Archives For churches

By Nathan Carter

Like a growing number of churches, The Summit Church in Raleigh, N.C., cancelled services the Sunday after Christmas. Pastor J.D. Greear took some heat on social media for the decision, but should he? What’s wrong with skipping a lightly attended service and giving everyone a break after the holidays? What about the growing practice of occasionally cancelling a Sunday service in order to send the people into the community for outreach projects? Should we ever cancel “church”?

In order to answer the question, there are at least two prior questions we must settle in our minds:

First, is a weekly gathering on Sunday commanded by God? Regular Sunday services are a firmly established part of the Christian tradition. There is strong historical warrant for gathering on Sundays, but is it a biblical requirement?

The answer to that question depends largely on whether we believe the Old Testament commandment about Sabbath-keeping teaches an inherent seven-day rhythm to time and the setting aside of one day in seven for special use. Some Christians will point out that the fourth commandment is the only one that is not explicitly repeated in the New Testament. Others will argue that it was never explicitly annulled.

Is it OK to cancel services now and then?

It is clear that Christians are commanded not to forsake assembling together (Heb. 10:25). And there is an assumption throughout the New Testament that believers come together for meetings (see 1 Cor. 11, 14; James 2:2). But where did we get the idea that this expectation applies to every Sunday at the very least?

Well, Christ rose from the dead on the first day of the week and met with his gathered disciples that evening (John 20:19) and again on the next Sunday (John 20:26). In Acts 20 we read that Paul was in Troas for seven days and it was on the first day of the week that the believers all gathered together. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 says to collect an offering “on the first day of every week.” Are these examples prescriptive, or merely descriptive? That’s an interpretative decision. Wherever we land, we must at least admit that the case for first day observance cannot be easily dismissed.

The second question we must consider is this: What is the purpose of the Sunday gathering?

We’ve all probably wrestled at some point with whether Sundays are for the saints to be edified or outsiders to be evangelized. I think we must answer, “Both!” Paul envisioned unbelievers having an encounter with God after walking in on Christians worshiping and ministering to each other (1 Cor. 14:23-25).

Even more fundamentally, however, we must reckon with the very essence of what it means to be the church. Most scholars agree that the word “church” (ekklesia) means “assembly.” This would imply that when the church assembles it is being most true to its identity.

So is gathering together simply one (among many) practical means of achieving edification and/or evangelization? Or is holding a public meeting a declaration of what it means to be the church, sinners reconciled to God and each other through the blood of Christ? These are important questions church leaders must resolve in their minds before calling off a corporate gathering.

My conviction is that there is something sacred to Sundays, not as a legalistic box to check to be right with God, but as a time for the church to gather as the people of God and be regularly reminded of what indeed makes us righteous and what alone has the power to save—the work of Christ. If workers need a break, find temporary replacements or schedule a simpler service. Cancel Christmas Eve, but stick with Sundays. And if only two or three show up, his presence is still among us.

Nathan Carter pastors Immanuel Baptist Church in Chicago.

The generation that changed everything is changing its mind. Growing numbers of Boomers are interested in church again.

By Meredith Flynn

boomerang

The Boomers are coming! The Boomers are coming! Thom Rainer exclaimed as he reported new research showing that one-in-five Baby Boomers are more interested in spiritual things than they were earlier in their lives. One-in-five Baby Boomers represents about 19 million people, the president of LifeWay Christian Resources noted—presenting the church with a huge opportunity for growth and new ministry.

But the trend also means an increase in needs—for evangelism, discipleship, and intentional relationship-building. Many Boomers aren’t coming back to church as fully-formed Christians ready to participate in outreach ministries. They have questions. They can be skeptical.

Chaplain Matt Crain led a multi-generational church in southern Illinois before becoming a chaplain at Shawnee Christian Village in Herrin. At his church, Crain said, it was the Boomers who acknowledged, “I’ve been out of church for 20 years. And I’ve got a friend that said I really ought to try this.

