Preaching and Pastoral Care
As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. And all ate and were filled; and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men. (Mark 6:34-44)
What is preaching? What is pastoral care? What is the relationship between them both? In seeking an answer to these questions, I will consider what preaching is and what it is not, what pastoral care is and what it is not, and then look at the relationship between them.
Does anybody except preachers believe in preaching anymore? One might even ask, does anybody except church believe in church anymore? Are church and preaching pointless?
The decline of church and preaching has come to the attention of Rob Warner, who notes that, as communication to the inhabitants of the television age, some of our Sunday services are pointless. He put it starkly: “We are boring people to hell.” He further declares that “The modern world will not be reached effectively by traditional forms of church.” Preaching, too, is frequently seen as boring and out-of-date, and Stott believed that “Whatever is dull, drab, dowdy, slow or monotonous cannot compete in the television age.” Let us then examine what preaching is and what it is not, and whether it has any relevance in the television age.
I WENT TO CHURCH TODAY – I NEEDED THE SLEEP
For some people, the sermon is that part of a church service where they get some sleep! So why is it that preaching is, or is regarded as being, boring? “Is preaching merely an out-of-date form of entertainment?” as Lloyd-Jones asked. If so, it is a form of entertainment that is largely unpopular in the face of video games, virtual reality, television and film. “However,” says Gibbs, “In whatever form it takes, entertainment is no substitute for participation.”
According to Stott, “Television challenges preachers to make our presentation of the truth attractive through variety, colour, illustration, humour and fast-flowing movement.” Is that what those who attend church in these days experience in the sermon? Or is it that most people have no meaningful church connection and are therefore an unchurched people? According to Warner, “If we are serious about taking the good news of Christ to today’s world, we must face squarely the vast chasm of disconnectedness between the church and an unchurched society.”
The preacher is not in the pulpit merely to talk to the people because he or she is not there to entertain them; he or she is there to produce results of various kinds, he or she is there (hereafter ‘he’ for ease of writing) to influence people. He is there to deal with the whole person; and Lloyd-Jones maintained that “His preaching is meant to affect the whole person at the very centre of life.” He is there to make a difference, and preaching should make such a difference to a man who is listening that he is never the same again. “Preaching is a transaction between the preacher and the listener,” said Lloyd-Jones.
The transaction that takes place through preaching motivates Christians to grow, according to Prime; it prepares God’s people for works of service, and encourages people to learn. But, as Gibbs has rightly pointed out, people learn by being involved, not by passive observation. Lloyd-Jones said that “The business of the Church, and the business of preaching, is to isolate the radical problems and to deal with them in a radical manner.” Are preachers merely problem solvers?
Differentiation must be made between preaching and teaching. I would suggest that one difference is this: That preaching tells people what they ought to do, and teaching shows them how to do it. Is that a valid distinction?
There is no point in teaching people to do something if they do not know that they need to do it or should do it. Ability is of no value if is not translated into obedience, but those who do not know what they ought to do cannot obey, and education is no substitute.
Therefore, preaching is, “By its very nature a revelation, not an exhortation,” according to Stott. This revelatory preaching is indispensable to Christianity, he thinks. Forsyth declares that “With its preaching Christianity stands or falls.” Is preaching really that crucial to Christianity?
Milne said that “The public exposition of Scripture in the power of the Spirit has incalculable significance for the renewal and growth of the people of God.” He goes on to say that “The church cannot live above the level of its expository preaching, preaching which is concerned essentially to lay bare the teaching of the Bible and apply it relevantly.” Is preaching really that crucial to Christianity?
Stott declared that “The preacher’s task is to enable God’s revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures into the lives of the men and women of today.” Is that only way that truth can flow? Is it even the primary way for truth to flow? Is Christ and Christianity so dependent upon human preaching?
Stott seems to thinks so: “When the Word of God is expounded in its fullness, and the congregation begin to glimpse the glory of the Living God, they bow down in solemn awe and joyful wonder before His throne. It is preaching which accomplishes this, the proclamation of the Word of God in the power of the Spirit of God. That is why preaching is unique and irreplaceable.”
The Bible has organic moral relevancy to the conscience of humanity, according to Forsyth. Lloyd-Jones pointed out a danger he saw: “We have become such experts, as we think, in psychological understanding, at dividing people up into groups, and at adopting modern psychological theories that we have forgotten the Holy Spirit and his power.” Goldingay maintains that “The Spirit who indwells the preacher and works through him or her is also the Spirit who indwells the congregation and works in them. Preaching needs to relate to the spirituality of the congregation.”
