Author: puchtacg

CARE: For or About?

The ways in which churches and Christians express care and concern commonly reflect how they interpret Jesus’ command to love one another. While love and care are inseparable, a challenge arises when people try to decipher what love means in the context of caring. Since it does not make sense to say “care one another,” to make the phrase grammatically correct, people subconsciously add either the word for or about. Although it may not seem so, the word you choose is significant as it determines the direction you go and the way(s) you care.

Caring FOR entails helping  people

Caring for is synonymous with “taking care of,” and is primarily task-oriented. When caring for people, we naturally focus on the issues and concerns they express and default to meeting needs that are apparent. A few of the ways people care for others include:

  • Helping family and friends who are incapacitated or needy
  • Performing random acts of kindness
  • Volunteering and supporting causes that are near and dear to us
Two ways sign_300

Caring ABOUT reflects discipling

Caring about people takes conversations and how we express concern in a different direction. When we care about people, we take an active interest in them, the direction of their lives, and their spiritual health and well-being (Colossians 2:2-4). Going down the discipleship road requires us to step out of our comfort zone, and be vulnerable, available, and intentional with God and people.

There is something quite invigorating about taking a vested interest in others, engaging in spiritual conversations and disciplines, and seeing the Lord move in mighty and powerful ways. Plus, when we genuinely care about people, it is only natural to want to go the extra mile and care for them as well.

Care considerations

Could it be that adding the word for, instead of about, dilutes Jesus’ command and the point of love? Though it is certainly easier to meet basic needs and care in ways that are task-oriented, according to the Scriptures, it appears that a biblical approach to caring demands:

  • Attuning our hearts and minds to the Word of God
  • Spurring and building one another up spiritually
  • Finding our purpose, peace, and provision in Christ

Days of Reckoning

Despite being well-versed in what the Bible teaches us about love, it wasn’t until January 26, 1998, that I can say for certain that I experienced true love. That was the day my oldest daughter was born. I knew the instant I first saw her and held her in my arms that I loved her totally and completely, and that she could never do anything to gain more of my love or lose my love. It was also the day when I came to realize how much God loves me. Love wasn’t something I could learn about; it was something I had to identify with and experience to appreciate.

Day of reckoning – (def.) the time when past mistakes or misdeeds must be punished or paid for; a testing time when the degree of one's success or failure will be revealed. Source: Oxford Dictionaries

Likewise, having spent the past two decades loving – encouraging, enjoying, and equipping – my three daughters, when my twins leave home later this month, and they are all in college, we will no doubt have many days of reckoning. Despite all the times that they’ve said “Yah, yah, yah, dad we get it,” this summer I’ve been acutely aware of how often they’ve acknowledged, “Oh, now I get what you’ve been saying.” Until they found themselves in situations where they were able to personally grasp what dear old dad has been harping on for years, there were many things they simply could not apply and would not appreciate.

The same holds true with our faith. Regardless of how many sermons we’ve heard, praise songs we’ve sung, and times we’ve read the Bible, the only real way to gauge the extent of our faith is to put it to a test. When trials come, and they will, the impact of the church and the rootedness of our faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior are revealed. Though no report cards will be issued, deficiencies and opportunities indeed become apparent for those who care to know and grow.

For many people and churches, chaos and calamity are what spark change. In other words, attending and serving at church, and being Bible smart, are not per se indicators or measures of our faith. Moreover, as my daughters will come to realize when they get out in the real world, despite all the things they thought they knew and understood, they really don’t have a clue.

It’s not until the proverbial rubber meets the road and we find ourselves at a crossroads that our faith is tested.

Crossroads sign_300

Caring ministry may be one of the foremost discipling opportunities as it is often people’s situations and struggles that bring them to a crossroads. For it is here that they naturally ponder the tough questions, and the extent of their faith is revealed. Whether vocalized or not, people are wondering: Why me? God, do you really care? Jesus, are you real? How did I get to this point? Why do bad things happen to good people? What now? How am I going to …? And more.

Left to themselves, many people within our churches and communities do not have the faith and fortitude to turn to and trust in the Lord. As such, if all we do is make a visit, provide a meal, send a card, lend a listening ear, and let them know about a support group or upcoming course, many are sure to continue down the same familiar road. In addition to being long and windy, that road is riddled with potholes, led them to where they are today, and eventually dead ends.

