Our Calling - Learning and Caring
This article addresses the second of the elements in last summer's Methodist Conference report entitled Our Calling, namely Learning and Caring. In it I want to introduce you to Annette, Peter, Barbara and others.
But first let's notice how interlinked are these four elements of the vision for the church. You may remember that they are:-
- learning and caring
Clearly, none of the four on its own provides an adequate vision. Each needs the others if there is to be a dynamic, Christ-centred, God-honouring, Spirit-filled and effective church. For instance, when worship (1) is vibrant and relevant, it is in itself an evangelistic tool (4). As we learn (2) from the Bible of God's passion for justice, we are motivated to serve and work for justice (3). A caring, supportive climate (2), where people feel safe, accepted and valued, enables people to learn more (2) about the God who created and loves them, and then to worship him (1) more fully. So there is a dynamic interface between worship, learning and caring, service, and evangelism.
Sadly, the church has sometimes tended to present the Christian faith as if there was a linear progression - first behave according to our standards, next believe the same as us, then we will let you belong. Increasingly I have come to see that, for most people, belonging comes before believing. If they experience Christians as people who are warm, welcoming, accepting and forgiving, they are likely to stay around and discover the good news of Jesus for themselves. And once they have accepted the offer of forgiveness and new life which is to be found in and through Jesus, they may want to worship, they may begin to act with more compassion, move into a deeper relationship with Jesus and his church, and be more motivated to serve others - and so faith is strengthened as the dynamic interaction occurs. People can gain access at any point, but most enter through a sense of belonging and being cared for. If older people in the church had not cared about me when I was a young teenager, I would probably not have stayed and found Jesus. So I begin with Caring.
Meet Annette, married with three children. Annette used to go to church, but stopped when she married and moved away. Her 11 year-old son, Simon, has recently been going to a weeknight group at the local church. After Simon had been in hospital with severe breathing problems, Annette was delighted when the youth leader visited him at home.
Peter' s wife died recently. Peter is deeply grateful that once a week a person from church brings a meal for him and the children, and most Sundays they are invited out for lunch. Barbara is a house-bound church member. She looks forward to the fortnightly visits of the pastoral visitor who keeps her in touch with what is happening in the church, enabling her to exercise her ministry of intercessory prayer from her own home. Then there is Rodney who is pleased to find that the church not only has a loop system to help him to hear, but also has large-print hymn sheets. And Mary who works shifts as a nurse, and who gratefully accepts the opportunity to attend worship on a Thursday morning. Stephanie felt valued when the cradle roll visitor knew not only the baby's name, but her other children's names too.
But is our pastoral care always good? Or is it a bit random? The statistics about people leaving the church (Gone but not forgotten: Philip Richter and Leslie Francis, DLT 1998) show that shoals of folk found the pastoral care in the church woefully inadequate; and they felt so profoundly let down that they left.
- good record-keeping so that people do not slip through the net
- mobilising the membership and not leaving it all to the minister
- the whole church perceived as a therapeutic community · realistic allocation of work loads of pastoral carers (including flower visitors, bereavement support workers, youth leaders etc)
- accessibility in terms of ramps, loops, large print books, etc and flexibility in times of services and meetings.
- regular training for all who offer care and support
- agreed standards of good practice
a safe building, adequately staffed in terms of 'Safe from Harm'
Oh, yes, of course there is room for that nudging from the Lord that tells us to call in on someone today, when we had not had that in mind. But that does not exempt us from setting up systems, policies and procedures, if care is to be effective and honouring to the God who attends to detail.
The Christian faith is a life-long journey discovering more about God, the world, and ourselves.
Lance liked to read the Bible each day and over a period of twenty years he gained a good grasp of biblical theology. Denise found it hard to concentrate on reading at home, but loved going to the housegroup where people talked about what they believed, and read the Bible together. She especially appreciated the way they linked their faith to everyday life. Graham discovered truths about God from sermons and from the housegroup, but found that at Easter People things began to fit together for him. Kathryn began to attend church with her children. It was at the Covenant service that the realisation came to her that God actually cared about her. Ian went to work on a project in Nigeria for a couple of years after he had graduated, and through discovering what it was like for Christians in an unsympathetic environment, he expanded his horizons and re-evaluated some of his fixed attitudes.
People learn through:
- listening - to sermons, liturgies, other people, to God
- participating - in groups, big events, or in sharing in tasks
- new experiences - which lead to reflection, and development of beliefs
- study, together or alone - especially from the Bible.
- pushing boundaries - trusting God to equip when he calls to special challenges.
- the Holy Spirit using all the above to embed the learning into hearts, minds and wills
Finally Caring and learning support each other. As we care for others and allow them to care for us, let us seize all opportunities to enable ourselves and others to learn more about our great God, his wonderful world, and ourselves as his beloved children.
What a calling to fulfil!