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What We Mean When We Say “Care”

The following article was released as a part of a series of “White Papers” that were given during the 2016 Sojourn Leader Summit in Louisville, KY. This particular piece, written by Dave Harvey, outlines what the Sojourn Network value of ‘care’ means (and doesn’t mean!) for the network pastors.
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“Soul-care” is a signature value of Sojourn Network. Such a claim is not a subtle display of self-satisfaction, nor a grab to appear relevant by using trendy, contemplative, self-descriptions. It is, rather, a thing of precious beauty that God implanted in our genetics from the moment of the network’s conception. When the time came to define what it means for us to be a church-planting network, the practice of “care” was included not only because it was biblical, but because it was self-attesting(1). Soul-care is not a value conveniently added to our vision; it’s a grace providentially deposited in our very DNA.

God installed it, we need it, and our pastors cherish it.

But “care” is complicated. It’s a word freighted with expectation. We can define care in whatever way we please, expecting much more than we may be willing to supply. It’s also easy to over-spiritualize the experience of care, believing that organic connections rule out the need for organization or the intentional use of resources. Where care is not well-defined and watchfully-tended, care becomes porous – quickly draining resources that should go elsewhere.

Finally, care is also inconsistently applied. Expertise, available time, and awareness rarely align perfectly with needs. Like a hungry appetite, care satisfies…that is, until time passes and next pang of need lands in the life of a leader.

On the menu of possible network services, care tends to be the item with no price. The value is assumed, so the cost is unstated.

This paper is our attempt to define what we mean by care; to understand its value and the price we pay to enjoy it. Specifically, we want to answer questions about what Sojourn Network means by saying we are called to “supplement the care of pastors.” May God use it to deepen our joy in what we drink together and inspire us to rise expectantly, fueled with faith for the mission before us.


But First, Mission Matters

Pastors who want to plant churches are perceptive, especially if it threatens to slow forward progress. They know if left undefined, the value of care can ravenously consume a ministry’s mission impulse. An exaggerated focus on care could be a cozy sterility – a group that is ecstatic over their care and camaraderie but unable to reproduce churches.

That is not who we are.

Sojourn Network wants to spread the fame of Jesus Christ through planting churches. We want to see churches planted each year through our partnership together. Lots and lots of churches. This commitment runs so deep that a growing percentage of our time and budget is dedicated to identifying, assessing, funding and coaching church planters. We are humbled, not to mention appropriately sobered, that most network churches provide 5% of their annual budget to Sojourn Network with the express desire of multiplying churches. Each major expenditure, therefore, is examined by how it may or may not contribute towards that essential end.


Mission Includes Care

Ministries measure what they value. Since we want to plant churches, we consistently examine each phase of this process to measure how we are doing. But should our mission be understood only through planting churches? The answer is an unequivocal “No.” Such metrics would be astonishingly short-sighted since, for success to be biblical, it can’t be defined merely by being sent, starting ministries, or immediate impact (Matthew 28:16-20). To be truly biblical, mission must be measured by the emergence of health, the presence of fruit, and the ingredients to sustain mission effectiveness for the long term. We’re talking durable, multi-generational sustainability (2 Timothy 2:19).

Mission impact should certainly be measured annually with short-term results being celebrated, or where necessary, redressed. But for a gospel ministry to be truly biblical, we must occupy ourselves not merely with the front end activity of planting churches but with the holistic call to help them finish well. We must possess the foresight to ask, “How can we thrive over the next 30 years, and what should the fruit of our resources and efforts produce?”

Our goal is not simply a strong start. Our goal is to build with resilience, so that we may transfer this gospel work over to the next generation (2 Timothy 2:2).

This is why Sojourn Network seeks to not only plant churches, but to plant churches that last. This means mission metrics can never be reduced simply to stats on assessments, church starts, or planters funded. This is not to suggest these measures are irrelevant; it’s simply to say that they are insufficient to gauge the full scope of our mission output. For Sojourn Network, mission is a holistic commitment that includes all of the resources dedicated to planting churches and helping pastors to persevere in churches that endure.

Helping pastors. Healthy churches. Planting churches that last. Let’s not be naïve about what’s required to satisfy these goals.