“But I want you to know, pastor, I may not be back.”

Boomers may not be coming back to church in big waves yet, Crain said, but they have renewed interest and “they want to see if anything’s changed.”

The children of the 60s who fought hard for social change are also held responsible for the  ballooning the national debt. They’re “tanned and healthy and living way past average life expectancy,” Philadelphia Magazine reported. They also face financial and health crises avoided by the generation before them, Crain said.

“There is just under the surface an undertow current of ‘Wow, I see my own mortality now, and my health is beginning to fade,’” Crain said. “Am I going to have any legacy? Will it matter that I was here?”

Helping Boomers answer those questions is the church’s challenge—and an historic opportunity.

Prodigal generation
Boomers fill an interesting middle ground in American culture. Most were raised with a foundation of values straight out of Mayberry. But the tumult of their formative years took them far away from the comfort of Aunt Bea’s kitchen. In ways physical and spiritual, they moved away from what they knew as children, and raised their own families (which many started later in life than their predecessors) with new values.

But as they reach the later stages of their lives (the first Boomers turned 65 in 2011), they’re thinking about what really matters. And in some cases, they’re returning to a form of the faith they were raised with—although it may be more about personal spirituality than organized religion.

“We have seen some Boomers thinking more about eternity and about what really matters most in life,” said Doug Munton, pastor of First Baptist Church in O’Fallon. Boomers have the same spiritual needs as other generations, he said—a personal relationship with God through Christ, forgiveness of their sin, and meaning and purpose for their lives.

“They want to know what matters most deeply and how they can find that,” Munton said.
The research that showed Baby Boomers might be returning to their spiritual roots highlighted three reasons for the shift: more time on their hands, a realization of the brevity of life, and an awareness of life’s fragile nature. There are currently more than 70 million Baby Boomers, but data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the group will shrink to 16.6 million by 2050.

It’s in this environment that the church can help meet practical needs of Boomers, as well as spiritual ones, Crain said. The simple things a church does to help a Boomer improve his or her quality of life can build relationships that can lead to gospel conversations. Encourage physical health, diet, and exercise, Crain suggested, or offer to take someone to a doctor’s appointment.

And when Boomers do come to your church, he added, they may be surprisingly nostalgic. “They are OK with singing some hymns,” Crain said. “They might put it to a new beat and add a couple of instruments…remember, they are children of the 60s.” In other words, don’t forsake “The Old Rugged Cross,” but jazz it up.

Ready to invest
At 62, Pastor Bob Dickerson is on the younger end of the Baby Boomer spectrum. But he identifies with a generation closer to the end of their lives than the beginning, and wanting to use their time well.

“I want to finish well,” said Dickerson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Marion. “I’m not going to accept just ‘doing stuff,’ because I don’t have enough time left to just do stuff.” Dickerson, and many fellow Boomers, want to see results from the things they do. They want what they undertake to matter.

At FBC Marion, retirees minister at the local homeless shelter. They’re involved in Disaster Relief. The church’s JOY choir of 70-80 older adults put on their first Christmas concert this year for an audience of more than 400. (JOY stands for “Just Older Youth.”)

Crain cited North American Mission Board church planting specialists who have noted the similarities between Boomers and their children. “Baby Boomers and Millennials are alike in the sense that they’re concerned with acts of love, kindness, justice, and mercy,” he said. “They want to know: What are you doing for our community? What are you doing for someone who can’t repay you?”

Even before they’re believers in Christ, Crain said, “they will jump into an opportunity to bless someone.” And once they’re in the church, their need for meaningful action is a warning for church leaders. “I can’t just make them ushers,” Crain said. “That’s not going to scratch that itch. They want to know, ‘When are we going to help somebody?’ That’s really important to them.”

My generation, and yours
The sheer number of Baby Boomers makes them a force to be reckoned with, especially for churches tasked with the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (and ages within them). But they’re not the only generation in need of Jesus. Reaching them may provide churches with new potential for multi-generational worship and discipleship.

