Recovering the Cure of Souls

Something that has come alongside the gospel recovery movement is not just a recovery of theology, expositional preaching, missional church planting, and the like but also a recovery of the active and intentional shepherding of the people of God.

A lot of us still remember the winning of souls, and we employ that concept in a variety of ways, from end-of-service invitations to door-to-door evangelism or gospel sharing in backyards and coffee shops and airplane seats. But the curing of souls has fallen on hard times. You get the impression from some church promotional material that our only job is to win the soul, and then the soul is really sort of left on its own. 

 

From my ministry vantage point at Midwestern Seminary and in getting to travel quite a bit and meet young and aspiring pastors around the world, I have been greatly encouraged by the increasing sense of what I can only call the “pastoral temperament” I sense among the younger generation. What I mean is, I sense—and I hope that I’m right—that something that has come alongside the gospel recovery movement is not just a recovery of theology, expositional preaching, missional church planting, and the like but also a recovery of the active and intentional shepherding of the people of God.

Our ancestors used to call this intentionally relational shepherding “the curing of souls.”

A lot of us still remember the winning of souls, and we employ that concept in a variety of ways, from end-of-service invitations to door-to-door evangelism or gospel sharing in backyards and coffee shops and airplane seats. But the curing of souls has fallen on hard times. You get the impression from some church promotional material that our only job is to win the soul, and then the soul is really sort of left on its own. But Jesus did not say to go out into all the world and make converts of all peoples; he said to make disciples. And this means the pastoral enterprise cannot begin and end with public proclamation and private planning—it must be applied in personal care. As John Piper has famously warned us: “Brothers, we are not professionals.”

The phrase in question is antiquated today, of course—curing souls may conjure up the image for some of an old-timey physician or apothecary promising some magical elixir for our spiritual maladies. But while the wording may be old-fashioned, I certainly hope the concept is not.

To those in the church committed not just to preaching and teaching and prayer—the primary tasks of the church elder, to be sure—but also to home and hospital visitation, counseling, personal discipleship—to helping people think and helping people live and helping people die—I want to offer my warmest thanks and profoundest salute. And to those who would seem to be falling behind in this vital area, I hope what follows will serve as a gracious exhortation to repentance.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, the apostle Paul writes:

But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.

The nursing mother, of course, is not the dominant model of the pastoral vocation marketed today. I have never seen a ministry conference advertised called “The Pastor as Nursing Mother.” But this is exactly the image that Paul here is introducing as emblematic of the pastoral task.

Read More