Monday, February 24, 2020

Downsizing books - some adventures on the way

I am in the throes of the (very) painful experience of saying goodbye to my library - or most of it.  How successful I will be in finding homes for the many hundred volumes is difficult to judge, but conversations about the task have led to interesting consequences.  For example, I mentioned this to a Methodist friend. His ears pricked up on hearing that I have many (many) volumes of W.E. Sangster's sermons and other books, (Sangster was a very influential Methodist preacher). He said: 'You haven't by any chance got his pamphlet: A Spiritual Check-Up?  That booklet meant so much to me in my early Christian life.  I would love to see it again'.

Well, I have found it and I shall tell him. However, it also made impact on me as a teenager.  Like a medical check-up Sangster asks readers to go through the pages slowly for a spiritual check-up. He warns: If you are too busy for this, you are too busy.  It needs at least two hours.  And, as I turn the pages I remember again the shock of its challenges.

Some are more obvious. For example, some questions on the first page titled: IN THE WORLD
       Do I speak the truth?  Am I a person of the strictest honesty?  Do I fake my income tax returns?         Do I swear? In my relations with the other sex am I pure in deed, word, thought?
It becomes more searching as the check-ups continue: WHERE I WORK:
       Is Christ more loved or, at least, more respected at my business place because of the way I live.?         Are some people outside the church because I am inside? If I have concealed my discipleship, is         it because I am afraid that my life would not sustain my profession? I am ashamed of Christ? or        just a coward? 
And especially IN THE HOME
      Do those who know me best, believe in me most?  Am I thoughtful for those who are serving me          every day?  Do I criticize the Church and other Christians in front of others?  In the morning              half- awake, and in the evening over-tired, am I still a Christian, courteous, grateful, 
      good-humoured?    Do I think of the home as mine or God's? 

Each section, continuing with  At the altar, With fellow-workers for Christ, the Fruit of the Spirit, the Passing Years, Serving Others, At the Cross, closes with a prayer of confession and help.  Those prayers make all the difference - you'd just be left a guilt-ridden wreck without God's daily help and forgiveness.  And there's just a couple of other things I have been reminded of - that need another post.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Reflecting on pastoral care

These last posts are my tribute to a great Christian spirit, Ron Messenger, who brought such depth with wisdom into our lives.  I have so valued his teaching again.

Out of my ongoing experience I have written elsewhere about what this means for the pastor/preacher.  Because I know that such mutual caring within a whole fellowship will not happen naturally.  I believe that much depends on pastors' personal qualities, their ethos - the way they model Christian life by living within community.  If they do not demonstrate love, caring, and hospitality it becomes less likely that the rest of the fellowship can picture such possibilities.  Closed, apparently uncaring leaders will not develop open caring fellowships no matter how eloquent their preaching.  Of course, the Holy Spirit works through many others in leadership when they let him, but those called full-time to be under-Shepherds have immense responsibility in Christ's name.  That's why Ron was so effective among us.

In the most recent Baptists Together magazine I was thrilled to see a picture of John Bunyan Baptist Church in Cowley, Oxford.  It was my student pastorate. Michael Bochenski became minister there later and in the magazine he wrote a piece called 'A Taste of Heaven' about integrating members of the Windrush generation into a traditional church.  Let me quote from a paragraph or two:
'When you show an interest in people they will show an interest in you and the church', a wise pastoral tutor had said to us all in College. They were words I never forgot. Visiting and praying with people in their homes has long been the best way I know to see churches begin to grow again. There is no easy alternative to the slow patient building up of relationships. So when a few more West Indian Christians began to turn up at Sunday worship I made it a priority to follow them up.  A phase of significant church growth began....... Occasionally in ministry there are times when heaven clearly touches earth. As the Baptist faith community in Cowley grew - we experienced many baptisms during the seven years I ministered there - so did our commitment to the community around us.
I thank God for Ron who lived out the cost and for Michael and for all Christian leaders who truly care so that others might truly care too.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Ron's pastoral care 7) In action

After this general teaching Ron moved specifically to our own church situation and advocated a plan of action. We needed to recognize two general categories of pastoral care:
INFORMAL.  Day to day encounters, loving attitudes and spontaneous action.  Fortified by the encouragement, teaching, fellowship and prayer of the church.
FORMAL - in the sense of being organized.  Much depends on the size, location resources of the church.

He then outlined how the church should call and set aside a number of people as members of a CARE TEAM.  The ministers should belong to this group which should include visitors, counsellors etc.  This team requires selection, support, supervision and training.  Team members would have overall view of community needs and particular ministries.

However, vitally, alongside this team there will be a number of CARE GROUPS with leaders who would work with the care team.  These groups should provide more intimate fellowship and informal caring.   Calling them 'care groups' would emphasize the mutuality of support and love yet they would also be groups for prayer, study, evangelism and fun.

