Throughout our "One Another" sermon series, we put forward the vision "That we would deepen the culture of care among Oak Hill members by devoting ourselves to the "one another" practices of scripture." We emphasized that "who we are" (members one of another) drives "what we do" (we commit, we counsel, and we care). But the scriptures do not just tell us who we are and what we do. They also give us the context in which to do it, and that context is the local church.
Various parts comprise the local church, and each has differing levels of responsibility and authority as they direct the church in the "one another" commands. Elders have the most responsibility as they are charged to keep watch over the church members' souls and give an account before God (see Heb. 13:17), and are especially attentive to oversee the "counsel" (sound words) shared by members of the church. Likewise, deacons coordinate fulfilling many of the "care" needs of the church. All members are responsible to obey the "one another" commands under the direction of these leaders.
Together, these various members create a culture of care. Each member is surrounded by and surrounds others with "layers of care" that help to ensure no one falls through the cracks. At Oak Hill, it looks like this:
The layer of care closest to each member is the people in their "mutual ministry" times during our Gospel Community gatherings. These are the men or women with whom they can share their deepest burdens. As you consider, "with whom should I try to be most intentional to practice these commands," think about this group. As you experience life's sins, sufferings, and sanctification, these people are there to walk with you.
The Gospel Community leaders (men and women) are the next layer of care. They are not called to be the only ones providing care, but rather they should know what is going on among the members of their gospel community, and should help to facilitate care between the members.
The Gospel Community leaders are supported by a GC Coach. They have the freedom to share the particular challenges that members of the group are facing for the sake of better shepherding and coordination. If a person enters an Intensive Soul Care process (a form of structured biblical counsel), the Soul Care Lead might also be consulted. All of this happens with discretion (see below) and for the benefit of the individual members being served.
The GC Coach is then supported by the whole elder team, who, as mentioned earlier, are ultimately responsible to shepherd the souls of the whole church family. They do this not by taking all the counsel and care upon themselves, but by equipping the saints and distributing ministry and care among the body. In this way, they push responsibility for "one another ministry" down to the members of each Gospel Community, supporting them with counsel each step of the way.
Now, whenever we are talking about the real stuff in real people's lives, we must be clear about what we mean by "communicating with discretion" and "shepherding with care." Much damage occurs when gossip and slander masquerade as prayer requests and support. Here are some guidelines we consider for each:
Guidelines for Communicating with Discretion:
Saturated in Love - Communication must be for the member's best interest, avoiding gossip and slander.
Motivated in Wisdom - Communication must be for the sake of acquiring biblical wisdom so that the body can best provide spiritual and practical care.
Limited in Scope - Communication must be limited to those with assigned spiritual oversight who should be updated only with the necessary information for spiritual and practical care purposes (see "Layers of Care" chart)
Disclosed in Trust - Communication must be with the informed consent of the member. If resisted, the member should be encouraged to self-disclose in a given amount of time. If the communication involves an issue of unrepentance or harm to a person, consent to share with necessary authorities is not required. Members should assume shepherding communication is taking place up and down layers of care.
Covered in Prayer - Every person in each care layer must be committed to praying for the known needs of the members in their sphere of responsibility.
Guidelines for Supporting with counsel:
Push Down Responsibility - The primary support for the individual is found in the mutual ministry and greater Gospel Community, while each person must take responsibility to "work out [their] own salvation... for it is God who works in [them] both to will and to work" (see Phil. 2:12-13). The further removed in layers, the more counsel-oriented the input must be.
Avoid Skipping Layers of Care - Jumping over the Gospel Community leader and Gospel Community members hurts the opportunity for the body to care for one another.
Ensure Consistency in Counsel - The counsel we give should be shared between all parties involved in the shepherding process so that there is no contradiction or confusion.
Tether Counsel to the Scriptures - The Word of God applied by the Spirit of God centered on the Gospel of God is our only power for change. We are not dealing in earthly advice but in eternal truth.
Orient our Perspective to God - Continually ask, "Where is God in all of this? How is he leading? How are you relating to him?" He alone is the worker of change.
How are you experiencing these layers of care in our church? How are you participating in the care of others in your Gospel Community? Following this pattern and these guidelines will help us make sure Oak Hill has a culture of care that is committed, communicative, and caring.