“Most of your Baby Boomers long for cross-generational experience,” Crain said. “They may not have learned how to do it, but they want to do it.” He encouraged churches to look for ways to connect people of different generations that are less about programming and more about building friendships.

Boomers are worried about their children and grandchildren, Dickerson noted. FBC Marion encourages opportunities for older adults to interact with youth, and to serve as surrogate grandparents to kids in need of them.

Amy Hanson is the author of “Baby Boomers and Beyond: Tapping the Ministry Talents and Passions of Adults Over 50.” She noted the similarities between Boomers and Millennials (generally, adults born 1981-1996) in an 2017 interview with the National Association of Evangelicals.

“They both care about social justice issues and making a difference with their lives,” Hanson said. “Both have an entrepreneurial spirit and are not afraid to try new things. Both groups are technologically savvy, and both are interested in strong friendships that cross generational lines.

“Focus on these things. Don’t be afraid to put people together and see what happens.”
The potential of a Baby Boomer boom in churches is a reminder of the call to reach all people with the gospel, regardless of age. Especially when presented with so great an opportunity, Thom Rainer urged leaders.

“Please, church leaders, don’t take this information lightly,” he wrote. “I can’t recall a generation in my lifetime potentially returning to church in such numbers.” The opportunities are incredible, Rainer said, “maybe they are groovy.”

By Leah Honnen

Editor’s note: January 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

I never thought I would be so moved while attending my first IBSA Annual Meeting, but when we voted as the church to be compassionate toward those experiencing infertility, I melted.

Messengers to the meeting in Maryville last November voted to acknowledge the many trying aspects of infertility for couples, and the church’s appropriate response to such a struggle. They recognized that infertility is a result of the first sin, and that the medical routes couples take to overcome it do not go against God, based on Scripture.

The resolution encourages the church to do all they can so these couples are not left out of church life because of their infertility, and urges churches to help those who yearn to be parents through the struggles, decisions, and heartbreaks they will undoubtedly encounter. Finally, the resolution asks the church to surround these couples as the family of God, reminding them that all of these problems can be overcome through Christ.

They need to know they’re not alone.

As a woman, wife, and hopeful mother who has struggled with infertility for the past two years, this resolution did my heart good. At last! The most pressing problems my husband and I have faced in our marriage had been acknowledged in a public forum…in the one place I struggled to find clear support for us as a couple.

Please don’t misunderstand me—our church family has loved us through our problems, but in many ways, the church is lacking empathy for those living the childless-not-by-choice life. It’s not necessarily the regular churchgoer’s fault. I believe our biggest issue in searching for support through our infertility has been educating those around us.

If people have never faced trouble growing their family, they simply don’t know what to think, so they say whatever platitude comes to mind, unintentionally resulting in deeper emotional wounds for those building their family non-traditionally, rather than tenderly nursing those wounds as Jesus did.

I’m not here to bash the church. I grew up in the church. I’m a pastor’s kid who looks at her time in ministry as a blessing, and I love my past and current church family dearly. They have blessed me in ways I never saw coming—and I only hope I can serve my church family in kind through our time together. Instead, could I share some ways the church can learn to care for those in the infertile world?

1. Listen. Many couples struggle privately—which is their choice and right. But I believe many couples would choose not to struggle alone if they felt their church family would be receptive listeners, rather than inexperienced advice-givers.

2. Don’t give advice. Unless you have lived through infertility, and even sometimes if you have, please do not make suggestions to couples struggling to grow their family. The endless replies of “just relax” and “why don’t you just adopt?” are not helpful when someone is in this stressful place. More often than not, these couples will be up to their ears learning new medical jargon, procedures, and options—both traditional and unconventional. Believe me, they are informed.

