Neil de Koning
I am a Retired Pastor. Presently serving as Synodical Deupty (CAN). I authored the book Guiding the Faith Journey. Previously, I have served congregations in Calgary, AB and Sarnia, ON, and Lacombe, AB.
I am always conscious of the tensions that are present in these comments. here are some I see:
1. the number of elders we need to visit regularly vs the number of people actually available to do the work.
2. visits as spiritual care vs visits as part of church management (how are we doing in our programs? do you have questions about the church?)
3. The time we need to do the work vs the time we actually have (8 evenings a month vs 3 evenings a month)
4. the blessing of the visits vs the difficulty in making arrangements with people who do not make it a priority. (there is a disconnect)
5. the focus on visits vs the many other activities that are required.
6. the present size of the elder's list (20-25) and the size of the list we could be effective with (10). I like the number 10 - comes from Moses.
I am sure I don't have answers to these tensions, but maybe in order to get beyond these tensions (and the accompanying failures), we need to think hard about the way we do elders' work. What is the centre of our call? How do we prioritize? Maybe we need to restructure the eldership and build more flexibility in the church order.
Hi Trena, our congregation's program is also a few years old. It has been working well so far. We hope to get more involved in using this ministry in our neighbourhood. I can put you in contact with the person who administers the program for us. Let me know... Neil
Posted in: Membership Transfers in a Modern Age
A few comments:
First, the church order and our process will always lag the changes we face. The way membership is treated in our culture is under change. I believe we need to address a few concerns:
1. Formal commitment to the church (membership) is part of taking full responsibility for the life of the church. To say that one belongs to this worshipping community without tanking legal responsibility and opening oneself up to taking leadership is a failure to understand the full scope of belonging.
2. Voluntary association is not the way Scripture talks about belonging to the church. By grace and through faith we become part of the body of Christ. To say that my only comfort is belonging to Christ and then playing loose with body of Christ is simply a misunderstanding of the way of Christ among us.
3. Selecting the ones we choose to do community with is a little odd when we remember that we are selecting/ deselecting people whom Jesus loved enough to die for.
4. We deal to deal with ecumenicity better. The body of Christ is divided. What does membership to a congregation mean when my community includes people of various denominations and congregations who are committed to living for Christ? Because membership is sometimes seen as separating me from fellow believers, membership can be seen as a hindrance to shared faith with other Christians.
Second, one common feature of dislocation (moving to another community) is the loss of community. Many who have moved stop going to church. They may have good intentions, visit a number of churches and show genuine interest. But moving is hard on relationships. Some find it easy to drop out. Whether we send papers with individuals or not, their connection with their previous community is an important part of transition. The previous community can and ought extend care to them for some time after a move. I remember one time when I visited a couple a year after a move. They had not attended church regularly since the move. Simply visiting encouraged them to reconnect to church life.
Third, there is church shopping and friendship that extend over various communities of faith. It seems to me that many members today have a core of Christian friends that go to more than one place to worship. One person can go to more than one church just to be with friends. This is different than church shopping. Church shopping is part of a consumerist culture. Church shopping is part of a culture that makes my needs central to the place I worship. The notion of a core of Christian friends that go to various churches on Sunday is slightly different. Their commitment is to their friendships. Institutions mean less. Both tell us about how churches are viewed. In both membership is seen as a hindrance rather than a help. Getting such believers to deal with their membership is counterproductive. I usually say to council to put such members who are no longer attending in a file – neither deleting them or counting them. Decisions of council can be reversed in circumstances change. Annoying people who think of our concern with membership as a strange obsession does not help their growth in faith.
Posted in: Biblical and Theological Literacy
The lack of response says much. The models we celebrate are really quite few. I commend you for the teaching you have done.
Just recently I was reading about how in our culture many seem to think that theology is usually about the distinctives of a tradition. Entering more deeply into theology is a sure way of highlighting what is divisive. So many shy away from theology, and holding onto those things we have in common with all- which usually means simple statements of faith and a limited vision of salvation. I can understand why. WE have had some very divisive battles over the years. We have friends who belong to other traditions who are wonderful Christians. WE are afraid that entering into theology is to create brokenness.
so it seems to me we need a culture change that imagines theology as deepening our love for God, as a way of discernment, as a way of seeing more clearly the wonder of God's life and way in our life. We need to imagine theology as a way of living more creatively and wonderfully as servants to the Lord.
