A look at the need
Several years ago, I remember a couple in the church we had attended that shocked the congregation by getting a divorce. They had been married almost twenty years, had five children, were active in attending all the church’s services on Sunday, going to Wednesday night Bible study, active in ministries, etc. By all accounts, everyone at church thought they were doing fine. Then out of nowhere, they got a nasty divorce where the wife took off and left the family and now has very little involvement even in the lives of her children. Needless to say, no one in that family is a part of that church any longer.
This is only one of multiple stories I could share of people who looked healthy externally when they showed up for church but eventually left their churches. They were besieged with various major spiritual problems that no one else in the church had a clue about. These issues have varied widely to areas such as adultery, children announcing to their family that they are gay, children running away from home, struggles with bitterness and anger, addictions such as alcohol and pornography, etc. Not limiting it to spiritual problems alone, I have also witnessed families struggling with layoffs, relocation, major health issues, vehicle issues, etc. These types of problems have caused enormous stress on families which result in spiritual strain. Many of these families were left to face these crises alone while the church found out too late about their burdens that needed bearing.
To be fair, I have seen individual members and whole congregations do an admirable job at stepping up to the plate to help those who are struggling either spiritually or physically and meeting these challenges as they come. Yet in each of these scenarios, instead of preventive discipleship, I have observed local churches take a reactionary approach to dealing with problems and issues that plague their congregations, acting only after a major calamity or church upheaval. For an example, why is it that churches that are having trouble meeting budget seem to be keenly interested in outreach and in the principle of financial stewardship? The reality of ministry is that the pastoral staff often has too little time to prevent, or shepherd through, every difficulty each person in their congregation faces. Often, pastors see the overwhelming burdens of their people (and I used to be one who thought this way) and think that the missing ingredient to these ministry challenges is the implementation of a new program or ministry to meet that need. I would argue that this proposed resolution is not adequate to meeting the problem.