3. Educate yourself. Maybe this includes hosting a class for your church leadership. If a couple is open about their infertility experience, perhaps they would like to share their personal story in order to help others understand. If no couple is available, you could reach out to a nearby infertility specialist or infertility counselor and ask them to give a presentation at your church. Either way, search online; there are plenty of resources, including Moms in the Making and Sarah’s Laughter, both of which have given me hope over the years.

4. Offer support. Similar to the way your church family would support a member who is grieving the death of a loved one, support those struggling through infertility. They are mourning the picture of life they dreamed of for years. They are floundering through so many hard decisions they must make to pursue a family, whether biological or adoptive. They need your love. They need your care. They need to know they are not alone.
Not every couple that experiences infertility chooses to pursue treatment. These couples need support too. Don’t forget them.

As I write this, our struggle to conceive has ended for now. My husband and I are due to have our baby in June 2019. Praise the Lord! This is not our first pregnancy, though. We lost our first child to miscarriage on Dec. 3, 2017. Please pray that we may still find joy throughout this pregnancy, and that we can trust God no matter what tomorrow brings.

Leah Honnen is the administrative assistant for IBSA’s Church Communications Team and an active member of Lincoln Avenue Baptist Church. She and her husband, John, live in Jacksonville.

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 16, 2019

Key issues in culture

IB Media Team Report

Gaining ground on old divides
The last few years have seen an increase in the number of public conversations Baptists are having about race. Sparked in large part by shootings of unarmed black men by law enforcement, churches have been confronted by an urgent question: How does the Bible call us to respond, both in the short-term and going forward?

In 2018, several state conventions answered by adopting resolutions on racial harmony. Missouri Baptists denounced the 1857 Dred Scott decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which determined a freed slave was not an American citizen. In Charleston, S.C., South Carolina Baptists held one session of their annual meeting in the African-American church where nine people were killed by a self-proclaimed white supremacist in 2015. The meeting’s theme, “Building Bridges,” spoke to the convention’s commitment to healing racial divides.

In Illinois, IBSA President Adron Robinson urged Baptists in the state to overcome “growing pains” and feelings of superiority that can result in division. “Salvation has never been about race,” he preached, “but it’s always been about grace.”

Especially in the Southern Baptist Convention, conversations around race tend to land on leadership. Are SBC committees and trustee boards truly representative of the entire SBC family, when recent estimates show about one-fifth of SBC churches have non-Anglo majority memberships?

SBC leadership made an effort last year to increase minority representation on boards and committees. Another key area to watch in 2019: the filling of presidential vacancies at four Southern Baptist entities.

Debate raises larger questions
At face value, “social justice” doesn’t read like a particularly controversial term. It can ruffle feathers in church life, though, especially when connected to a social gospel that downplays repentance.

After the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission convened an April conference commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., some Baptists expressed their opposition to social justice causes they said could water down the gospel. After that, well-known non-Southern Baptist John MacArthur and other leaders released a statement expressing concern “that values borrowed from secular culture are currently undermining Scripture in the areas of race and ethnicity, manhood and womanhood, and human sexuality.”

Baptist reaction to the statement was mixed. With race and gender poised to remain key areas of challenge for the forseeable future, the opportunity for churches is to dive deep into a difficult question: How do we stay biblically faithful and still engage our community, and the larger culture?

Faith in peril
Christians remain one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world, according to watchdog group Open Doors. On average, 255 are killed every month, 160 are imprisoned, 104 are abducted, and 66 churches are attacked.

In 2018, more Christians were displaced by violence in Nigeria. In China, the government intensified its crackdown on churches. American awareness of persecution was heightened by the murder of John Allen Chau, a young missionary killed while trying to share the gospel on North Sentinel Island.

Chau’s death sparked a variety of responses among Christians regarding evangelism and appropriate missiology. While his approach was debated, his commitment to take the gospel to a difficult place served as a reminder of the call to pierce darkness with the light of Christ.