Culture change is difficult. But I have noticed some articles, books and practices that suggest that maybe interest in theology will increase.
Keep at it. Neil
Posted in: Pastoral Care for Robbery Victims
We have been robbed twice. Once just the car was broken into and some electronics were stolen. The other time a person entered our home when we were deep asleep walked past our bedroom, took some electronics and the keys to our car. The car was stolen and found a few days later. We were not harmed. It is an odd feeling.
I noticed few aspects of our journey through that moment. First, I believe that what it revealed was our persistent vulnerability. Our response was not to make ourselves less vulnerable (get more security features in our home), but to recognize that we had two fundamental values: a) that to live in community with neighbours means we must be vulnerable. We can not say I trust you and than create secure walls. I want my neighbourhood to be a safe place because we have mutual care for each other. How this works can be different in different neighbourhoods, but being a neighbour does mean being vulnerable. b) that my security ultimately depends on the providential care of God. No wall could protect Jerusalem unless the Lord was its defender. No wall needed to protect Jerusalem when God was its protector. so part of the process was a recognition that our lives were and are in the hands of God. Second, we need to deal with our sense of attachment to our homes and things. Trust me I enjoy my home and am grateful for many things. But to hold things "lightly" rather than "tightly" is an important part of our spirituality in this world. The robbery in our life was a reminder. Third, we did ask ourselves: suppose this were to happen again ... what would be a better place to keep the things that need more security. I don't leave my keys on the kitchen table anymore. A little bit more control.
It seems to me that most often when electronics are stolen people are looking for cash - usually for drugs, sometimes because of desperate circumstances. That may mean that one response is to notice that there is a need in the neighbourhood that need addressing. It is not just security. It may be a place for youth to go and be mentored. It may be helping to develop jobs for people in the neighbourhood. I don't know. I do know that it can't be helpful for the neighbourhood if we go behind our secure walls. Taking back the public space and developing neighbourhoods requires engagement not retreat. Maybe part of the healing process is to recognize the need and engage in ministry.
I would love to hear from others.
Posted in: Confidentiality
Thanks for the concern.
I agree that confidentiality needs to be maintained. And it is true that particular difficult situations which could potentially be identified would not be appropriate for this forum. How to handle this and still talk?
First, let me suggest that most situations have a lot in common with many others situations. We can engage in some conversation about general areas of concern. While everyone likes to think of their situation as unique, fact is that it has much more in common with others than they imagine. So lets talk about some pastoral concerns.
Second, if there is something particular you wish to talk about but are unsure, send me an email. I can change identifiers, raise the concern under my name and let the conversation flow without it being directly related to a contributer in the forum. This way some distance can be maintained.
thanks once again. Neil
Yes we do. There are three teams at work.
One is called Caring Touch. They visit occasionally. They send cards weekly. This team of people demonstrates that the church notices, prays and keeps in touch with members of the church. Cards are sent if a person's name is listed in church family news, at significant times in a persons life (grads, profession of faith, weddings, births, deaths). Visits are made at the time of birth and to senior members.
Another is Stephen Ministries. They provide regular care for people who are facing particular struggles at the moment. Doesn't matter what kind of struggle. If they need regular pastoral care because of a special need, our Stephen's ministers make regular visits.
And then there is the group that provides meals to those who have a particular need at the moment. We have extended this care to those struggling with health issues. And also given meals to families celebrating the birth of a child.
Each ministry has assisted the work of elders.
Need more info?
I have been thinking about topics in the area of pastoral care. So I thought I would ask: what are some of the areas of concern you are dealing with as elders? And if you have a great resource on this concern, share it with us. Love to hear from you.