“In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:6)
“I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6)

The alternative is to love – encourage, enjoy, and equip – people in ways that help them discover that living life on their own, apart from Jesus, is an effort in futility, sharing and showing them how to draw closer to the Lord, and together realizing the peace, hope, joy, and life that faith in Jesus Christ affords us.

Many people have been teetering and tottering on their own for way too long. Regardless of their particular circumstances and challenges, people who find themselves at a crossroads, though they may know about God’s amazing love, are frequently most open and eager to experience the love of Christ and grow in their faith. If your church is committed to discipling people and functioning as the body of Christ, let's connect.

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Humpty Dumpty: The Saga Unfolds

Life is messy, and while we are all to some degree broken, sadly, people are often labelled and treated differently as a result of their situations and struggles. Take Humpty Dumpty for example; he will forever be known as the egg who fell. In this edition of our Care Considerations newsletter, we explore and expound on his story to reveal the trouble with our tendencies.

Like so many of us, Humpty Dumpty was living the good life and things seemed to be going well for him. In fact, whenever I saw him at church and asked him how he was doing, it seems he was always “fine.” But then again, why wouldn’t he be? Humpty is a wonderful guy, and he has a great job, nice house, and is equally yoked with his beautiful wife. Plus, if he wasn’t fine, he certainly could have told me and asked me for help.

Well, as you already know, Humpty unexpectedly fell. Knowing how awkward it can be when you don’t know what to do or say when someone experiences a troubling situation, no doubt Humpty is in people’s thoughts and prayers. Right?

Frankly, I shudder at the thought of how helpless and hopeless he must be feeling. I’m genuinely concerned and I have a lot of questions for him. For example, I’m curious about:

  • What happened?
  • Why was he even on the wall?
  • Was there a strong wind that day?
  • Are they going to be able to put him back together again?

Though he was prone to wobble, since his accident, instead of showing compassion and offering encouragement, apparently some people, in an attempt to fix him, are giving him advice and telling him what he needs to do. Despite seemingly good intentions, it seems people often forget that our role is to love, and that it is Jesus who is Lord and Savior.

Here’s part of the problem: We saw Humpty as an egg and treated him as such. Eggs, however, are like caterpillars. When the conditions are ideal, they go through a type of metamorphosis and are transformed into something new. Instead of turning to the king’s horses and king’s men to put Humpty back together again, God’s plan was to get Humpty’s attention and use his circumstances so that he might turn to the King of kings, and place his trust in the Lord of lords. You see, God created and destined Humpty to be a bird and to soar with eagles. Sorry Humpty! We intended to help.

Questions for Assessment and Reflection

  1. Have you ever considered how your attempts to help people may interfere with God’s plan, as opposed to helping to advance it?
  2. When you’ve faced challenges in your life, did you proactively ask your friends for help? Why/why not? Also, did you know what kind of encouragement and support you needed?
  3. If you think of the times in your life when you felt loved and cared for, what was it about the people and their expressions that you appreciated most?
  4. It seems we tend to back away from people when we feel uncomfortable or are unfamiliar with their situations and struggles. Saying “I don’t know what to do or say” seems to suggest that there is a right and wrong response. Is there?
  5. If you knew that a friend or a person sitting near you at church was facing a tough situation, struggling, or feeling helpless or hopeless, what would you do? Really? What if that person was you? How would you want others to love and care for you?
After the Fall bookcover

[This blog entry was inspired by the children’s book After the Fall by Dan Santat (2017)].

Creatures of Habit

The lens through which we see and have come to understand caring ministry is significant as our beliefs sway our values, which shape our attitudes, and support our behaviors. The story below points out that as creatures of habit, we often do the things we do for no other reason than, “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

     As Betty was in the kitchen preparing the Easter ham, her husband asked, “Why do you always cut off the ends of the ham?”
     Betty paused for a moment and then responded, “That’s a good question. I’ve always cut off the ends of the ham because that’s the way my mother did it.” With her curiosity peeked, Betty called her mother and asked why. Her mother replied with a similar sense of intrigue, “That’s the way my mother always did it.”
     Betty then called her grandmother, mentioned cutting off the ends of the ham and being perplexed as to why. Her grandmother broke out into laughter. Once she gained her composure, she answered, "Because the pan was too small.”

lens

Rather than perpetuating the past for the sake of continuity and simplicity, we encourage you to examine the Scriptures and ensure that your caring efforts closely align with Jesus’ commands. When the narrative that informs us is based on human ideas and opinions rather than God’s Word, it calls into question whose agenda we are advancing.

