By Ps Lee Kok Wah
The Apostle John’s logic in 1 John 4:7-12 is simple. Let us love one another because love comes from God. Children resemble their parents. As God is love, everyone who loves with God’s love is a child of God. Whoever does not love with God’s love has does not know God and does not have a relationship with God. So, dear friends, since God so loved us, let us walk the “love one another” talk.
Every person has needs (defined in its broadest sense). Pastoral care in the local church, in its most basic form, is a Christian reaching out with practical help, encouragement and support, to another at a time of need. This is putting 1 John 4:7-12 into practice.
We need to connect before we are able to care because pastoral care is relational. We connect at four main physical platforms during normal times. Firstly, at big group gatherings such as weekly worship services, church-wide seminars & church camps. Secondly, at mid-sized group gatherings such as ministry-specific talks & retreats. Thirdly, at small group meetings such as CARE Groups (CGs) and Discipleship Groups (DGs). Fourthly, at one-to-one or one-to-two meetings for Bible reading, prayer, visitation and meals. Owning to general busyness and the emphasis on efficiency, there has been a preference to rely on big group physical meetings to achieve broad connection, whether perceived or real.
In our church, we offer care at three levels. At the most basic level, we have general or mutual care through individuals and small groups. Next, specific or crisis care is given through pastoral staff and volunteers who are equipped, affirmed and mobilized by the church. When a situation is very complicated, the person or persons involved may be referred to professional care and counselling provided by specially trained professional counsellors and external agencies.
Now some eighteen months into the pandemic, we have observed an increased disconnection, detachment and distraction from our church life due to many factors, including the following:
Restrictions in size, frequency and duration of physical meetings.
Prohibition of activities such as singing, intermingling, eating, drinking, lingering at the CBC premises etc.
Increased concerns over health and safety.
Increased concerns about the economy and job loss.
Increased lethargy and personal inertia.
Distractions by the benefits of communication technology that has created a digital church and, at the same time, has diminished the felt need of some for physical meeting in church.
Owing to these factors, we need to connect and provide mutual care through CGs and DGs instead of through mid-sized or big groups. Our pastoral staff, including CG Overseers (CGOs), endeavour to provide specific care for all worshippers instead of only for CG members. Regular worshippers who are currently unable to commit themselves to a CG are still invited to associate with a CG for connection and care. Those who accept this invitation are known as CG Associates. CGOs will explain to their CG Leaders the scope of this initiative and equip them accordingly.
Most of us may not argue with the reasoning of Apostle John. Since God, our Heavenly Father, is love and we are born of God through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we ought to love one another. However, some of us feel constrained by an assumption of scarcity. We have been influenced by a “scarcity mentality” so much so that we have come to believe there is always a scarcity, not only of commodity but also of compassion. We have allowed ourselves to adopt the view that there is a constant scarcity of contact, of concern, of affirmation, of love. Perhaps we have experienced this scarcity in a faceless crowd. We are then tempted to withhold showing care and concern except to a select few. The Christian perspective of love is not one of scarcity but one of abundance. God is love. The love that comes from God is unlimited and He wants to love others through us. You and I can allow God to love others through us simply by extending mutual care to one another. Caring for one another in the local church is not a key performance index for a few but the evidence of a real relationship with God seen in all who are His children.