Earlier in my ministry the church had agreed that every member should be put into a house-group. We called them sector groups.  Of course, we knew some were unable to attend because of ill health and others because they were 'not small group people'. (I remember reading that no more than 60% of an average congregation would ever attend).  Yet, belonging to a group meant that they were cared for even in their absence.  Renaming them as care groups, providing necessary support and supervision developed them as in Ron's vision.

And guess what?  When I left in 1993, and the church faced two years before my successor came, I am told that not one person left (apart from natural reasons!) As someone put it: 'Those home groups held us together'

Friday, February 7, 2020

Ron's pastoral care 6) One body, many members

Diversity is a characteristic of the unity of the body - a hall-mark of the church in its pastoral care (1 Cor 12:4-12).  Ron stressed that among the members there will be different:
gifts or strengths; spheres of influence usually according to where we live or work; opportunities e.g. medical and care-workers may have special opportunities); times of availability (some sleep while others work); commitments e.g. family.

To stereotype pastoral care or to overload one person (or a few) is folly.  I Cor. 12 relates to the whole varied ministry of the church...very different kinds of gifts. For God's purpose is that all members, weak or strong, 'should have equal concern for earth other' with a mutuality in suffering and honour (v. 21-26.)  So there are different expressions of care, such as:

  • BEFRIENDING - we easily forget that friendship is a common human need. To notice a person may be its beginning: NOTICE-SMILE-GREET. An unspoken question in newcomer's mind: 'Does anyone care that I'm here'.  Latter it may change '...if I'm not here?
  • VISITING - in church people come onto our territory; in visiting we move onto theirs.  The caring is moving outwards. An echo of the Incarnation?
  • PRACTICAL HELP - The Carpenter of Nazareth lays great stress on doing Matt 14:16. Love is in the hands as well as on the lips.
  • COUNSELLING - when the pastoral problems are too severe of the need too painful to be dealt with in friendly conversation.
  • PREPARATION - for marriage, parenthood, leaving home, etc.
  • PRAYER - All the pastoral care begins in the heart of God and we are the channels of his love. For some carers prayer will be the chief ministry as intercessors.
And, as he went through these possibilities he asked us to reflect on our own gifts and opportunities?

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Ron's Pastoral Care 5) The changing order

Ron gave analysis about the current state of pastoral care in churches. There is much that I agree with but my experiences since lead me to a further conclusion (which I shall tack on at the end!)
1.  The old order changes.
By long tradition pastoral care has been seen as the pastor's task. Visiting the sick and lonely, comforting the dying and the bereaved, counselling the troubled, a reconciler in conflict, preparing couples for marriage, welcoming newcomers, instructing new converts, spotting fresh talent.  A second pastor may have been added to the team but the pattern has remained the same. 

In stable societies and churches of limited size the pattern may seem to have worked. But the old order is changing for two main reasons:

i) In our contemporary unstable society, losing so much of its moral and natural support structures, it is manifestly impossible for one (or two) pastors to have all the time or ability to meet all the needs.  An unrealistic, and therefore unwise and unfair expectation, leading to disappointment and frustration.

ii) The New Testament has a much better pattern.
Jesus called twelve 'to be with him and to be sent out' Mark 3:14
Paul urges Timothy as leader of a church to teach others who will teach others 2 Tim 2:1
'One another' is a key NT phrase speaking of shared life and love as a mark of the community of believers and its witness to the world.
Vine and branches in John 15 is a vivid image of that shared life: fruitfulness, the Father's glory, is that 'you love one another as I have loved you' (V.12)
Pastoral care is not a straight line from pastor to people but an open network of the whole community.  No-one is exempt from the responsibility of loving others.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Ron's pastoral care 4) Restoring value

After his 5 signs of devaluation Ron went on to give 5 ways in which to restore value.
Salvation is Jesus restoring the value of a sinner. Swindler Zacchaeus is told he is 'a son of Abraham' (Luke 19:9)  Pastoral care takes up the theme: 'You're worth caring for, so we won't abandon you to your suffering....loneliness...guilt ...fear'.

Quality care will depend on the value placed on the person expressed in:
  • Time - ungrudgingly given as a gift of oneself.
  • Interest - genuine concern about the PERSON, not just the problem.
  • Name - calling them by name brings a person out of the crowd and acknowledges identity.  The Good Shepherd believes that's important (John 10.3).
  • Practical help.
  • Prayer - that lifts a person beyond our own resources into the grace of God.  Prayer dares to claim that the eternal God.
Spending time on each of these he summed it up:  All this is LOVE in action.

Continuously he asked us to reflect.   'The debt we owe'In Romans 16:11-16 Paul names some of the many people who touched his life and to whom he owed a debt. Reflection on our own journey we might be surprised by the number of people who have touched our lives along the way, not always in crisis. We haven't come alone.

Sadly, I only have notes of one more session but this really focuses on the 'in action' time.