The first three lessons of our Caring Fundamental series share Bible stories and foundational principles that help church leaders and church goers reframe and see caring from a biblical narrative. As the saying goes, what we see is what we get. Therefore, if we overlook the purpose of troubles and confuse what caring entails and love requires, we miss the basic tenets of the Christian life.

Lessons 4-6 of the series help to retool how we interact with and love people. What we know is what we do. Therefore, until we understand and exemplify what Jesus teaches about presence, listening, and asking reflective questions, despite good intentions, we naturally do and say things that are inept and which come across as insensitive.

The last three lessons of our fundamentals series help to reinforce disciplines that are fundamental to Christianity – knowing God’s Word, prayer, and discipling. Since what we believe is ultimately how we care, starting with a solid theological construct, and developing key capabilities and confidence are critical to our success and the achievement of unity and maturity.

What You See is What You Get!

Whether passing by people or engaging in conversation, what we see is what we get. Despite how good people may seem or say they are, the appearance of physical health and material wellness is not to suggest that our lives are free from trials, trouble, and temptation. The point is that many people are carrying burdens, feeling crushed, and facing fears beyond what we fathom. Seriously, we have no idea what many people are dealing with.

Damaged Box_400

The truism “what you see is what you get” also applies to Scripture. Take the following Bible verses for example:

  • “Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).
  • “My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).
  • “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
  • “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:6-8).
  • “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
  • “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

As the church and the body of Christ, do we truly believe that God is greater than all our troubles and concerns? And, if so, do we truly reflect that in the ways we love and care for others?

While the frequency, variety, and severity of our struggles and strongholds vary, if we truly believe the verses above, might it make sense to emphasize, and to equip people to provide emotional support and spiritual encouragement?

“God never said that the journey would be easy, but He did say that the arrival would be worthwhile.” - Max Lucado

Pain in our lives is not to suggest that God doesn’t care, rather it establishes our need for Jesus! Instead of being who we turn to when all else fails and our strength is gone, Jesus wants to be our Lord and Savior. Despite good intentions, as Christians, we miss the point and do little to help when we fail to provide the type of sustenance and support that offers true life and lasting hope.

The Turkey Conundrum and Care Conflict

Whether a church leader or turkey farmer, it’s natural to look at the numbers, trends, and other key indicators when making decisions and investing resources. For instance, farmers might want to know that 77% of whole turkeys are sold in November. 

It might also be helpful for them to know that for 2016:

  • 244 million turkeys where raised in the United States
  • 51.6 million turkeys were consumed on Thanksgiving day

Do the math, and you get 21% which means approximately one-fifth of the turkeys raised were consumed on Thanksgiving.

Christmas table decoration

So which number is correct – 21% or 77%? Both are true. Herein lies the problem. Data and statistics are misleading and meaningless when we do not understand what the numbers represent.

For example, if your frame of reference is limited to Thanksgiving, it’s easy to believe the 77%. Doing so, however, overlooks the fact that throughout the year, turkey is packaged and sold in ways other than the whole bird (e.g., deli lunch meat, frozen dinners). Likewise, if your context for care is limited to issues commonly associated with care and prayer requests (e.g., health/hospitalization, death/grief), it is easy to overlook the fact that people are encountering all kinds of troubles, temptations, and turmoil.

  • When turkey farmers become more concerned about Thanksgiving than turkey, they are deceived into thinking people consume turkey on one occasion only, and they miss out on the bigger 79% year-round opportunity.
  • When the church becomes more focused on addressing issues than loving people, we are deceived into implementing a task-oriented and programmatic approach that concentrates on specific concerns, and we miss the discipling opportunity (i.e., unity and maturity) which is the heart and soul of the matter. [See James 1and Ephesians 4]

"And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us" (1 John 3:23).

