Steve Casey is the pastor of Speke Baptist Church in Liverpool, England. Early on in ministry he was looking for training to help him lead people into a deeper relationship with Christ. It was then that he stumbled upon CCEF’s course, Dynamics of Biblical Change. In 2008 he began taking our online classes. Last year he joined us in Glenside for a pastoral internship with our senior faculty. Here Steve shares the ways he has grown in his understanding and practice of pastoral care.
Early on in ministry I found that I was preaching a gospel that said, “Jesus is incredibly gracious, he will forgive your sins, he is worthy as Lord of all our adoration, now get on and do it.” Generally speaking, my sermons left people feeling rather hopeless—the Christian life was just too hard to live. I was struggling to articulate hope in Christ. And I didn’t see people responding spiritually.
God used several experiences to reveal that my approach to pastoral care was lacking. One telling experience was when I met with a friend who wanted help. He shared about all the difficulties in his day-to-day life. He just “couldn’t get on with it anymore.” He wasn’t happy, he didn’t know how he was going to pay all his bills, and his kids wouldn’t listen to anything he said, to the point that his home felt like a war-zone. And I thought to myself, “I’m a pastor and this is my territory. I’m supposed to have something intelligent to say.” So I racked my brains and tried to come up with my very best words of pastoral care. And basically I said, “What you really need is for me to give you some good communication techniques. And then you need to come around to my house with your family and watch how I set boundaries with my children. And when we’ve finished with that I will sit down with you and you can watch how I write up a budget.” In response to my plan, he physically sunk into his chair.
At the time, I knew why he sank into his chair, but I couldn’t quite put it into words. I walked away from that conversation saying to myself, “What did I just do? Have I just said to my friend that the best hope for him would be to learn some new skills, pull up his socks, and become a bit more like me? I am supposed to be leading people to trust in and follow Jesus, but what just happened here?”
My ministry was profoundly impacted after taking Dynamics of Biblical Change. What I encountered in that class was a strong framework of grace and an awareness of living in the reality of the finished work of Jesus. This impacted many aspects of my ministry.
It impacted my sermons. I moved from a focus on dissecting worldviews and critiquing presuppositions to realizing that there were people in the room who needed hope. I had thought that the way to help was to teach people to read their Bible, pray every day, and understand why their faith was credible. I came to realize that people have strong allegiances to things other than God, they have deep hurts, and they have Christ who comes to meet them in the midst of those things. I was preaching more grace and people were responding.
The class also led me to totally rethink my church’s approach to ministry. Five years ago we were predominantly program based. We still have programs, but now we are more focused on giving people resources that help them to have deeper relationships with others within the church community. For example, when we have our mid-week groups we always start with, “Tell me what the Lord has been doing in your life this week.” This may seem obvious, but this practice cultivates interpersonal connections and creates the expectation that the Lord is always doing something fresh in his grace and his mercy.
Additionally, we have re-modeled our fellowship groups so that the elders meet regularly to pray and think about the progress of the groups, and each elder is responsible to care for one of the groups. This approach reflects the reality that one person is not responsible for the discipleship of the whole church. Similarly, to become a member in our church you must meet with a “membership buddy” to talk about what you are learning in our membership class and to pray through it together. This reinforces the importance of personal discipleship, as well as the importance of developing relationships in the church.
In these ways and more, my CCEF training has helped me to think creatively about what wise ministry can look like where I serve. I encourage other pastors to consider taking one of their classes to see how God might transform their ministry.