Over the years, there have been shifts in the practices of the church. At one time, the answer to the question was unambiguous. Pastors gave pastoral care. The Stephen Ministry was built out of this premise. It was designed to extend the work of the pastor – not the elders or the lay people. Lay people were trained to assist the pastor in providing care. When the small group movement entered the CRC, it was more than a Bible study. The small group was to be the primary care group for an individual or family in the bigger life of the church. Alongside these were other ministries of care: in our congregation we have Deacons, Elders, Meals from the Heart, and Caring Touch.
When Wendy speaks about overlap, most congregations have plenty. Indeed some overlap is necessary to provide adequate whole person care. If we recognize that there are individual preferences and needs, it is not surprising that some would prefer one kind of experience in the life of the church while others prefer another avenue. One shoe does not fit all. We need a toolkit with many ways to reach members of the congregation and serve them. We need a toolkit that is big enough to handle diversity. One question worth asking is simply this: is our toolkit big enough to reach the members of the congregation? Of course just because we have a big enough toolkit doesn’t mean we have to use every tool with every person. Just what is appropriate. We need to develop the tools. And we need wisdom to use them appropriately.
This overlap will also happen in leadership. How do we choose our leaders (elders or deacons)? Not surprisingly, we prefer to choose those who have demonstrated a measure of involvement and skill. One place where people learn what is needed is in the context of a small group. This is also where people get to experience the faith and life of potential leaders. I am not surprised at all that some become both an elder and small group leader. There will inevitably be overlap. Again it is well worth asking: how are we developing leadership in the congregation? If Small Groups are one of the key ministries, surely elders and deacons will be doing both some of the time.
Overlap can become a problem in two ways:
First, that overlapping leadership believes they must do everything all the time and so overextend themselves. Part of maturity is the ability to prioritize our activities. We may have a job list that is large. But not everything has the same priority. Here the question is: how do we prioritize our activities so that the ones that are most important (not necessarily most urgent) get done? Many time management materials deal with this dilemma.
Second, the overlap becomes a problem if the membership believes they need to experience everything all the time. Not everyone needs to go to a small group and have a home visit. It may be appropriate but not necessarily. Not everyone needs to experience all the forms of care. One might be enough. We need to give the message that appropriate does not mean everything. We ought not make people so busy in the internal life of the community that the call to engage the life of the neighborhood with the gospel will get lost.
All this raises the next set of questions. We need to ask what our primary goals are providing small groups, pastoral care, districts (care groups) and other means of touching the life of the congregation. Most of the time we are somewhat foggy on the central purposes. Or after a while what we intended has been forgotten and the activity has taken on a life of its own. No thoughtful reorganization can take place without asking why we do what we do in the context of the mission of the church.
Next week: leadership structures.