Though we may say we love people, based on the standard established by Jesus and expressed throughout the Bible, God surely envisioned more than reducing care to church sponsored programs or relegating the duty to a select group of people.

Based on Jesus’ teachings, we contend that pastor visits and programs should supplement rather than be a substitution for people loving and caring for one another.

Pastor Visits n Programs - 400

Moreover, though fundamental to the Christian faith, the combination of 'good people' and 'good intentions' are not enough. That is because our natural inclinations are almost always inconsistent with God’s plan for people loving and caring for one another. We can help!

Humanitarian efforts: Are they enough?

From raging floods and forest fires to senseless acts such as 9/11 and the recent riots, no one is immune from trouble. Regardless of the specific instances and our individual differences, when tragedy strikes, it is certainly nice to see people coming together and rallying around those in need. While kindness and generosity are core tenets of citizenship and humanity, as the church we must ask ourselves, are they enough?

Humanitarian efforts play a vital role in meeting basic needs and sustaining lives. However, as our Kingdom Care framework indicates, Jesus expects more than good deeds and temporary relief. Knowing that people often read and interpret the story of the Sheep and the Goats literally, we elaborate on Matthew 25:41-43 to highlight the importance of providing spiritual support.

New International Version

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

Our interpretation/explanation

41 “Then he will say to the goats, shoo. For denying my love and disobeying my commands, your destiny is the eternal fire.
42 For I was spiritually hungry, but you did not share Jesus with me. I was rebellious and parched, but you did not show me the way of life everlasting.
43 I was not part of the church, and you did not acknowledge me and help me get connected. I needed to be made righteous and holy, but you did not disciple and teach me. I was living in darkness and enslaved to my sin, but you neither loved nor cared for me as your neighbor.’

As the church, our primary concern is saving souls. Whereas being kind and generous may be sufficient for the secular world, discipling and teaching must be our foremost expressions and currency for loving people. Additionally, while the lives impacted and the path of destruction are undeniable when the storms are catastrophic, let’s be careful not to overlook those among us who are facing less apparent storms of life.

Many people are suffering in silence with no help in sight. Regardless of their situations and our intentions, we lead others astray when we fail to provide the type of sustenance and support that offers true life and lasting hope. Moreover, a kindred spirit is no substitute for experiencing the love of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

CARE: Primary, Secondary, or Tertiary?

A question we often ask is, “Do you view care as a primary, secondary, or tertiary ministry?” We find pastors are often quick to indicate ‘primary,’ regardless of how caring ministry is addressed at their church. Based on the standard set forth by Jesus and echoed throughout Scripture, we agree that the command to love people is a clear indication that care is a primary aspect of ministry.

The aim of this article is to distinguish between how caring tends to be represented at each of the different levels and to challenge church leaders to embrace a biblically-based discipling model of care. As you read the following summaries, consider which best reflects how your church addresses care (aka. congregational or pastoral care).

Christian Cross

TERTIARY –

Caring ministry is commonly regarded as a necessity and handled by paid staff. At this level, care is typically pastor-centric, and the approach to caring tends to be episodic and reactive. Knowing that many people expect pastors to be available 24x7 “in case of an emergency,” the role and responsibility for caring are often handled by the pastor on-call. Designating a staff member or having a part-time or retired pastor devoted to visiting people who are in the hospital, homebound, or reside in a nursing home may be normal for churches with a disproportionately high percentage of older congregants or people facing health challenges. Another example of care at the tertiary level is sending cards to people at set intervals (e.g., birthdays, anniversaries) and when needs arise (e.g., get well, sympathy).

Despite being established to function as the body of Christ, could it be that the comment – “We pay people to do that” – reflects a generally held belief and fosters a pastoral oriented approach to caring?