By including “helping pastors” that “grow healthy churches” in our mission statement, we have intentionally formalized our commitment to soul-care by embedding it in our mission. For some, this may mean their understanding of “mission” must flex to include resourcing the strengthening and care of leaders. For those straining to adopt a broader vision of mission, they can draw comfort from the reminder that the Great Commission itself defines mission in such a manner(2). Others might suggest that this definition of mission simply brings our model closer to the practice of the New Testament churches and the ministries helping them (3).


Care Steadies the Speed of the Mission

When mission includes care, there are natural implications that must be understood and communicated to the entire organization. First, while the addition of care in a network makes for a superior planting experience, it also slows the speed of growth. Here the metaphor of a governor may be helpful.

A governor is a device that regulates the speed of something. For example, when NASCAR realized that their cars were getting faster and the accidents were becoming more serious, they required engine modifications that regulated the top-end speed of the cars. These modifications served as “governors” on how fast stock cars could go.

To install a governor is to say that speed is not the only value we treasure. A governor means that we are willing to cap the speed to achieve other values that ultimately make our organization better. For NASCAR, going faster was sacrificed so that other values (safety, protection of drivers, competition) could be promoted.

The result? NASCAR became even more successful.

Care is one of those glorious governors that caps the speed of our short term growth to secure the health of our long-term growth. There is leadership, time, and money that must be spent to properly maintain this governor. To provide care, even the kind of carefully con ned care we are advocating below, we will require an infrastructure su cient not only to launch planters but also to help pastors persevere. rough our care, we are saying that we will do everything we can to make sure a church plant not only survives, but thrives as a faithful expression of the gospel.

It takes longer to remain stronger. We get that. But we’re in this for the long haul.


Primary Care is Local

When defining our mission, we say, “Sojourn Network exists to help pastors plant, grow, and multiply healthy churches.” This mission springs from the biblical conviction that God works principally and powerfully through local churches. Our strategy for “helping pastors” can neither displace nor circumvent the local church. For pastors to grow healthy churches, there must be care. For care to be truly effective and durable, it must be local and church-based.

Swelling the staff of the network to meet the care needs of our growing family of churches would be not only excessively expensive, but also ecclesiologically misguided. As a network, we believe that the best way to supply long-term, soul-satisfying, sin-exposing, grace-saturated “care” for our pastors is to help them build pluralities that become strong teams. In one network white paper, we say,

“God loves elders and he wants their souls to be nurtured and tended. So he supplies sufficient grace to convert pluralities into teams. When a team identity begins to form, the care of each member becomes even more important. In a world where almost anything can be professionalized and outsourced, it’s easy for pastors to farm out their care by finding the primary help for their soul outside of the eldership, sometimes even outside of the church. This is not a subtle attack on counseling, coaching, or parachurch ministries….But those services must always supplement the care from the local church, never replace it.” (p. 9 from The Plurality Dashboard)”

These pluralities, and only these pluralities, are in the best position to know the pastor, understand his context and temptations, and best shepherd his soul. The network, then, dedicates our programming, teaching, counseling, and coaching not simply to care for a man but to build effective pluralities that become competent teams. To adapt the old fishing adage: Care for a pastor and he’ll find relief for a day. Help him build a team and he gets care for a lifetime.

For pastors, local church care is primary and network care is supplemental. It’s really that simple.


Network Care = Supplemental

But supplemental care, does not mean random, insignificant or undefined. For the pastor who partners with Sojourn Network, the experience of supplemental care is deeply treasured and represents one of the most satisfying benefits of network involvement. In fact, apart from planting churches and training pastors, it’s one of the essential reasons we exist. So let’s move now to carefully define the contours of how this supplemental care is experienced by the pastors in Sojourn Network.


Care is Vertical

There is a temptation to immediately move soul-care outward to a service we supply or seek from others. The idea is that soul-care is narrowed to a horizontal exchange we have with others. Yes, soul-care is horizontal, but not before it is vertical. True soul-care springs from our relationship with God and flows first and primarily from our fellowship with him. J.I. Packer says, “Fellowship with God, then, is the source from which fellowship among Christians springs; and fellowship with God is the end to which Christian fellowship is a means.”(4)

Care for the soul is something that comes first from God. If we want to enjoy care from others, or effectively provide it to others, we must learn to receive it from God.

Recognizing this will help our churches understand why our emphasis on soul care includes applications of rest, personal devotions, Bible meditation, Sabbath, the ordering of our loves, and more. We’re not closet contemplatives or money-renouncing monastics; we’re just convinced that the care of one’s soul is directly connected to our passion for Jesus and the devotional rhythms of our life. We believe that by tending these things, we are cultivating a network culture of God-extolling, Jesus-loving, Spirit-empowered, soul-care.