In letters before their arrests in early December, Chinese church leaders Li Yingqiang and Wang Yi encouraged their church to remember the words of Paul and rejoice in the midst of persecution, and not to count it strange. The letters also assured the church that “civil disobedience” is acceptable in order to “never stop testifying to the world about Christ.”

Their words, and Chau’s example, challenge American Christians to pray for the persecuted and to take a new look at their own calling in Christ.

To save a life

Lisa Misner —  January 14, 2019

A Michigan church is fighting to prevent abortions, and build lasting relationships with families.

By Grace Thornton

Justin Phillips.jpg

Justin Phillips holds a baby saved from abortion.

Editor’s note: January 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.

Justin Phillips said it’s the best and worst thing he’s ever done with his life. Every day, he stands across the strip mall parking lot from a door marked simply G-3422. It’s sandwiched between two dollar stores.

Every week, 20 to 30 babies are aborted there.

“We’re out there pleading with moms and dads to have mercy on their child, and we’ll help,” said Phillips, a full-time missionary with ONElife for Life, a ministry of ONElife Church in Flint, Mich.

Since ONElife for Life began in May 2016, dozens of babies that they know of have been saved out of G-3422. And the ministry has grown, said Eric Stewart, pastor of ONElife Church and president of ONElife for Life. They’ve acquired a building next to the strip mall that will be a pregnancy resource center and they’ve been given a bus that will be used as a mobile ultrasound.

They’ve also expanded their reach to conversations outside a second abortion clinic in town.

It’s been slow growth. Stewart’s big-picture goal is for Christians to have a presence outside each of the nation’s 720 abortion clinics. Right now, ONElife for Life is covering two.

Stewart and Phillips have been speaking in churches in recent months trying to awaken a desire to pick up the mantle. When he speaks, Stewart said the first thing he does is ask the church he’s visiting to repent with him.

“For years, I did nothing, but if it’s really murder, then we have to face that reality,” Stewart said. “If someone drove into our town and wiped out an entire kindergarten class every week, we wouldn’t sit idly by and say, ‘It’s not affecting me.’”

The story of the Good Samaritan demands the liability of the bystander, he said.

Stewart said he thinks about it all the time, ever since he heard a story about how one particular church in Nazi Germany would sing louder on Sundays so they wouldn’t have to hear the trains chugging by on the way to the concentration camps.

“We hear that story, and do we not wish that there would have been Christians who went to the point of injustice and said, ‘No, we can’t let this happen,’” Stewart said. “We have our opportunity now. We are living in the American holocaust and we have the opportunity to [speak] in Christ’s name.”

For churches interested in being involved, Stewart and Phillips can provide training in how to start a ministry like ONElife for Life and have conversations with people outside abortion clinics. They aren’t there to protest, Stewart said. They’re simply there to show love and offer mothers the help they need to bring a baby full term.

“We want to equip the church. We’ve learned how to train people to do this kind of ministry—we’ve learned from our own mistakes and would love to pass that along so that people don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Stewart said. “We’ve thrown our lives into this, and we would love to duplicate it all over the place. We need gospel-saturated missionaries to confront the darkness and abolish the evil of abortion. It really is a life-or-death situation.”

There’s an emotional toll to the ministry of standing at a “modern-day concentration camp,” Stewart said. There at their tent across the parking lot, Phillips and volunteers from the church have conversations with anyone who will talk to them. They offer to adopt the baby or cover any financial needs the parents might have for the baby’s first three years of life. They remind each mother that God knows the baby in her womb.
Sometimes those babies are still aborted.

“But we’re compelled to go because we’re told to go to orphans in their distress, and these children have been disowned by their parents,” Phillips said.

And at least 85 have been saved. It could be more. They only know about it if a tearful mother meets them there on the edge of the parking lot and tells them she’s decided not to go through with it, or if the parents later choose to swing back by and let them meet the baby.

“Every month we have people who come back and say, ‘Hey, I never said anything, but here’s my baby,’” Stewart said. “So we know there’s probably more.”

