Whether you realize it or not, you are developing a culture of care in your church. Take a moment and list the various ways those around you describe their lives while considering what you experience in your everyday life. You will hear terms like confusion, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, numbness, shame, guilt, anger, bitterness, injustice, betrayal, unforgiveness, loneliness, discontentment, and feeling overwhelmed. Believe it or not, this list describes where most of the church is at and what they are experiencing. If the worship songs, liturgy, sermons and conversations at a Sunday gathering never address these struggles, then people can wrongly conclude that the gospel is irrelevant, not offering hope for their reality.
We need to ensure that the gospel that we read, sing and preach Sunday after Sunday reorients and reshapes God’s people, who are easily conformed by the world’s cultural norms. Only God and his realities offer hope in the difficulties of life.
What Message Are We Really Sending?
Not only do we develop a culture of care when the church is gathered, but also when the church scatters throughout the week, especially when we gather in our community groups and in our chats over coffee. We need community because God created us to learn and grow with others, where we love, encourage, and comfort one another. But what tends to happen when someone courageously opens their heart to share a struggle?
A young woman shares about her struggles with loneliness and is met with a deafening silence. A husband shares his struggle with anxiety, and hears, “I’m sorry … thanks for sharing … can I pray for you?” A woman shares for the first time with the women in her group about her past sexual abuse, and they say, “I don’t know how to help you.” A couple shares about their chronic marital struggles, the group responds with, “You need to see a marriage counselor.” What messages do people hear with such responses? These responses intend no harm but often fall short of God’s call to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2) by lacking in encouragement that is centered on the finished and ongoing work of Jesus.
What Culture Is Being Created with Such Messages?
Various cultures will emerge and take root when we fail to address our struggles with gospel intentionality. We can create a helpless culture where a scarcity mindset prevails. It’s easy to feel helpless when life lacks joy, pleasure, peace, financial stability, loving relationships, and certainty about the future. It’s easy to embrace a sense of helplessness when we are filled with more questions than answers, and no one seems able to help.
We can also create a horizontal culture where our reach and response comes from anyone and everyone who will listen to us and speak into our mess. It’s easy to stay horizontal when our hurts are so tangible and our God seems so intangible. We want relief now, and when God doesn’t seem to answer our prayers, we look for relief elsewhere.
It’s no wonder we can also develop a hierarchical culture where we expect more from professionals and less from our God. Even as the church, we see ourselves as less than those who have a formal counseling education despite having the Spirit of the living God dwell in us and the word of God at our fingertips.
Further, we can create a healing culture where we can embark on a life-long journey to figure out why we do what we do, whether it stems from nature (genetic, brain and body issues) or nurture (lack of development and relational attachment in our growing up years) in order to fix what is wrong with us. A healing culture can focus on the allusive notions of growing in wholeness, healing damaged emotions, and restoring broken souls where the self is at the center of attention.
These four cultures coexist where the God of the gospel is not the source, means, and goal of care.
What Does a Culture of Care Focus On?
When we consider the culture of care we want we want in our church, we can focus more on the “counseling camp” that fits us best or the practices we want to avoid, much like the “worship wars.” Regardless of the different schools of thought, we must start with the God we love and worship and seek a culture that flows from the gospel.A culture of care focuses on God as our helper.
God is never helpless, and therefore, neither are we. Listen to how David describes God and his relationship with God:
“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-2)
In our struggles we can live powerless lives, believing we are weak and helpless. Yes, we are weak and helpless to change our circumstances, but because of Christ, we can boast in our weakness so that his power can rest on us (2 Corinthians 12:9). If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)?
A culture of care focuses on Jesus, who holds the universe together
Our infinite and eternal God, along with his attributes, transcends both horizontal and vertical dimensions (Colossians 1:17). Why settle for mere mortals when you have the listening ear and written word of your Creator? God designed us to live life with him and others so we can encourage and comfort one another, but we have to remember that we have 24/7 access to Wisdom, Love, Hope, and Peace. The psalmist says:
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us" (Psalm 103:11-12).
A culture of care focuses on the one true living God, who is unlike any other.
There is no one above God. He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? (Isaiah 40:11-13)
God is our shepherd who carries us close to his heart and has the power to transform us from the inside out. There is no one who can instruct the Lord as his counselor.
A culture of care focuses on communion with God.
The gospel offers a radically different hope where Jesus is our healing and redemption. What “healing” does God promise? God’s ultimate healing is salvation through Jesus Christ (Isaiah 53:5), rescuing us from the power of sin and death (Hebrews 2:14-15). God’s ongoing redeeming work is most evident when we experience his comfort, peace, hope, and love in the dark valleys of pain, brokenness, and suffering through our union with Jesus Christ. Healing is not the goal of care, but knowing and experiencing our Redeemer and Healer (Exodus 15:26) in our brokenness is the desired outcome. Through our communion with God, he restores our souls and renews our inner being day by day (Psalm 23:3, 2 Corinthians 4:16).
In God’s story, we will experience ultimate and eternal healing in the new heavens and earth where we will be given glorified bodies and souls, perfectly in sync with the Spirit of God, radiant in glory as the Holy Bride of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:42-44; Revelation 21:2).
A culture of care that focuses on communion with God also includes deep, meaningful community with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Community is always life-giving whenever those in the group bear one another’s burdens by comforting one another with the comfort we received from the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Unfortunately, such community doesn’t come naturally, so we need to be equipped to participate in this supernatural work called ministry. By his design, God accomplishes his healing and redemptive work as we fight the good fight of faith together as the family of God.
The Gospel Informs the Culture of Care
It’s good news knowing that the gospel that changes hearts of stone to hearts of flesh is the same gospel for caring for God’s people. It’s good news that every church can develop a culture of gospel care regardless of the number of staff, members, and budget. It’s good news that every church has access to the wisdom, love, and power needed to develop a culture of care within the church. There is much more to consider in developing a culture of care, but the most important foundation is laid when we focus on the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our troubles (2 Corinthians 1:3).