Care is Relational

This is the “one-another” point—a truth which may sound familiar but is profoundly consequential. “Relational” is the terrain where words like community, friendship, fellowship, and admonition get traction between network pastors. The locus where pastors drop their guards and become true “partners” in ministry.

When speaking to the Philippians, Paul uses the word κοινωνια for “partnership” (Philippians 1:5). This New Testament Greek word sparkles with rich relational hues. Paul later adds, “Making (his) prayer with joy because of your partnership in the gospel” (Philippians 1:4-5). He then speaks of his affection and heart-connection to his friends, “It is right for me to feel this way about you because I hold you in my heart; I yearn for you all with the affection of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:5-8).

These are Paul’s friends, his mates, the guys he loves, his partners. Their κοινωνια —or shared fellowship —was bound up with knowing each other and being known by each other. As κοινωνια grows rich, friendships grow deep and mutual care breaks the surface on its way to bearing fruit.

In this way, the network operates like the local church. Care nourishes in both entities, not through top-down organized structures, but through catalytic, horizontal relationships. The best care in the network is relational care – the kind that springs from trusted, compassion-filled friendships and flows from one pastor to the other.

When a network embraces the value of supplemental care, friendship-building/deepening becomes an aim of network spending and an important goal for each gathering. This is, in part, why we do annual conferences. This value has also shaped the objectives of our coaching cohorts, where we provide a growing number of network pastors an opportunity for training in the context of relationship with other men.

Stuff happens – care happens! – when two planters or pastors unite over the phone, or maybe at an event, to share their burdens, encourage each other, pray in their sufferings, or just lean back with a decent cigar to celebrate the potency of grace.


Care Means Presence

As I write this I am in a city far from my home. I’m here to visit a network church and to spend time with the church planter. We will share a meal or two, swap updates, discuss his church and think together through some leadership challenges. As a church plant, it’s not an especially large church, and if you were to check the network website, you would find the lead pastor plays no particular role in the network, save that of a treasured member. But I’m here and delighted to be so. And the network pays for it.

Each month, network Strategists(5) make their ways to different network churches. They will conduct seminars, gather with elders, coach leaders, troubleshoot problems, and serve the lead pastor. Many of the expenses incurred for these trips will be covered by the network and are made available to network churches as a privilege of membership. If the strategist has done a decent job, the network pastor and his church will experience the care of the network through the physical presence of the Strategist.

Each spring, we gather the Lead and Campus pastors, along with their wives, for a few days of training and rest. While together, we worship, pray, hear some teaching, share meals, and enjoy open blocks of time to unwind, reflect, and rest. We also provide trained counselors for any couple desiring advice or care. The counselors, the hotel expenses, the registration, and some of the meals are all covered with great enthusiasm by Sojourn Network.

It’s not an exhaustive list, but the examples above illustrate just some of the ways that the network is seeking to supply supplemental care through physical presence. In other words, while we believe care is first local, and supplemental care flows best through the relational connections between network pastors, we still look for additional ways to marshal network resources for our network pastors; that they might know, experience, and be served by our care.


Care means Crisis

Crisis is inevitable. In a broken world where pastors lead fallen people – where pastors are fallen people – it’s unavoidable. When crisis hits, the responsibility to wisely navigate the church through the shoals of danger rests upon the elders. But most elders are trained to deal with routine care, not irregular calamity.

Where does a local church leader go for help when they need immediate counsel and care?

For a Sojourn Network pastor, membership in the network means that you have qualified help at your disposal. If the crisis involves the lead pastor, the elders, other staff members, or some knotty legal liability, care means having a Strategist or network leader available to help interpret the problem and customize an appropriate response. At other times, the network may serve by connecting the local church leadership with the best outside counselors or expertise.

But to truly comprehend how the network cares in crisis, some important clarifications must be made. The network seeks to serve elders in crisis, not displace them. Network representatives will be typically involved on the front end of a crisis, not in the ongoing management of it. If the network’s involvement is effective, the local church leaders should experience a compassionate, faith-filled presence that conveys hope, stirs courage, and helps create a wise plan for progress.


Our Commitment

In a forest of information, it’s sometimes easy to lose the trees. As we conclude, let me isolate some of the individual truths carefully planted within this paper so that we might clearly see and enjoy the true beauty in the forest of care.