God is at work there, shining light into the darkest of places, Phillips said. “We just stand there and watch him move. It’s all him. He brings people to us and saves babies all the time.”

One woman told Phillips that she didn’t want to talk to him, but her legs just walked her over there. After talking with him, she chose not to go through with it.

“It’s a battlefield all the time, and it’s an honor to stand there proclaiming a message of hope,” Phillips said. “We do that, and God does the rest. We can’t change hearts, but he can.”

It hasn’t been without pushback. Sometimes the clinic will have people posted in the parking lot to “shepherd” women into the building so they won’t have conversations with Phillips. Other times people have approached him with threats.

But in Christ, Phillips said he knows he goes out victorious already.

“It’s a horrible ministry, horrible to watch it every day,” he said. “But at the same time, to be able to lay down our lives in that way on behalf of Christ and his love for these babies is incredible.”

For more information about ONElife for Life, visit onelifeforlife.org.

Grace Thornton is a writer in Birmingham, Ala. This article is originally from Baptist Press, online at BPNews.net.

What’s trending in 2019

Lisa Misner —  January 10, 2019

Key issues in politics

IB Media Team Report

Will the church embrace immigrants?
After illegal border crossings declined in 2017 to a more than 40-year low, the numbers began climbing again in 2018. This included a record-setting number of people from Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico traveling in September in a caravan toward the border.

Earlier in 2018, when the Trump administration attempted to deter immigration, migration declined. The government’s zero-tolerance policy ramped up criminal prosecution of anyone entering the United States illegally. But when 3,000 children were separated from their arrested parents, the policy came under attack, including a public letter of protest written to the administration by evangelical leaders.

“As Christians, we should share the heart of Jesus for refugees and others imperiled,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Those escaping violence and persecution in Honduras and elsewhere bear the image of God and should be treated with dignity and compassion.”

An executive order officially halted family separations in June, but immigration policy is still in limbo, a fact highlighted by a December court decision that grants those crossing the border illegally the right to seek asylum in the U.S. With its current trajectory, migration is expected to grow in 2019—increasing the challenge for the church to offer a biblical response to an increasingly volatile problem.

Is Pence courting evangelicals?
With the first Trump term at its midpoint, several questions face evangelicals: How do they view the president now, in light of increasing scrutiny over his ethical and legal behaviors and the pending special counsel’s report? And, in contrast to Trump, how do evangelicals feel about Vice President Mike Pence?

Self-described as both evangelical and Catholic, Pence has managed to stay above the fray mostly, while appealing to Republicans’ traditional faith-base. “We know that what you do in the ministries of your churches make an extraordinary difference in the life of our nation…” Pence told Southern Baptists in June. “You’re the cornerstone, not just of your communities but, in so many ways, of our country.”

Some wonder if Pence has his own presidential ambitions. In May, the New York Times reported while “[the President is] mostly uninterested in the mechanics of managing a political party” his “supremely disciplined running mate has stepped into the void.”

The Times also noted that while the two previous Vice Presidents “have played important roles maintaining the political coalitions of their ticket-mates, neither man wielded Mr. Pence’s independent influence over an administration’s political network and agenda,” referring in part to his networking with evangelicals on Trump’s behalf—and perhaps his own.

New justices differ on key issues
In a year that saw a vicious, partisan fight over a U.S. Supreme Court nominee with a pro-life record, many were surprised by that new justice’s decision in a life-related case.

The Court announced Dec. 10 it would not review decisions by lower courts in Kansas and Louisiana that require Medicare to remove Planned Parenthood as a patient provider. Controversial new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh joined more moderately conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and liberal justices in refusing to consider the lower court rulings.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s previous Court pick, joined conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito in filing written dissents of the High Court’s decision. Kavanaugh’s move has caused many to speculate that he may be a more moderate influence on the Court than originally thought.