John Stott loudly lamented that “We are so decorous, we are so controlled, we do everything with such decency and order that there is no life, there is no warmth, there is no power! But that is not New Testament Christianity. Does your faith melt and move your heart? Does it get rid of the ice that is in you, the coldness in your heart, and the stiffness? The essence of New Testament Christianity is this warmth that is invariably the result of the presence of the Spirit.”
DOES ANYONE CARE ABOUT PASTORAL CARE?
Pastoral care is caring for people and caring about people. It is not that those who are ‘in sin’ need pastoral care and those who are not ‘in sin’ do not. Pastoral care is much bigger than addressing sin in people’s lives, though all too often this seems to be the only starting point and the main focus. It certainly is for Pattison, who says that pastoral care is directed towards the elimination and relief of sin.
Neither is it that those who are sick need pastoral care and that those who are well do not. Everyone needs to be loved and cared for, and perhaps any concise definition of pastoral care is too rigid for comfort. Pastoral care is caring for people in the same way that Jesus did and still does, is it not?
According to Stott, “A good shepherd’s care of his sheep is four-fold – feeding, guiding (because sheep easily go astray), guarding (against predatory wolves) and healing (binding up the wounds of the injured). And all four of these activities are aspects of the ministry of the Word.”
With Stott, my personal plea for the church is that we treat them as real people with real questions; that we grapple in our sermons with real issues; that we build bridges into the real world in which they live and love, work and play, laugh and weep, struggle and suffer, grow old and die. As Stott says, “We have to provoke them to think about their life in all its moods, to challenge them to make Jesus Christ the Lord of every area of it, and to demonstrate His contemporary relevance.”
Here, then, is the cornerstone of pastoral care: making Jesus relevant to people. Prime maintains that “The call to shepherd God’s people and to teach them his Word is a special calling because of its strategic and unique importance for the spiritual well-being of Christ’s flock.” Forsyth says that “It is that word that the preacher must bring to the people; it is in that word that he himself must live.”
All too often Evangelicals pride themselves on a right understanding of the gospel, yet what they preach and how they live are often in contradiction, that according to Tidball. Gibbs agrees and says that “Those who turn to Christianity and churches seeking truth and meaning have left empty-handed, confused by the apparent inability of Christians themselves to implement the principles they profess.” True pastoral care requires a life of Godly integrity. Stronger than that, it demands it.
True preaching presupposes a Church, and not merely a public; and wherever the Church idea fades into that of being a mere religious club or association you have a decay in preaching, that according to Forsyth. If preaching is no longer considered relevant or helpful by the world, the problem lies with the church – not the world. To focus on the world’s reaction to preaching is to focus only on the symptom, for the illness is in the church.
THE MARRIAGE OF PREACHING AND PASTORAL CARE
Stott says that “Preaching and pastoral care go together like a right and left hand, or a right and left foot. One without the other is an imbalance. When we proclaim the Gospel, we must go on to unfold its ethical implications, and when we teach Christian behaviour we must lay its Gospel foundations.” He continues: “The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message. Christians need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas.”
Gibbs addresses the issue of how and why Christians expect people to “come to church”. “Churches cannot stand apart from society and invite people come to them on their terms. Rather, churches must go to people where they are and communicate in terms that will make sense to them, addressing the issues that shape their lives and speaking their language.”
Therefore, does Stott say that “We who are called to be Christian preachers today should do all we can to help the congregation to grow out of dependence on borrowed slogans and ill-considered clichés, and instead to develop their ability to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil.”
According to Prime, preaching and pastoral care belong together. “Preaching and pastoral care help each other. When we preach to those we know well, and whose situations we understand, we apply God’s truth more relevantly, almost unconsciously.” Dr John Goldingay wrote that he was increasingly struck by the way Scripture itself relates its message to the lives of those to whom it is addressed; and by the diversity in the ways in which it does so. The apostle Paul characteristically addressed specific congregations with specific needs, and made the concrete application of the message quite explicit.
The New Testament uses more than thirty verbs to denote the activity of preaching, according to Runia. “Yet preaching is not a simple repetition of the message of Scripture,” he says, but “it must be addressed to people in their concrete historical situation. Without relevance there is no sermon, for a sermon is God’s relevant word for his church today.”
