I have a few friends that I meet with regularly that are not (currently) believers in Jesus. We grab coffee and talk about life, the world, and God. When we meet, I ask them about what’s going on in their life (the good and the bad). I genuinely want to know! I was meeting with a Hindu friend (a single guy, full of ambition). I talked with him about his parents and how he was struggling with their approval and support. He said, “Wow, I didn’t realize our meeting was going to turn into a therapy session.” I initially thought this was a negative thing and promptly apologized. “I’m sorry! I just wanted to know how you are doing.” He replied joyfully, “No! I love it. I don’t ever get the chance to talk about this stuff. When I meet with you, I feel cared for.”
This statement carried with me. Very few people in this world know what it’s like to have a friend who genuinely cares about them and wants to know who they are: pains, struggles, joys, and dreams. As a pastor, I am learning (hopefully) to care for the soul of a person. We can’t see people as means to an end. We should want them to thrive and follow Jesus with their whole hearts, to be energized by Him, cared for by Him, led by Him, and loved by Him.
Are evangelism and care opposed to each other?
Often we live as if proclaiming Jesus and showing Jesus to a lost world are at odds with each other. Many churches seek to “love” people but Jesus is never proclaimed. Other churches are so focused on public proclamation that relationships never form and people don’t feel cared for. We need both. But also, we need to understand what “caring for people” really means.
While ruminating on this, I was reading a book by Harold Senkbeil called The Care of Souls where he made a similar observation:
There is no division between the care of souls and mission… When souls come to faith by the working of the Holy Spirit through the gospel and then brought into the communion of his church, they should be tended and nurtured with the same Spirit by means of the gospel. Mission and ministry, outreach and in-reach, evangelism and care of souls are all linked by God’s own design.
What if we didn’t segment word ministry from deed ministry? Is there a way to combine them and so fruitfully love people in Jesus’ name that they are compelled to step further towards Him?
What soul-care means
First, soul-care requires genuine listening. Sometimes, we listen to our unbelieving friends without any intention of bringing Jesus into the mix. Other times, we listen just so we can segue into a gospel presentation. Neither are caring for people. Both can be more focused on what we feel comfortable with and what we want to say, rather than loving our neighbor and glorifying Jesus. All people are embodied souls in desperate need of Jesus. So, when we talk with a person (Christian or not), we should genuinely desire to know them. We sit, we ask questions, and we listen. We listen truly and curiously.
Second, soul-care is much more than listening. Yes, we care for people by listening to them. But truly caring for someone’s soul will require bringing Jesus to them. It’s listening for the heartaches that only Jesus can mend, the paths that may lead someone towards destruction, the joys that only Jesus can satisfy. To care for someone’s soul requires that we hear what is flowing from their heart and then speak from our Jesus-filled hearts to the ways the gospel answers their greatest needs and desires. Soul care is bringing people to Jesus. We cannot save or change (or even care for) someone in the ways their soul needs… but we can bring them to the One who can.
As a pastor once said, “Despite all the effort given towards winning souls, little has been invested in keeping them.” I truly wonder if people would more fruitfully be drawn to Jesus if they got a taste of the love of Jesus displayed through everyday Christians caring for their souls with the gospel. I believe this is simply an overflow of the heart of Jesus being worked in normal, everyday Christians. Perhaps in this, we will start to fade and He will become more visible, as we bring His hands and feet to people who desperately need His healing touch.