The responsibilities we share as members of the Kingdom of God can be listed under three heads: i] our personal walk with Christ, ii] the love of the brotherhood, iii] and our care toward broken humanity. Our responsibilities toward broken humanity can be further divided under two headings: First, we have the task of making Christ known to the "ends of the earth". This we call evangelism. Second, we are to "do good to all men". This we call social concern. Our care toward unbelievers images the love of God and serves to proclaim the gospel in sign rather than words. Yet the action of doing good should have no ulterior motive other than goodness. We are to image our creator who makes the rain to fall on the good and the wicked alike, Matt.5:45. We are to especially love the brotherhood, Jn.13:35, 17:23, but we must also do good to all, 1Pet.2:17.
Social concern is the business of caring. The term is commonly used to describe activities which are designed to help needy persons. In the broadest sense it is the provision of a ministry which caters for emotional, spiritual and, if necessary, physical needs.
Every Christian should prayerfully consider how God wants them to care for broken humanity, both believers and unbelievers, because:
a) Christ commands it. Jesus said, "Love one another", Mk.12:29-31. Peter reminds us to "do good to all", 1Pet.2:17. Jesus said, "If you love me you will obey my commandments", Jn.14:15.
b) Christ's love demands it. Paul could say, "The love of Christ compels us, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised". 2Cor.5:14,15.
We are in contact with people every day with needs like our own. They may be members of our family, friends, neighbours, work associates or just people we meet. Their needs may well be left unmet if we are insensitive or uncaring.
Individualism and self-centerdness are destructive influences and can never bring lasting peace and satisfaction. Remember Jesus' warning, "For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospels will save it. For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life?" Mark 8:35-37.
Personal needs can be divided into two basic categories: normal and special needs:
i] Normal needs. Every person looks for acceptance, love and friendship. Marion Jacobsen writes, "Wanting acceptance and friends isn't only normal, its important. It is in such relationships that we grow as persons."
ii] Special needs. Life contains normal and abnormal pressures for everyone. We all face crucial decisions, temptations, criticisms, illness, bereavment, rebellion of children, unemployment, and financial problems etc. In our highly individualistic society individuals and families are left to make out as best they can.
Social work is often looked on as a highly specialized activity. It is wrongly thought that people without qualifications ought not engage in it. Obviously there are individuals who need special help. Yet under normal circumstances training is not as important as a genuine desire to "love as Christ has loved you", Jn.13:34,35, and to "encourage one another", Heb.10:24,25. The following are avenues through which as individuals or in partnership with our church fellowship, we can offer social concern.
i] Contact Church services
Chatting to people before and after services.
Welcoming the stranger and newcomer.
Introducing the visitor and newcomer to your circle of church friends.
Inviting the newcomer to your small group.
ii] Hospitality. Inviting folk around for a meal, or an evening, or morning or afternoon tea. Offering a meal or even accommodation to someone who will not be able to repay your kindness.
Following up a newcomer.
Calling on existing members whether active or fringe members.
Visiting someone in hospital or in an institution or who is shut-in.
Taking a cassette of the weekly church service to a shut-in.
iv] Practical help.
Helping a convalescing mother, or single parent with the children.
Looking after the children for a day.
Preparing a meal for a sick or needy person.
Doing an odd job, transportation, financial assistance.
v] Being helpful in times of special need. Giving time and support in times of crisis. For example, illness, bereavment, loss of employment, marriage and family trouble. Referring people to a source of special help. Contacting special help. For example, the clergy, doctor, counsellor and so on.
vi] Writing a letter or phoning someone who would get a real lift from receiving it.
vii] Praying for or with a person. Marion Jacobsen recommends that when you agree to pray for someone tell them you will do so if they promise to let you know your prayers have been answered.
viii] Reading. Reading a book or newspaper to an aged person. Bible study with an interested person, young or old.
ix] Small groups. Special groups can be formed for caring and sharing. A more conscious effort to care for one another can be an ingredient in regular parish bible study and discussion groups. Special caring groups are usually small in size and encourage indepth sharing.
x] Community service. Involvement in a service or welfare organization that is making a worthwhile contribution to the lives of needy persons.
The Christian carer must work out their priorities carefully. Their family must come first. The love of the brotherhood (pastoral care) must take precedence over social concern. It is better to care for a few people in-depth than a larger number superficially. Most of us can only cope with several in-depth caring relationships at a time.
Experience suggests that a ministry of care is most effective when it is undertaken by a team or group supported by the parish leadership.
i] Church welcoming team. This system works well as a means of contacting the person who just pops along to church out of the blue. There is usually a reason for such a visit - trouble, spiritual stirring, etc. Members of a welcome team, who are sensitive to people's feelings, can minister very effectively in this situation.
ii] Organized visitation. It's not easy knocking on doors, but given the right back-up (advertising, parish support) a valid reason (a Parish care ministry) and sound training, then opportunities for care abound.
iii] Supportive fellowships. Small caring groups for church members and contacts provide a tremendous means of caring for others.
iv] Welfare team. A small church team of "carers" with back-up supplies of food, clothing and professional help, can be a very practical means of meeting social needs within the community.
Marion Jacobsen makes the observation that "In Christ, God offers to meet man's most desperate needs - forgiveness of sin, escape from its fearful penalty, adoption as a child of God, resources adequate for any circumstances life may bring, and the certainty of heaven."
Ideally most of our deep personal needs can be met in marriage, family life and amongst close friends. However, most individuals and families cannot survive without a wider network of supportive people. This is where the local church can fit in.
Ray Smith, in his book "People Caring for People", gives these practical hints for the task of caring. They apply just as well for pastoral care within the Christian fellowship as they do for social care within relationships beyond the church.
i] Be friendly and outgoing. Be warm and open to people. Do not put a protective hedge around yourself. Reach out to people, do not wait for them to reach out to you.
ii] Be interested in people. Show a genuine interest in the person. The casual "how are you?" is not enough. Be interested enough to want to know more about the other person. Show an interest in their family, work and activities.
iii] Be courageous but tactful. Try to be aware of a person's personality situation and feelings. Some people find close relationships and personal conversation a little hard to handle. Do not force things.
iv] Be patient. Let a relationship grow naturally. It will grow if you work at it over a period of time. Contact, exchanging visits, doing things together and sharing will assist.
v] Be accepting. People who are a problem to us are difficult to accept. Someone who votes for a different political party. A man or woman having difficulty with their marriage partner. A parent with a problem daughter
vi] Be slow to take offence. Ask God to give you grace to accept a person who rejects or hurts you, even when they haven't asked for forgiveness. A hurting person is often hurtful.
vii] Be encouraging. Every person feels a need for encouragement and enjoys being with those who give it. How do you respond when someone encourages you? What about when someone criticizes you? "Use only helpful words, the kind that build you up and provide what is needed", Eph.4:29.
Caring, particularly within the Christian fellowship, serves as a powerful witness to the reality of the gospel. It is, in a sense, a modern day sign. Determine to disadvantage yourself in a particular act of love.