Hi Kris, thanks for the question. There are many resources but perhaps telling me more about the purpose and context would help me be more specific. One question would be - is there an agreed vision and mission statement? or is this part of the long range planning you are doing? Second question is what is the impulse for this planning? is it a routine process or are there particular challenges you are facing at this time? Third, is this a short period exercise (2 months) or a long one (6-9 months). As you can appreciate the process changes.
meanwhile, I have found the book HOLY CONVERSATIONS to be quite helpful. Techniques like brainstorming can ferret out the central concerns and begin to establish some goals as well. (I plan to post this in an article some time but haven't finished it, but you can find these on the www).
others I am sure have some great suggestions as well (hint to others).
Posted in: Pastoral Care, Homosexuality and the Elder
Glad to elaborate.
First, let me assume that you agree with the position of Synod ’73. Synod ’73 said that there was a difference between feelings of sexual attraction to the same sex and engaging in sexual practices with the same sex. That difference is important. If a person has feelings of same sex attraction, that would not mean a need to repent or be a problem to be solved. In Synod ’73 a person with such feelings was urged to live a celibate life seeking Christlikeness and kingdom service. Under this vision it is important to observe that there is nothing to condemn. Consequently, there needs to be a path for this person to live a holy life within the context of the church.
Second, pastorally consider the young person who happens to be struggling with issues of sexual identity or already knows that he is gay or she lesbian. It is important that this person is not condemned because of their sexual identity. Too often the language we use is not careful enough or clear enough and what comes through is that this child whom we are urged to lead into Christlikeness is condemned for their sexual orientation. We try to solve the problem (being gay) and place an unnecessary burden on them to change what they cannot change. All this while they have done no wrong.
Third, being gay is a way of being in this world. I do not mean by that being gay involves certain sexual practice. Any person can be celibate. What I mean is that by birth and experience every person has a certain way of seeing and being in relationship to others. That is a gift in the life of the church. Even a person’s sexual orientation is part of that way of seeing and being. It is not despite a person’s orientation but in their orientation that a person serves and relates. Our brothers and sisters who are gay need to know that we will not suppress of deny their unique perspectives and gifts for service. We need to see them as God’s gifts to the church. There is a healthy way to be person who is gay and who is Christian to be involved in the church’s life.
Fourth, it is important to understand that many do not agree with report ’73. Calling a person to repentance who does not believe that what they are doing anything wrong is a hard sell. At that point we need to do more than point a person to Synod ’73. That more will mean a willingness to submit to Scripture together and seek to understand it together. That in itself is a journey of caring. If we have confidence in Scripture and believe that the Spirit will lead in truth, we should not be afraid of this discussion.
Fiifth, when I speak about a path for the holy life, I am very concerned that all too often we have failed to have wonderful models of being Christian who are not “married with kids”. We imitate people we admire. We always ought to imitate Christ. We also imitate others (Paul even said to his readers ‘imitate me’). So who will the fifteen year old gay person admire? What path does he or she see ahead of them? I am looking for such models because just as I like to point young women to a woman who demonstrates Christian leadership, just as I like to encourage a native person to have models for living a faithful life with Christ that honours their heritage, I would like to show a young gay person a wonderful model of faithful and honest Christian life that acknowledges his or her sexual identity.
Sixth, there is always a time to call people to repentance. In a pastoral context this is seldom the first word. I would suggest that there are many times the first call to repentance needs to go to the bullies who have harmed the ones we love with hurtful words. There are also times when we need to repent for the way we have shamed sinners (like leaders in John 8). There are many other sins (financial and gossip) where we have been too silent though the sins were very obvious. I would always prefer to start with an authentic pastoral relationship in which another person knows I will be faithful with him or her as we walk together in Christ. Lets start with this generous spirit.
Thanks for your engagement…
Posted in: Pastoral Care, Homosexuality and the Elder
Back from Vacation so now comes a belated reply. I don't make excuses but I do want to understand and be fair. I hope I accept people as created and loved by God... loved enough so that Jesus would die for them. And I trust that all of us want to have the same attitude as Jesus did with "sinners and taxcollectors" - even when they are Pharisees. And so the question here is one of pastoral approach and attitude.
Two distinctions need to be made.