This is the marriage of preaching and pastoral care. The love that preaches values other persons as worthy ends in themselves, that according to Baker, and the pattern and inspiration for the marriage of preaching and pastoral care are found in Jesus Christ.
CONCLUSION: PREACHING AND REACHING
Forsyth says that “Not all that is said from a pulpit is preaching. If we are to preach with Gospel effect to our time we must give up the idea of dragging men back to the dogmas of Scholastic Protestantism.” He declares that “It is fruitless to offer to the public the precise modes of thought which were so fresh and powerful with the Reformers.” Preaching is the today word of God given to people today, not the old word given in an old way in old language with old expectations.
Does the gospel preach itself through us with power? Are our sermons “action-sermons”? “The preacher’s power lies in appropriation, and his work is largely to assist the Church to a fresh appropriation of its own gospel,” says Forsyth. If preaching cannot be relevant and real to God’s own people, how will it ever be relevant, real, prophetic or meaningful to the world outside?
In Jesus, preaching and pastoral care were united and in harmony, it was a happy marriage. That assumes we call what Jesus did as preaching, of course. In the passage from Mark which began this paper, Jesus taught the crowds; but his teaching flowed without interruption into pastoral care as he concerned himself with the physical needs of the people. It is interesting how often Jesus taught his disciples about caring and loving people, yet he did not seem as burdened to train them in preaching!
Those who reach must also preach, and those who preach must also reach. “Will the 21st-century church dare to recover the Christ-centred radicalism of the first Christian generation?” asks Warner. Evangelist Reinhard Bonnke’s mass evangelistic crusades in Nigeria (as in Africa generally) attracted vast crowds to hear him and receive from God. Let me quote at length from a report on the Nigerian crusades that highlights the people’s desperate situation, the good news preached by Bonnke and the pastoral care that follows:
“Seven degrees above the equator, where children in the brutal African sun forage in fields of rotting garbage, great expectations were building: Reinhard Bonnke, the larger-than-life evangelist from Germany, had come to town again. That evening, 550,000 people gathered on 80 acres of bare ground to listen to Bonnke, a pastor’s son with an unquenchable thirst for Africa’s lost souls. Spiritually hungry Nigerians—whose lives are bounded by poverty, violence, and an unforgiving climate—could hardly wait to feast on the good news the preacher promised to bring. Bonnke completed his gospel message and then prayed for the sick who had come seeking a miracle. In a country where basic healthcare is available only to the very few who can afford it, medical needs are an unending concern. Although many of Bonnke’s critics doubt that his crusade will have a lasting effect on Lagos, most agree that if it does happen, it will be because of the strength that local churches exhibit by discipling new believers in their faith. The majority of this responsibility will fall on the 2,000-plus churches that worked with CFAN to host the Lagos crusade last fall.”
Those who preach must surely preach to the whole person. Those who care must care for the whole person. Those who love must love as Jesus loved. With privilege comes responsibility. With the greatest privilege comes the greatest responsibility. Preaching and pastoral care cannot be divorced without serious damage to both. What God has joined let no-one separate.
Editors: Sinclair B Freguson and David F Wright, New Dictionary Of Theology, (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1988)
Editors: Joel B Green and Scot McKnight, Dictionary Of Jesus And The Gospels, (Leicester, Inter-Varisity Press, 1992)
Corrie Cutrer, ‘Come and Receive Your Miracle’, Christianity Today Online on the Internet at: http://ChristianityToday.com
P T Forsyth, Positive Preaching And The Modern Mind, (Carlisle, Paternoster Publishing, 1998)
Eddie Gibbs, Church Next, (Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 2000)
Dr John Goldingay, ‘The Spirituality Of Preaching’, The Expository Times, Vol 98, No. 7, April 1987
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching And Preachers, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1998)
Bruce Milne, Know The Truth, (Leicester, Inter-Varsity Press, 1982)
S Pattison, A Critique Of Pastoral Care, (London, SCM, 1988)
Derek Prime, Pastors And Teachers, (Surrey, Highland Books, 1989)
John Stott, I Believe In Preaching, (London, Hodder & Stoughton, 1982)
Derek J Tidball, Skilful Shepherds, (Leicester, Apollos, 1997)
Rob Warner, 21st-Century Church, (Revised & Expanded Edition), Eastbourne, Kingsway Publications, 1999