I came into the basement emotionally undone. The elders were gathered around folding tables in the fellowship hall; the old Awana lines can be seen taped on the floor. I was a mess. As I sat down, I was asked how I was. The brothers knew it was a rough time, but they were looking for more. During the last few weeks, it felt as though our family was being torn apart. I had nothing. A few words spilled out, but then, more than words were sobs and many tears. Heaves came rather than words. Finally, a sputtering report came and the elders surrounded me, each with a hand on me. They prayed, oh did they pray, with love and care and compassion and earnestness.
Reflecting many years later, I remember this moment of extreme shepherding with deep gratitude. At my lowest point, my brothers were there to care, to love and to shepherd.
One aspect that we desire to mark every TCT church is Mutual Care, which TCT defines as a “corporate commitment to pursue a life together in sacrificial, faith-sustaining care for each other in loving relationships at every level of youth and age, joy and sorrow, comfort and crisis, health and brokenness.”
It can be trendy to try to learn from the biggest and most “successful” churches when planting, yet deep in the reality of every ekklesia is the reality that we gather as the broken, the hurting and the weak. As shepherds, we are first sheep, sheep who need care and shepherds who understand the call to care.
Pulsing through Paul’s epistles is a call for elders to love Christ’s blood-bought bride by leading the body to Spirit-fueled mutual care. Structures must be established, time must be given so that each one is cared for in this family we call the church.
Then the email comes, “Pastor I am going to return to my old life of unbelief. I have not made friends and I don’t see a way of happiness ahead. I am leaving Christianity.” Oh, that hurts. My instant reaction is to see every communication through the lens of self. What did I do or not do? How will I respond?
Yet our Father has persistently shown me, not only my weakness but also the corporate nature of the body; I know that this is a “we” challenge not just a “me” one. I must draw in others so that we together can seek our Father’s face and pursue a good way forward.
One family in our body has gone through more painful trials in the last four years than many families combined; they have been cared for by shepherds and their wives and brothers and sisters in the body, not mainly by the lead pastor. We have, together, loved, and cried, and babysat and listened and grieved with them. It has been long, and fresh challenges continue to come; yet our good Father has surrounded this precious family with a church family that has loved them imperfectly and, at the same time, so well.
The email remains. What will happen? Our Father knows. I don’t. So I pray; I plead for help. I prepare to gather with our team and share and invite them into the circle of prayer and care. Our trust is that our Father will help us and will keep this precious saint walking with Jesus and His people.