbook. Like ducklings following the mother duck, the kids line up each Sunday, hoping Mama Jean will dole out a piece of candy.
Though Sister Jean is an adorable fixture in her church, she is also representative of the old guard who is used to things going her way. Though never unkind when stating her preferences, you are never left wondering what her preferences are.
Since Pastor Bill “took over the church” there has been moderate growth. The sparsely populated church, composed of a middle age to elderly demographic was gaining some momentum and favor among the younger couples and singles in the community.
Pastor Bill was not compromising the Gospel message in any way. It was his style and ability to connect with a wider range of people that God seemed to be using to grow the church. The older folks in the church loved him and were glad to see “fresh faces” among the congregation.
Though they genuinely loved Pastor Bill, they were still tethered to the old way of building the church. Mama Jean was part of that old school and believed the “pastor should come eat her prized dinner casserole at least once a quarter.”
The previous 11 pastors at Moriah Baptist did this and she expected Pastor Bill to do the same.
Pastor Bill has been part of a growing number of pastors who have been rethinking what soul care should look like in the local church, especially in light of the mandate in Ephesians 4:11-12.
He saw no way he could continue to pastor this church the way it has always been pastored and to properly care for the folks in a way in which they needed care.
Jesus gave particular attention, but comprehensive care
The old guard was not cryptic in letting Pastor Bill know what they expected of him. Pastor Bill still does not know what possessed him that fateful Sunday night when he yelled at Mama Jean, “Do you want my time or do you want my care?”
Though his attitude was sinful, his thought was biblical.
Pastor Bill understood the demands of his schedule. Somehow he had to shepherd his own heart, care for his wife and family, while figuring out how to effectively care for his church.
One of his goals with his new post was to create a culture of care, where the entire body of Christ was functioning like a healthy body. A healthy body, with proper care, has a self-sustaining immune system that can heal itself.
Pastor Bill found a core group of couples in his church whom he could “preach” his vision to. He told them that it was humanly impossible for him to give every person in his church his undivided attention.
However, he helped them to understand that every person in his church could receive his care, but it would not be through him, but through them. He asked them if they would commit with him to help him carry this vision throughout the church. 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 it was necessary for paid employees to implement his vision.
He believed that if he could equip a small group of couples who believed like he believed, and practiced what he practiced, then 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).
Where do you begin?
First – The starting point for Pastor Bill was in his own heart. He had to begin by pursuing Christ personally.
Second – He needed to provide a similar kind of care for his wife and children. Bill understood that without modeling the Christ-life in his own 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 he carried. Pastoring is similar to parenting: we can tell our children to do this or that or we can tell our children to follow us as we are following Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1).
This latter message is the biblical one and the one Bill preached.
Third – Bill 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 set. They became what he called his “Peter, James, and John Group.” Bill, like Christ, “created a church within a church” with the expectation of equipping this core group to do the work of the ministry.
The “Peter, James, and John Group” became his small group leaders. Bill begin meeting with the men individually, the individual couples, and the group as a whole. Each couple began to lead a small group, modeling and teaching what they were learning from Pastor Bill.
In time, the church caught the vision. Though every member of the church does not get on Bill’s day-timer, each person in the church is receiving Bill’s care through those whom he has equipped to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Building the church from the inside out
- Do you know the soul condition of the people you serve alongside of at your local church?
- Do you know what state marriages of the people in your small group or Bible study are in?
- The lady that leads your Bible study, how is her husband leading her? Do you know?
- Are you regularly going past the superficial of your friend’s lives by getting into the nitty-gritty of what is really going on?
Pastors, in Hebrews it says you will give an account for the folks you are shepherding (Hebrews 13:17 (ESV).
- Have you equipped your members to be involved in each other’s lives?
- Have you set up progressive sanctification contexts where the people you’re going to give an account for can be properly cared for?
Church member, are you a joy to pastor?
- Would you go to your pastor or small group leader this week and ask him if you are a joy to shepherd?
- Let me press the point further: would you go to him and ask him for one observation that he has observed about you, but has never told you?
- Would you release him from the fear of any kind of resentment or retaliation and urge him to be honest with you?
Undetected cancer claims life of teen
A teenage girl was killed by a rare cancer after symptoms did not show up in blood tests. Doctors said that medical textbooks may have to be written, so unusual was the case. They thought that [Sheree Simpson], 13, was suffering from meningitis but she died of a form of leukemia.
Medics at two hospitals could find no way to treat the teenager, after she fell ill with suspected meningitis. She eventually lost her vision, couldn’t walk and was sleeping for up to 19 hours a day. But consultants were left bewildered when she did not respond to treatments for the disease.
