Individual Care is Critical to Church Effectiveness (Part 1 of 2)
What traits mark a missionally effective church? In today’s blog post we are going to take a closer look at caring about individuals. It is part of the church’s version of loving thy neighbor, but is an area that is often too easily sacrificed.
Many churches today struggle with community. Oh, they reach the outward community with the gospel; they demonstrate care and concern for their community’s well being. The problem is internal. The deep sense of community bound by joyful fellowship in common mission can easily be lost..
Large programs, mega gatherings of people, and impersonal leadership styles are increasingly unwelcomed. Combine this with the church’s embrace of technology, which I advocate, and it further accentuates disconnection. It is impersonal. It is inauthentic. It is uninspiring.
Interestingly, millennials are the canary in the mine telling us that our impersonal reliance upon technological shortcuts, in both work and personal interactions, has its drawbacks.
They long for greater connection and purpose. A fundamental aspect to the imago Dei in each person is the inter-relatedness of the Trinity. The next generation has noticed what many of us have not seen creep up all around us as technological advances have claimed more and more of our attention.
Roman Catholic social teaching has long benefited from the idea of subsidiarity. This organizing principle maintains that the best decisions are often made by the people closest to the situation. Inherent in this principle is a concern for proximity and empowerment of the individual. This means the human-centric church is best suited to succeed in a cold and increasingly noisy world, which means the Christ-centered church needs the opposite. We need proximity to one another, to one another’s experience of the Holy Spirit, to one another’s joys and sorrows, and to the trial and error experience of discipleship. Jesus used proximity, and eleven disciples went on to reach the billion plus Christ-followers on the planet today.
Large settings, especially megachurch worship services, may excite the senses and provide an emotional release. Yet, they fail in offering opportunities to witness personal moments of intimacy with the Holy Spirit in which confession, repentance, or mercy flow freely. These moments are paramount in the journey of discipleship, and churches today rarely facilitate such depths of discipleship formation.
Subsidiarity also emphasizes an empowerment of the individual. Again, millennials, as New Copernicans author John Seel suggests, are leading the way for America in this. Not to be ridiculed or demeaned, the cry for meaning and fulfillment is work to be lauded. That intersection of labor, meaning, and discipleship is where a missional-tinged vocational glory emerges in a Christ-follower and within a fellowship of believers. This is the witness of Christ within and beyond his bride who renews our walk and restores an authentic legitimacy in the public square.
The truly flourishing church of tomorrow will invest in individuals and their discipleship. This is not to say the attention shift to individuals is at the expense of serving the community. Rather missionally effective churches must renew and invigorate personal engagement and discipleship with the end game being contextual application of the gospel in the community.
Dr. Case Thorp leads The Collaborative for Cultural and Economic Renewal, and is the Senior Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.