Even in Crises, the Church Must be Involved

In the event that a person or couple needs more skilled help and intensive intervention from resources outside of the local church, they will still need the supporting and nurturing involvement of wise brothers and sisters in Christ to walk with them on a daily basis.

    Don’t Outsource By Default:

There is nothing unbiblical about seeking outside assistance. Just because you feel overwhelmed by a counseling opportunity, don’t immediately think you must outsource your care. When a church immediately out-sources counseling it misses the opportunity to grow both individually and as a community. When I was a pastor, I remember facing a very challenging counseling case. I immediately got on the phone and called a respected professional counselor who recognized and emphasized the importance of the local church. Why did I do this? Because he had more experience than I did. After describing the situation, he said that this would be a very challenging but rewarding person to counsel. He was right! I grew as a pastor, my family grew as we reached out to her and the church grew as this person was welcomed into meaningful, redemptive relationships with other Christians. Had we immediately outsourced the care of this individual to a professional, we would have missed the opportunity to grow in love for other people and she would have potentially missed receiving care from the body of Christ.

•    Recognize the Power of the Normal Means of Grace

Remember that even if you send someone for outside help, the person still spends very little time with a professional counselor; usually 1-2 hours a week. While those hours can be very helpful, they are hardly enough to give the person the complete help that they need for the other 166 hours of the week. I recently spoke to a pastor who frequently out-sources his counseling to a professional in his area. I asked him a few questions that revealed a typical pattern. He said that nearly half of the people he refers never follow through and of the half that do, very few go consistently. Why do we have a tendency to minimize the power of the normal means of grace in a person’s life? The Word of God, prayer, being in the company of other believers, corporate worship, the sacraments, and service to others? While I don’t want to minimize the need for more skilled help, a person will always need daily exposure to the means of grace. If you do refer someone, make sure they are following through and don’t assume that is all they need.

•    Seek Outside Help When You are Over Your Head

While you don’t want to out-source counseling by default, you do want to recognize your own limitations of time, wisdom, and experience. Thankfully, the body of Christ is not limited to you or your own local church. While you may be committed to counseling in your local church, it doesn’t mean that your counseling has to be limited to the resources in your particular church. There are resources within the broader body of Christ which include services like counseling, crisis pregnancy assistance, food and clothing assistance to name a few. Sometimes seeking outside help means picking up the phone and calling a skilled, wise counselor who has a lot of experience and case wisdom. You may want to tag-team with someone. You may seek the help and services of a good physician or psychiatrist. In order to do this well, you have to do your homework and ask some basic questions about the approach.

Here are some questions to ask as you determine with whom you will work:

  • Will they work with your church to provide the best help possible which will include the resources within your local church?
  • What model of counseling is foundational to the way this person provides care? Is it compatible with your church's view of how people grow and change? If not, to what degree?
  • Do they see the benefits and necessity of the normal means of grace in a person’s life?
  • How much, if any, does Scripture inform their view of the person, their problems and the change process?
  • Do they give proper emphasis to a person’s physiological, sociological and historical influences without overlooking the central importance of the spiritual/theological motivations?

As you seek to help people when the problems are more acute and challenge your own experience, it is a mark of wisdom and love to seek outside counsel from trusted people.

 

Copyright © 2014 Timothy S. Lane. All rights reserved.

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Real Life in the Local Church

I remember going to my first amusement park when I was 10. We went to Six Flags over Georgia. It was a harrowing experience. The confusion began with actually finding it and locating a parking spot! This was long before the days of Google Maps and smartphones. From there, it was continued confusion mixed with both fear and fun.

Once through the gate, an immediate sense of being lost overcame us and we had no idea where to begin. So we did what came natural. We started walking and reacting to what was in front of us. “Here is an interesting ride, let’s do that.” Then we would wait in line for 30 minutes for a ride that was over in 2. We did that all day and when it was over, we were exhausted. We were more impressed with the fact that we made it through the day than with the rides.

For pastors and leaders, church life can be like that; a lot of frenetic activity with no real agenda and direction.