First, we need to remember the distinction that Synod made in '73. Having a same sex attration is not same as engaging in same sex practice. We can same the same about hetrosexuals: having an attraction to the opposite sex is not the same as engaging in hetrosexual sex. It is an important disticntion that we need to keep in mind in our language.
Second, we need to be careful not to assign every sexual feeling to lust. Just because our feelings can lead us astray does not mean that they always motivate us to sinful behaviour. Too often in our conversations about sexual identity our condemations of same sex attraction consign those who have such feelings to the judgments of God even when they have been faithful to God in their lives. Too often we have said to teeenagers that sexual desire is bad. I beg too differ. I hope that all of us can have sexual feelings and remain faithful to God. Yes, we all have sinful desires in our heart. But I would be careful about making all desires sinful desires. We have good and holy desires and feelings. Discerning and dealing with our desires will always be part of our walk with our God.
Finally, fact is every sunday we use the gifts of people who deny their sin and justify their sins. It happens with enviromental sins, greed, gossip and many other activities that undemine the well-being of community. Of course we seek repentance and renewal. But it does not always happen in our time. And yes, there always comes a time when some form of discipline and boundaries need to be used... but usually we do not act in haste.
Thanks for participating in the conversation.
I tend to make a few points when I teach about sexuality:
1. There is a distinction between sex and sexuality. The bible says little about sex. It is not a how to manual. I think the assumption of Scripture is that the biology of sex is either well known to the hearers or taught culturally in one way or another. Sexuality involves more than biology of sex, it is about how we relate as males and females.
2. The bible does give us some clear instructions as to what is forbidden. That is, it establishes some boundaries, for instance, no adultery and no incest. These are helpful in defining when we cross a boundary. The boundary is helpful in two ways.
a. Boundaries define us as persons. By saying NO to a sexual activity, we define ourselves in terms of our values and in terms of our personhood. For young girls this is particularly important. They are not extensions of / or objects of male sexuality. They are individuals who need to be valued for who they are, what they value and how they feel. This requires the ability to say NO.
b. Boundaries tell us when we are straying from a good path. There is a good path. There is a path of destruction. Our feelings and our present desires are not the way to judge right and wrong. The No of God ought to lead us in discerning the better path.
3. Much of what the bible teaches that helps us as sexual beings is about relationships. Relationships are central to our experience as sexual beings. Here are a few important biblical statements that help us:
a. The fruit of the spirit is … faithful. Faithfulness is a quality of the spiritual life. Now apply this to sexuality and sexual relationships. (consider proverbs on love and faithfulness)
b. “think not only of your own interests but the interests of others” (phil 2): so how does “thinking about another’s interests help in our sexual experience in marriage?
c. Forgive as you have been forgiven. This is about confession and forgiveness. This is about humility. This is about living in the deep recognition that what we receive is always a gift. For a husband and wife this means that each needs to see the other as gift.
4. These conversations mean that our spiritual lives have much to say about our relationships and the goodness of our sexual lives as male and female. Our vision of what is good and our walk with God ought to shape our sexuality. Our call is to be “like Christ” (point three) which means are eyes for Christ are central to our relationships as sexual beings.
5. Part of the whole story means dealing with desire. In our grade 7-12 teaching session, I used the book Hooked mentioned in the article because it gives us a good understanding of how sexual desire works biologically and how fulfilled that desire can lead us astray from real happiness in our love relationships. Much of Scripture deals invites us to shape our desires(to form them and to discipline them) by the Word of God. Proverbs repeatedly calls people to not follow their immediate desires because they are not the way of wisdom. There are fools and there are the wise. Romans 8 speaks of not following the desires of the flesh but to desire the desires of the Spirit.
6. To support a godly way in our sexual experience requires a supportive community. Because our sexuality is relational, the fact is that we live it in community. The social rules of the community play a huge part in how we live our sexuality. Boundaries are hard to maintain if no one else supports them. So being in a supportive community (hopefully the church is one, but is not always so) is vital to walking together in Christ as sexual beings.
Finally, I don’t know of material that covers all that. Maybe someone ought to write some material. Meantime, read and share. It all helps. And remember when it comes from you – as teacher, mentor and fellow sexual being- the youth listen with respect.