SECONDARY –

At this level, caring tends to be programmatic and task-oriented. Though people within the congregation may volunteer and serve in a specific and limited capacity, expressions of care tend to reflect specific issues (e.g., addictions, cancer, divorce, grief), and be managed by a staff member who oversees the various offerings and personally responds to many requests. Similar to a vending machine, care is often synonymous with self-service: request what you want when you want it. In other words, at the secondary level, churches strive to meet care needs by presenting people with options such as submitting a care/prayer request or participating in a class or support group. Some churches also have ministries that respond when an opportunity is discovered (e.g., meals, prayer quilts/shawls, Stephen Ministry). A few notable challenges with this approach include:

  • It is incumbent on people to acknowledge their circumstances and concerns.
  • We expect people to request assistance and know what type of help they need.
  • Emotional and spiritual support are frequent under-represented.

Could it be that the type of love Jesus is referring to is not that which is limited to designated volunteers, managed using to-do lists, or measured quantitatively?

PRIMARY –

To grasp what care entails, we first must understand what love requires. Throughout Scripture, we are repeatedly commanded and reminded to love God and love people. In fact, Jesus tells us to love as He loved (John 13:34-35). Given that Jesus loved us to death, He undoubtedly paints a picture of people loving and caring for one another in ways that are relational, sacrificial, and which focus on spiritual growth. Keep in mind that whenever Jesus fed, healed, or showed mercy, truth was proclaimed, and faith was the heart of the matter. While secondary and tertiary expressions may be a supplement, pastor visits, programs, and practical support are no substitute for people loving and caring for one another. Moreover, caring is not about tasks to be completed or problems to be solved; it’s about people to be loved.

Caring God’s way reflects abundant blessings, fosters deeper relationships, and is mutually beneficial.

A challenge to genuinely loving and caring for people is that our natural human tendencies are inconsistent with Godly wisdom and Jesus' teachings. As such, to care well there is often as much for people to learn as there is for them to unlearn. Until Christians are equipped and embrace the core biblical principles of loving for one another, caring is sure to be relegated to pastors and reduced to programs.

“My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ” (Colossians 2:2).

Care Ministry advocates caring as a primary aspect of ministry and resources churches to advance a discipling model of care that is founded and grounded in Scripture. We provide the framework (See Triangle diagram), tools, training, and support that churches need to engage and equip people to love and care for one another in ways that advance the mission of the church and make a Kingdom difference.

kingdom care_discipling triangle

“Go and do” what?

When you read the Parable of the Good Samaritan, on which aspect do you concentrate? 

  • The blatant disregard of the Rabbi and Levite?
  • The disdain between the Jews and Samaritans?
  • The elevation change between Jerusalem and Jericho?
  • Or, the man and the Good Samaritan? 

It does us well to focus on the namesake. Also, for us to "go and do likewise," it is imperative that we understand the Parable, what it teaches, and what's expected. 

Take time to pray about and meditate on the following:

VanGoghGoodSamaritan

The Good Samaritan
Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890).
Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo (The Netherlands).

  1. Jesus tells us, the man was attacked by robbers and left naked, beaten, and half dead (Luke 10:30). Knowing that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a), could it be that the man embodies each of us?
  2. Knowing that “There is only One who is good” (Matthew 19:17), could it be that the Good Samaritan represents Jesus? After all, didn’t Jesus come so that we might have life and have it to the full? (John 10:10b)
  3. Just as the Son of Man had to be lifted up (John 3:14), could it be that bandaging and cleansing the man’s wounds, lifting him up, and bearing his weight is symbolic of what Jesus wants to do for each of us?
  4. Jesus then brings the man to the Inn. Could it be that the Inn represents the church, a birthing place (Matthew 1:23, John 3:3) where people are to be cared for and nourished by the Word of God, and that is central to the maturation process?
  5. Notice how the story ends telling us Jesus paid the price and that He will return. Could it be that the Parable is the Gospel message? Might Jesus be communicating how vitally important it is for the church, the body of Christ, to spiritually care for one another? (See Romans 15:1-6, Galatians 6:2 and 1 Peter 5:7)
  6. Though the story ended, the Parable concludes with Jesus saying we are to go and show mercy. It might be helpful to think of mercy as clemency. Showing mercy is our opportunity to help people discover and delight in the freedom and fullness of life that is found only in Jesus.

As we grapple with the pressures of the world and face trials of various kinds, many people within our churches are feeling anything but alive. “If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right” (James 2:8). If we love, we care. It’s the heartbeat of the Christ faith.