11 April, 2013 Steve Casey
Every pastor knows the temptation to abide by the unspoken rule of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” when we suspect someone in our care may be unresponsive, or plain hostile, to our attempts to address troublesome issues in their lives. While front-led word ministry requires much prayerful courage, delivering unsought word counsel to someone who is struggling or sinning often requires even more.
We are all too familiar with the tell-tale signs that often indicate that the sheep under our care may need particular intervention/shepherding:
• A once vibrant pray-er speaks more of their job than the Lord.
• A tragically bereaved lady gives way to excessive grief and withdraws from fellowship.
• A bout of cruel gossip can be traced back to one person.
• An older man is behaving inappropriately with the younger women in the fellowship.
• A committed leader grows increasingly aggressive and domineering.
• A recently divorced man hooks up with a non-Christian woman from work.
Rarely in these situations does the person seek you out for help to stop the rot. More often than not we must initiate and bring unsought counsel. We do this, knowing from countless scriptural examples that those who seek to bring Christ’s grace into the life of others will tend to find it becomes personally costly. Sometimes we get the blame; sometimes we are accused of not caring enough and meddling; and sometimes we are simply abused for trying.
Whilst we can take the hugely important practical steps of preparedness through prayer, acting with a plurality of leaders, and cultivating a humble heart, there is no guarantee that our efforts to move towards the person will be well received. Does that mean that we play safe and keep our distance?
It seems to me that though we can quibble over timing, occasion and particular action, we find that the second great commandment, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” makes it clear that it is never wrong to move towards someone in love and for their good in Christ. I suspect that it is this assumption that stands behind this challenging quote from Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor (you can find it for free here).
“We must bear with many abuses and injuries from those for whom we are doing good. When we have studied their case, prayed with them, and besought and exalted them, and spent ourselves for them, then we may still need more patience with them. We can still expect that after we have looked upon them as our won children, that there may be some who will reject us with scorn, even hate and contempt... All this has to be accepted and yet we still need unswerving and unwearied desire to do good on their behalf... Even when they scorn and reject our ministry, and tell us to mind our own business, yet we must still persevere in caring for them. For we are dealing with distracted people who will reject their physician. Nevertheless we must persist with their cure. He is indeed an unworthy doctor who will be driven away merely by the foul language of a patient.”