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Soul Doctors

I am troubled by what I think is a wrong pastoral focus. There seems to be an attitude that as long as people attend all the events that a church runs and they grow in their knowledge of the Bible and theology generally, that all should be well. I am familiar with this because that is how I used to think.

Churches used to refer to their ministry staff as ministers. These days it’s more common to think of ministers as politicians who’ve been given the responsibility of a particular portfolio - Minister for Education, for Police, for Health and so forth. Changing titles from minister to pastor is fine, as long as we don’t lose sight of the function a pastor has as a minister of the Gospel. In fact, Scripture says ministering the Gospel to one another is something that all Christians should be doing (Hebrews 10: 24-25), and pastors should be equipping their people to do this (Ephesians 4: 12).

I recall a story from David Cook, former Principal of the Sydney Missionary Bible College, where he spoke of parking in the doctors’ car park when doing hospital visits. If ever anyone questioned his practice (which they didn’t) he had a rehearsed response that would inform them that he was a doctor of peoples’ souls.

The Bible uses a few different terms to refer to the inner you - words such as soul, heart, spirit… Jesus told Nicodemus that without a work of the Holy Spirit on a person’s heart it remains spiritually dead (John 3: 3 - 8). That’s the difference between someone who is a Christian and someone who is not - their heart, soul, spirit has been regenerated, made alive - a gracious work of God’s Holy Spirit. A regenerated soul can understand Gospel truth and believe in the person and work of Jesus. A regenerated soul is where the Holy Spirit resides and does His work of empowering a person to live as a slave to righteousness.

The Apostle Paul says a person with a regenerated heart can now have a renewed mind and therefore can be totally transformed as a person into the image and likeness of the Saviour, Jesus (Romans 12: 2).

That’s the goal - transformation. A transformation that comes about as Gospel truths are applied to our souls, allowing us to think differently and act differently.

As ministers of the Gospel, this is what we should be striving to see in people. And to do this, we need to minister the Gospel to people’s hearts (Matthew 12: 35). This takes more than sharing knowledge in a weekly bible study or class. It means getting alongside people and encouraging, training, rebuking, showing and exhorting them toward this Gospel empowered transformation. At Disciples Church Springfield, we’ve found this happens most productively in intentional one-to-one discipleship.

All this effects how we evaluate maturity. Pastor David Cunningham enlightened me on this (check out his sermon here). If we consider someone is a mature Christian because they come to every church event and they have heaps of bible knowledge, then we’ve missed the mark. These things are good, but real maturity comes from a life lived seeing the transformative effects of the Gospel taking place and the fruit of this transformation (Galatians 5: 22-23) on display for all to see. We do people a gross disservice when we cultivate a culture in our churches where the thing we applaud the most is event attendance. It breeds complacent, shallow Christianity, and our churches suffer as a result.

This is why I am troubled. In so many ways, pastors have become event managers and not soul doctors. And many Christians do not live in the power of the Holy Spirit, instead they resort often to old sinful nature habits (Romans 8: 12-14) and console themselves with the thought that God’s grace and forgiveness makes everything all right in the end.

Event management is easier than the hard slog of Gospel ministry, which is why this is a hard rut to get out of. However, the outcomes are wonderfully worth it. My prayer for Disciples Church is that we will establish a culture where we are ministering the Gospel to one another’s souls in the day to day of every week, and as we apply ourselves faithfully to this task, we will see people not only brought to a saving knowledge of Christ, but totally transformed to reflect the new identity they have in Christ.

Give God the glory,

Greg Gardiner.