In the nearly three months since Kavanaugh joined the Court, he and Gorsuch have differed on rulings concerning abortion, immigration, and the environment, USA Today reported. “There’s a pattern here that you can’t ignore,” Curt Levey, president of the conservative Committee for Justice, told the newspaper. “It corresponds with our prediction for Kavanaugh, which is that he would be more like Roberts.”

Written by the IB Media Team for the 1/1/19 issue of the Illinois Baptist.

By Eric Reed

Office hours signWhen I was in seminary in the early Bronze age, there was a lot of talk about how pastoral ministry was changing. The church growth movement had taken hold, and many aspiring pastors seemed called to build great seeker-sensitive churches like one of the two model megachurches in suburban Chicago and near Los Angeles.

The motivational leaders of the day told us how these pastors weren’t shepherds any longer; they were ranchers. In order to build a great church, the lead pastor (also a new term at the time) must give to others the time-consuming work of congregational care while focusing their own attention on leadership, prayer, and preparation of the Word.

That sounded biblical to me.

The first deacons were called so the apostles would be freed for their preaching and teaching ministries (Acts 6:3-4). And Paul was clear in his teaching to the leaders at Ephesus about setting up their ministry: “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12).

It’s time to recover the lost art of pastoral care.

That message found a ready audience among seminary students who envisioned fielding a team of highly skilled deacons or elders to visit the hospitals and console the shut-ins. The saints would do the work; the pastors would prepare the saints and dispatch them. And when the budget allowed, we would all add one or two of those new degreed Christian counselors to the staff with expertise to handle the hard cases.

It was a beautiful picture of how it ought to work. Here’s the problem: It didn’t really work.

A philosophy of ministry that “frees” the pastor from contact with church members in their time of need ignores the model of Jesus himself, and it deprives the pastor of his best opportunity to bring meaningful spiritual help when people are hurting.

Jesus chose the word “shepherd” to describe himself. And in his teaching on “the good shepherd” delivered just before his death, the Lord’s heartfelt concern for his flock and his personal contact with them is clear. Jesus might have chosen other words, but he didn’t declare himself the chief steward or centurion or theologian. He didn’t call himself “lead” anything. He chose the simplest word and the humblest position to describe his personal work—and ours. The word often translated “pastor” is poimen in Greek; it means, literally, shepherd.

In separating the sheep from the goats, the outstanding characteristics of those closest to Jesus and most like him are these: They fed the hungry, clothed the naked, housed the stranger, and visited the sick and imprisoned.

Gone are the days when people stayed in the hospital for a week or two, and the pastor was expected to visit every day. Even major surgeries are outpatient or overnight events. And whether it’s in major metro areas or distant rural places, travel takes time—sometimes several hours roundtrip. People don’t have the same expectations for pastoral care today that they did a generation or two ago—until they really need it.

Even those who say they don’t want the attention will say afterward they were blessed by a visit from the pastor. These days, it’s one of those things you don’t know you need until you need it.

The recent news that Baby Boomers are returning to church is a two-edged sword. Hooray, they’re coming home! But there’s a lot of them, and they’re getting old. All these seniors will need spiritual care, and I think in a lot of cases, the pastorate is out of practice.

We’ve had the church-growth generation of ranchers—skilled in management and motivation. That has given way to a generation marked by a high view of theology, and their role as chief discipler and guardian of truth. What I hope we see next is the return of pastors, the men of God called to be shepherd, who enjoy caring for the sheep.

I remember during my first full-time ministry position, we got a call at the church office. A couple had suffered a miscarriage and they wanted the pastor to come to their house. The pastor was new at that church, a recent seminary graduate, and I was the youth minister. “Come, go with me,” he said. “I’m not sure what to do.”

When we got there, the couple cried. My new-to-ministry co-worker hunted for appropriate Bible verses and offered consoling prayers; I handed them Kleenex. Mostly we just sat there with our sorrowing friends. That’s all they wanted. Just be there.

Eric Reed is editor of the Illinois Baptist.