Discipleship and Soul-Care

The calling or Rhythm of Cultivating is, of course, as old as creation.

In Genesis 2:15 we see that God placed Adam in the Garden to cultivate it.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

His was to tend, care, and nurture the soil in which God had placed him.  Adam and Eve are the primary caretakers of God’s good creation.

They are, in essence, the first to care over the soil on which humanity was placed.

“Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’”

In its best sense, to cultivate means to literally create or build Culture, and rightly so.  The original calling to making culture is one our Jewish brothers and sisters have always taken seriously in this world!

Culture-making Begins with Soul-Care

Over time, however – particularly within the Evangelical church, the focus on building strong cultures has shifted to winning souls for Christ.  This focus no doubt comes from a desire to spread the Good News of Christ far and wide.

I wonder, however, if the focus has been misplaced.  The focus is, at the very least, a misunderstanding of our primary calling and a misapplication of the promise of the Gospel.

The Rhythm of Cultivating that I’ve discovered is neither of these that I just mentioned.

I am, instead, suggesting that the Rhythm of Cultivating is how we actually go about doing the ministry of Discipleship and Soul-care.  As we practice this Rhythm of Cultivation, then culture-making becomes the outcome of a well-loved soul, rather than the focus of a worn-out disciple!

I love how beautifully Ruth Barton pictures this reality when she says,

“There is something about the process of having our emptiness filled in solitude that eventually enables us to engage with those around us on the basis of fullness rather than need. If we relax and trust God’s initiative in the spiritual process, eventually something new begins to shimmer around the edges of our lives and relationships.”

In future posts, I will explore three primary passages to build my case.  They are:

  • Genesis 1:26 – 31
  • Matthew 22:34 – 40
  • Matthew 28:16 – 20

In the next few posts, we will take a look at the other four Rhythms and Pillars of Transforming Pastoral Ministry!

Then we will dive into the specifics of each area!

Transforming Pastoral Ministry and Leadership, 5: Soul-Care is The Mission

This past Sunday I experienced a moment that reinforced they why, how, and what behind our mission and vision at Pillar.

The moment came through Tom Rhodes, a personal friend who is also an active member of the Pillar family.

Tom has been a friend of mine for nearly twenty years.

Eight years ago, when we launched Pillar, I let Tom know what I was up to and invited him and his family to join us.

While Tom and Sophie didn’t join us when we launched, over time they sensed a stirring in their soul that eventually led them to become a part of our Pillar family.

When they first showed up, they looked a lot like that worn-out disciple to whom I made reference in my last post.

I don’t remember my exact conversation with Tom and Sophie during the days they first chose to attend Pillar.

Jesus Said it First: “Come Away With Me”

It’s likely that I told them the same thing I tell just about everyone who shows up at Pillar:

“You are likely here to rest for a while. So, take some time and rest.  Let your soul be renewed, then we can look at the ways in which you might become more involved in the ministry.”

This is tough for most people because we are hardwired and socialized to “Be-better, Try-harder, and Do-More.”

Yet, the more I reflect on the Pillars and Rhythms of Pastoral Ministry and Leadership, the more I realize that the true mission of the church is soul-care and discipleship.  The mission of discipleship and soul-care is what it means to cultivate. 

So, before we ask people to “get out there and win the world for Christ” (and, actually, we never ask that), we encourage them to sit still and let the chaotic world of their soul be renewed by and loved on through Christ.

We’ve learned something important, that’s often overlooked or ignored:

As our soul learns to rest in Him, then our heart begins to hear from Him.

It’s in these moments of resting in Him and hearing from Him when we are then called to new purposes. Purposes which He has already orchestrated on our behalf.  Purposes which bring His good to the world in ways our frenetic be-better, try-harder, do-more efforts never would.

A Ministry-Moment That Illustrates Our Missional Focus

This past Sunday, as we gathered for worship, I was encouraged to see how the missional emphasis on spiritual formation has and is shaping us in ways that we are now reaching the community through an entirely different set of rhythms.

Tom now serves in a few areas of our ministry at Pillar.  One of those areas is as one of the facilitators of our Missions Team.  We have a great team.  So much so, that I typically refer any and all requests for funding, support, prayer, etc., directly to them.

One area in which the Missions Team is encouraging the church to concert our efforts is in relationship to the local elementary school where we gather for worship week-in and week-out.

This past Sunday, as Tom was announcing the multitude of ways the team is inviting us to partner with the school, he make a remarkable confession.  It’s one that most of our folks quite likely missed.

He began by saying something like the following:

“The mission’s team has been pretty quiet for nearly nine months now.  And, while that may seem unusual, for us it’s been important.  You see, Pillar is about being before doing. So, the team has been in a season of listening to each other and the Lord.  Just trying to “be” before Him.  At Pillar we believe that our “doing” (efforts, activities, etc.) actually flows from our “being” and not the other way around.”

A Season of Contemplation Can Lead to a Lifetime of Mission

Tom then when on to describe how this season (which we will hear more about next month when I turn the service over to the team for a Sunday) has led them to engage in a more thoughtful and intentional way with the local principal.  As they have, three or four key areas of ‘mission’ have poured forth in which they are now inviting us – as a congregation – to participate.

I thought to myself, “Thank you, Lord!”

Indeed, this illustration wonderfully portrays the power of Soul-Care and Discipleship as the Mission which ministers and other servants must intentionally cultivate in the life of a local congregation.

Of course, this slow way of the Kingdom is not for everyone.  Many of our “doers” are quickly and easily frustrated by how we go about ministry.  Thankfully, some have stayed with us and found a home in our midst. 

Others, however, have not. 

They’ve left in favor of the be-better, try-harder, do-more Gospel.

I’ve had to learn to be okay with that as a Pastor.  I’ve learned that it’s not a reflection on their love for us nor should it impact our/my love for them.

Yet, at the end of the day, moments like the one I experienced and enjoyed Sunday have become priceless to me.  They are moments of great thanksgiving to the Lord.  They are moments when I am reminded again that a central truth that frames the way I go about ministry is one we could all rely on in this life.

It’s the truth that a well-loved disciple is a disciple who will love well

Indeed, the Rhythm of Cultivating is how we actually go about doing the ministry of Discipleship and Soul-care.  As we practice this Rhythm of Cultivation, then culture making becomes the outcome of a well-loved soul, rather than the focus of a worn-out disciple!

My dear friends, Tom and Sophie came to us worn-down by be-better, do-more, try-harder ministry machine.  While worshiping and serving in our midst, they have been (and are being) renewed. On Sunday his words and his family’s presence with us, reminded me that how we do what we do is vital in our own lives and for the sake of others!