My ebook The Virtue of Dialogue: Conversation as a Hopeful Practice of Church Communities was recently released by Patheos Press, and in it, I argue that open conversation is essential for the health and flourishing of church communities and the places they inhabit.
Over the past week and the current week, I will be running a 10-part series that I am calling “Becoming Conversational” in which I offer suggestions for how churches might enrich the conversational life of their church communities. (Some of these ideas have been adapted from my earlier ebook, Growing Deeper in Our Church Communities, which is available for free download here.
#6) Spreading the “Pastoral” Work of the Church Around.
Find gifted people who are not on your church staff and who can share in the “pastoral” work of the church – counseling, teaching, visiting the sick, etc. Far too often, our church congregations relegate our pastors to the role of religious professionals. Treating pastors as religious professionals is detrimental both to them (the burden of excessive expectations has led in many cases to pastoral burnout) and to the congregation as well who suffer from lack of engagement in the work of the church. Certainly, pastors should be leaders, but they should not be shouldering all the work (or the bulk of it) themselves. As others come forward and share in this work, pastors are freed to imagine and lay the groundwork for connecting activities that are essential for the health and flourishing of both the church community and the place.
Note that in this recommendation, the issue is not simply who does the work, but also how it is done. Let’s take as an example here, of visiting the sick, which is not simply about praying with them and then going on our way. We need to find ways to encourage them and make sure their needs, especially financial ones, are being met. In our very broken healthcare system, the costs of health services can be overwhelming; even simply meeting deductibles may be an insurmountable challenge for people in your community. Find compassionate ways to talk with families (not necessarily the ill person him/herself) about the cost of illnesses. As health-related needs arise, find creative ways in the church community to meet them. In this example, we can begin to see how the diverse gifts of a congregation are essential to the holistic sort of love and care that we are to have for each other in the church community.
Beginning to rethink the ways in which we care for each other will guide us into deeper conversation with each other. Not only are there conversations about how the work will be spread around, but also conversations about what it means to care for each other in love and finally, in specific situations (say when a member has a severe illness), conversations about how we leverage the gifts in the congregation to care for that person in a deep and holistic way.
Tomorrow: #7 Connect Church Members who live in Close Proximity.
Previous Post: #4 Engage the Whole Church in Caring for the Church Property.