As a recovering "Big Box" church pastor, I understand a lot of the challenges that face pastors. I have experienced the challenge they face to keep the church rolling, to provide a great Sunday service, and because of the size, the most efficient way to teach and minister to folks is the familiar meeting style. There are some studies floating around that this kind of model is not the best way to disciple folks, that the retention and implementation of the preach are notoriously poor. God is capable of redeeming all things, using all things for our benefit. That being said the reality remains:
There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all discipleship. It is a product of institution and its need for conformity and efficiency. It's the difference between a person and a consumer. A living individual versus a cog in a machine.
Many maturing Christian lives, people go through seasons of tough patches (doubts, questions, dealing with loss, etc.), and times of deeper desire where God calls them a little deeper, and into some areas of our life that open them up in new ways to His presence. It is seasons like these when the one-size-fits-all form of ministry can fail people. This is typically a place where careful pastoral care is key to journey alongside these folks through the hurt, the questions, processing, and the growth. Unfortunately, it is often the case that Big Box Church cannot effectively or efficiently invest the time and energy required to walk through these things with individuals. Many find comfort in small support groups but often, these models too are not specific enough and often try to deal with challenges in a programmatic - just do a-b-c.
The problem remains when we reduce ministry to mere efficiency, transfer of information, and, in essence, a form of people processing, we miss the many rich opportunities to help those we serve experience genuine transformation. Please hear me; We can see God move in lives in a multiplicity of ways - yes, we can see God move through groups and Sunday sermons but the fact remains these forms of ministry are designed to make a wide sweep for the "average", but sadly leaving a lot of folks on either side of the "average" on their own. These people are often hard to identify but are often those right under our noses and who often look like they have it all together!
In many ways, people are the same. They share many of the same needs as they face many of the same issues. However, people can be different enough in ways that really matter, and it is, for this reason, most people will require, from time to time, specific and tailored support and encouragement. For this reason, a one-size-fits-all approach to ministry needs to be critically re-thought. It is important that we are aware of this phenomenon and provide avenues for folks to connect and get support the way they need it most.
To this end, here are a couple of brief thoughts on ways that you can go a long way to reducing the number of folks who fall through the cracks. Ways that we increase the scope and quality of relational care within our Church communities.
1) Healthy Community - is one of the best forms of pastoral care and discipleship bar none! It is crucial that we create an atmosphere where people can connect in an organic, safe, relational way. To find a few, faithful, forgiving friends that can be a support and encouragement for one another. A place where people can be known and still feel accepted with a sense that people are for them and not just another number.
2) Empowering Leadership - the key is to help all people in our respective communities to realize they too share in the responsibility for the community - not just with money and time but as people who understand they are a community together, that we serve one another. We need to give people permission, encourage and facilitate meaningful opportunities to serve and minister to others. We need to remove institutional and ecclesiastical barriers (read turf protection with a religious veneer) that only serve to isolate power in the hands of a few. We must look for ways to empower folks to love well and be free to make mistakes and free to learn.
3) Understand our limitations - we can't do it all nor can we be all things to all people. Some pastors are great pastors and leaders but that doesn't make them great spiritual directors. They may do a great job preaching and running a church but don't have the gifting, skills, or time to wade into the personal journey of another. We as leaders need to recognize our strengths and gifting and do those well while identifying others who have gifting in areas we do not and let them loose to serve! In the temptation (fear) to control the community and have "accountability", we can hold it so tightly that we strangle the life out of the community. It is not a hierarchical form of accountability that will bring life, rather authentically relational, generous leadership that will engage a fully functioning body.
4) Outside support - while you are cultivating such a community it may be worth connecting others with folks who do have the skills and gifts to serve people where they are. I am a HUGE fan of recognizing and cultivating gifts from within a community, so a hired gun can be very effective in the short run, but the goal should be home grown, relational ministers. These outside resources can also be agents of equipping, to help resource those folks who are gifted in certain areas to grow in the skills and develop their gifting so they can, in turn, serve the body. As above, a spiritual director can be a wonderful resource for folks who may require some extra care, or care in a way you may not be gifted for and at the same time being a resource for equipping others.
You hear the phrase repeatedly - they fell through the cracks. Our structures can be very leaky because one size does not fit all. The key will be to continue to see the Ekklesia mature into the healthy, life-giving, functioning body (with many parts). Where each part is honored and belongs, and where one suffers, the whole body serves to support that area. We win together, in Christ.