She was discharged from the hospital several times in the early stages of her illness. But after her death, tests revealed cancerous blood cells had gathered in her brain, causing swelling inside her head which resulted in her death.
Despite being present in Sheree’s blood, the cancerous white cells did not show up in blood tests. Because leukemia was not suspected, consultants did not take crucial bone marrow tests which may have spotted it in time.
Under-discipleship will claim the life of your church
One of the most common aspects of all of the people I counsel is a lack of a substantive, vibrant, authentic, relational connection with their local church.
I am not saying the people I have counseled do not attend a local church. In fact, the majority of them do, but for too many Christians, their attendance and participation in their local church are only “skin deep,” as the saying goes.
Though what I am about to say is over-simplistic, I have seen two primary culprits for the progressive sanctification breakdown in our local churches:
- Church people are not forthcoming about what is really going on in their lives
- Leaders are either preoccupied or are not asking the right kinds of questions
It is not my desire to throw rocks at anyone. My heart is burdened for God’s church. He has called me to bring care to His church and one of the ways I do this is by letting you know what I am regularly running into with some of the leadership and church people I serve.
I long for the day when church members are willing to be transparent about the real stuff in their lives. I also long for the day when leaders are envisioned and equipped in proper soul care.
I realize this article is not for everyone. There are thousands of leaders who are equipping their local body and have the discipleship contexts in place where their folks can change and grow.
There are also local pastors who are working feverishly, but all alone. These heroic leaders and pastors are carrying an incredible load. I commend them and praise God for them.
However, on the front lines where I work, I see busy church people and busy leaders who need assistance in tackling this progressive sanctification breakdown. My desire is to be an encouragement and an exhortation to both the laity and the leadership of God’s local churches.
I want to appeal to the church member to be honest, open, and transparent about the real stuff in his/her life. I want to serve leaders in showing them how to bring care to the people they are called to shepherd.
Small group application
With these things in mind, our local church went through First Corinthians on Sunday mornings. You can listen to the sermon on chapter five by clicking 01.09.11 sermon.
The small group where I serve works through the Sunday sermon each week. The letter below was my “follow-up” letter that I sent to my group after our Sunday evening small group meeting.
Though we talked about many things, the letter below highlights some of the things I hoped we as a group would begin to practice more consistently:
Dear Small Group,
There was so much covered last night that it would be impossible to summarize or to draw attention to all of the evidences of God’s kind grace in your lives. Let me just say this, it was all good!!
Let’s ask the Father to help us to have an awareness of those around us and then to give us an opportunity to serve our brothers and sisters, specifically at our church, by speaking into their lives in any way that He sees fit.
Let’s ask and expect Him to answer this prayer and, thus, live in a Spirit-empowered expectancy that these circumstances and contexts will come to pass for us to make His name great, by speaking into the lives of those we love.
For example: As you go to get your milk and bread, let that be your secondary objective according to Matthew 6:33. First, let’s seek the kingdom of God, by making His name great in the aforementioned way. Then buy your bread and milk.
Remember: “church discipline” finds its genesis in our individual hearts before the Father and if we’re doing the on-going restorative work in our hearts before the Father, such things as the incident in the Corinthian church will not happen in our church.
The next step of church discipline begins in our families, specifically between husbands and wives. If we are speaking into our spouse’s lives, then 1 Corinthians 5 should not happen. Thirdly, our small group can be a preventative measure to keep 1 Corinthians 5 from happening if we’re stepping up to this wonderful means of grace by stirring one another up to love and good deeds in the context of the small group (Hebrews 10:24-25).
Lastly, husbands, lets lead our wives by instructing and encouraging them in how they can speak into the lives of various church members prior to going to the various meetings of the church.
E.g., on Saturday night pray and talk about who you would like to see her care for at the Sunday meeting. Serve your wife. Lead her. Love her. Give her your wisdom and direction. Love her the way the Savior does (Ephesians 5:25).
Wives, appeal to your husbands to lead you in this area. Ask them to help you in thinking through how to care for fellow church members whom you have affection for.
Let’s imagine just for a moment: imagine if the content of this email was fully embraced by every member of our church. Wow!!
With much affection…
- How are you serving and leading in your church in order to serve your local body with the hope that your local church does not become like the Corinthian church?
- Husbands, how are you leading your wives and your families in order to maintain the purity of the Gospel in your family?
- What person in your local church is not walking with God?
- What do you plan to do in order to be part of the process of restoring him/her to Christ?