A recent conversation around a cafe table set me thinking. Someone said, “There’s a real lack of pastoral care in this church. If it wasn’t for such-and-such-a-friend I would have left the church by now.” And I found myself thinking, “How is that a complaint about lack of pastoral care? It sounds great to me, as if the members of the body are functioning just as they’re meant to do.”
In Hebrews 12.15 it says “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God.” The Greek word translated “See to it” is the word έπισκοπουντες (episkopountes). Literally it means to have oversight of, or care for, something or someone. This verb derives from the noun έπισκοπος (episkopos) which is usually translated in our English Bibles as either overseer or bishop. In other words the writer to the Hebrews (who was it? I like the theory that suggests Priscilla as the author!) is saying oversee each other, look out for one another, exercise the care of a bishop over the flock, to ensure that nobody misses the grace that God has for them.
The interesting thing to note is that this command (because that’s what it is) doesn’t occur in one of the pastoral epistles. This is not Paul writing to a young pastor encouraging him on how to lead the church. This is written to the ordinary man and woman in the pew. Look, says the Holy Spirit via whoever this author is, all of you should be acting like bishops. A bishop carries as a symbol of his office a shepherd’s crook. This is an implement which can assist in crossing rugged or treacherous terrain in search of the lost sheep, and it can be used to reach into inaccessible places to hook the lamb out of peril and back into safety. That, says the writer to the Hebrews, is the kind of ministry that all of you should be exercising in respect of each other.
So when someone says, “If it wasn’t for you I would have left the church”, that isn’t an indictment of the lack of pastoral care. It’s a healthy sign that someone in the congregation understands that he stands in the role of bishop to his fellow members, and has a role in keeping them in the path God has for them, guarding them from straying into a place where they miss out on all God wants to give them. It’s not something that is supposed to be left to the pastor, it’s a normal part of our role as members of the church of Jesus Christ. Did you know you were a bishop? Who are you overseeing? As long as we’re all functioning as we should and looking out for each other, no one will slip through the “pastoral care” net and the body of Christ will be in a healthy state!