– Because pastoral health and enduring churches are an essential part of our mission at Sojourn Network, care must become a strategic part of our methodology. We believe that care can, if led effectively and managed carefully, actually enhance the mission rather than dilute it.

– Because care caps the speed of our short term numerical growth to secure the health of our long term growth, the network will be patient and diligent to create a decentralized infrastructure necessary to launch healthy church planters and help pastors persevere in ministry.

– Because the primary care for a lead pastor and elders rests within their own local church elder teams, one of the most strategic ways Sojourn Network can care for leaders is through deploying resources (staff , strategists, etc.) that help build strong pluralities among local elders.

– Because care is vertical, we want to help our pastors enjoy greater fellowship with God by creating events and resources that provide guidance and direction in rest, personal devotions, Bible meditation, sabbaths, the ordering of our loves, and more.

– Because care is relational, we want to help pastors connect with another through conferences, coaching cohorts, and other communication channels.

– Because care means presence, we want to provide avenues where network pastors can receive face-to-face counsel such as sending staff to network churches, deploying strategists, organizing conferences and retreats, and creating relationally-based cohorts.

– Because local churches experience crisis, we want to provide care through available leaders who can help local elders interpret their crisis and customize an appropriate response. Additionally, we may help connect a local church leader with the best counselors or expertise outside of the network.

Our Confidence

There’s nothing sexy about care.  The mere whisper of the word can incite fears of organizational bloat and undisciplined spending. Also, connecting care to mission, without losing mission, requires vigilant attention from the network board and staff. We know there are easier and flashier ways to build a network, but we remain determined to only plant as quickly as our values allow and to invest wholistically, carefully & supplementally in the care and sustainability of the pastors we serve.

It’s an exciting time to partner with men who share a burning desire to see the name of Jesus exalted through church planting. Our confidence for this mission comes not from our model, our experience, or our strength, but in knowing that Christ has promised he will build his church (Matthew 16:18). Our confidence is grounded in the knowledge that the one who loves us, and redeemed us, is now sending us.

May we go, confident in his grace, aware of his presence, and treasuring the knowledge that as we respond to his call, we go together!

1. “A church-planting network is a group of churches joyfully partnering through pastors to start churches, train leaders, and supplement the care of pas- tors”(emphasis mine). Harvey, “What Does ‘Network’ Mean to Us?” A Sojourn Network paper.
2. We must allow the full scope of the Great Commission’s mandate to inform our approach and understanding of missions. ‘Going’ without ‘making dis- ciples’ is an aborted commission. ‘Baptizing’ without ‘teaching’ is birth without growth. To execute the full commission, we must endeavor to respect and apply each component, as if the harvest depends upon it. If our mission strategy is to relocate to Eritrea to simply preach the gospel, then we are merely ‘going’ and ‘baptizing’. ough well-intentioned, we may have settled for a ‘good commission’ while neglecting the Great One.
3. Paul’s mission is a grouping of specialists identi ed by their gifts, backed up by a set of sponsoring families and communities, with a speci c function and structure. Its purpose is rst the preaching of the gospel and the founding of churches, and then the provision of assistance so that they may reach maturity. While this clearly involves interrelationship with the local communities, Paul’s work is essentially a service organization whose members have per- sonal, not structural, links with the communities and seek to develop rather than dominate or regulate.” (emphasis mine) (Paul’s Idea of Community [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1994], 168-169)
“. . . it is clear that the nurturing of emerging churches is understood by Paul to be an integral feature of his missionary task. . . . [this] included a whole range of nurturing and strengthening activities which led to the rm establishment of congregations.” – O’Brien, Gospel, 42-43.
4. J.I. Packer, God’s Words (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1981), p. 193. 4
5. SN Strategists are network pastors/leaders recruited to provide the network with their ministry expertise; their knowledge of diverse models; their con- nections to national resources, colleagues, and fellow pastors; their philanthropic support or other forms of needed guidance and assistance. e presence of ministry specialists, or “Strategists”, re ects the ongoing need that many pastors regularly face to have a gifted ministry expert help them improve a current church program/ministry, start a new ministry from scratch, provide general strategic counsel, or walk through a crisis with experiencing genuine care and informed counsel. In short, Strategists help our pastors embody the mission and values of SN through strategic counsel and ministry expertise.


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