Take a roller-coaster ride through basic church life: buildings, budgets, crises, staff conflict, growing pains, disgruntled members, besetting sins and providing care, sermons, meetings…meetings…..meetings…..and more meetings….fatigue, excitement about lives changed, another sermon to preach….more meetings…personal struggles, various ministries and programs to staff and events to plan, desperate need of volunteers, difficult people! Life in a normal church can feel like an amusement park---lots of activity, people, distractions and the constant potential for getting lost in the din of activity. You are either following the crowd or responding to the urgent.

The demands of pastoral ministry are precisely what blur the focus of what is most important for pastors and leaders in the church. Church leaders often become managers of the busyness. They turn into a board of directors who set policy and often micro-manage the activity but lose sight of ministry to people.

In his best-selling book, Good to Great, Jim Collins makes an astute observation that maps very well onto church life. The book is about what makes a company great and not just good. One thing the team of researchers observed is distinguishing between a hedgehog concept and a fox concept. Hedgehogs focus on one thing, while foxes focus on many. Companies that acted like hedgehogs and not foxes were the ones that went from good to great.

Those who built the good-to-great companies were, to one degree or another, hedgehogs. They used their hedgehog nature to drive toward what we came to call the Hedgehog Concept for their companies. Those who led the comparison companies tended to be foxes, never gaining the clarifying advantage of a Hedgehog Concept, being instead scattered, diffused, and inconsistent.

I think the same can be said of churches and church leaders. Because church life can be so frenetic and scattered, unless you have a clear biblical vision of what is most important for church and church leadership, you will default to acting like a fox. Thankfully, Scripture gives us a clear vision and mandate for what is of utmost importance for church life and church leadership.

Over the next several posts, we will be honing a biblical philosophy of ministry, rooted in Scripture that can guide leaders to focus on the important over the urgent; to be hedgehogs and not foxes.

 

 

Copyright © 2013 Tim Lane. All rights reserved.

2 Comments

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Hospital for Sinners

The Church is a hospital, not a museum of saints.

I often talk about the church being either a country club or a hospital. It appears that metaphor may have a very rich history. After doing some research, some attribute this saying to several possible sources including St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom. The metaphor is a good one and is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in Mark 2:17, where he says, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

What would you think if you saw someone at the country club on a gurney with an IV in their arm? You would immediately conclude they have the wrong address. They belong at the hospital. I wonder how many people show up in our churches on a given Sunday thinking they are coming to a place of care and healing only to discover that they have the wrong address and are instead at the country club. A country club is where socially, well-adjusted people gather to chit chat and take a break from the cares of the world. You don’t go there if you are deathly ill or your arm is broken.

Jakob Dylan, front man of The Wallflowers penned these words in a song entitled, “Hospital for Sinners.”

Some have crosses bells that ring
Most have angels painted with wings
Old men and blind ones can find their way in
Got statues and apostles and other godly things
In desserts they build them of mortar and clay
In barrios they stick them by fire escapes
They outlast the setbacks of earthquakes and plagues
They burn them like haystacks and another one is raised

In the backwoods of the country and the empire state
Wherever there's somebody at the crossroads that waits
At the junction of right now and a little too late
You'll see one before you with wide open gates
It's a hospital for sinners ain't no museum of saints

There could be a casket, bums on the steps
A baby in a basket being left
It's a good place to shuffle when you've gone through the deck
It's the closest to heaven on earth you can get

It's a shelter a poor man it'll humble a great
It's where derelicts and outlaws can hide for a day
The worst hearts you've known can be salvaged and saved
In the same room that lovers' vows are exchanged
It's a hospital for sinners ain't no museum of saints

You'll sin till you drop
Then ask to be saved
If it's a comeback you want
Then get your hands raised

There's more than a few on nearly every map
More than a couple alone on this path
You ought to be in one when you beg your way back
Cut off at the knees at its feet you'll collapse
It's a hospital for sinners ain't no museum of saints
It's a hospital for sinners ain't no museum of saints

If you were to take a straw poll of visitors to your church, how do you think they would describe their experience? I don’t know about you, but a hospital describes just the kind of church that I need.

 

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.