A few years ago, my young grand-daughter Sophia came gasping into the living room. “Houston, we have a problem!” she cried. She was paraphrasing what she had heard in church during the sermon when her dad mentioned the episode of the Apollo 13 moon flight crew reporting a major technical problem back to their base in Texas. She concluded, “I can’t find my shoes!”
Yes, Sophia had a problem; way smaller than the moon flight crew, maybe, but it was a big deal for her. As a church, we also have a problem—we need to improve our efforts in finding and nurturing our members. Membership records have reported a staggering number of lost persons. During the last few decades, Seventh-day Adventist membership records reported a loss of 39.25 percent (1965–2014). For every 100 persons who joined the church, 40 left! It is even worse to recognize that more than half of those who left were considered missing or unknown.1 Of those that we did find, 17 percent said they were visited by the local elder, 9 percent said they were visited by the pastor, and 40 percent said nobody ever contacted them.2 It is crucial to reconsider the importance of pastoral care.
Lost and found
New York City Transit is trying to make it easier for subway and bus riders to retrieve lost items. A few years ago, 19,000 items were logged into the agency’s database, and 42 percent of them were claimed, according to the agency—including a fake limb, a used cooking pot, and a trumpet. One person even lost a set of dentures on the subway. The Gospels also have a lost-and-found department. In Luke 15, Jesus stressed the need to care for the lost. When 1 percent of the flock is lost, the Good Shepherd searches tirelessly and relentlessly until the sheep is found (Luke 15:1–7). In the parable, the shepherd goes out to search for one sheep—the very least that can be numbered. “So if there had been but one lost soul, Christ would have died for that one.”3 How important is one person?
I was astounded to see a dashcam recording of the moment a toddler fell out of a moving van onto a busy road. The child struggled to its feet and tried to chase after the van as it drove away. Another driver jumped into the traffic to save the child, then ran toward the van. Providentially, the vehicle stopped at a traffic light, and the child was returned.4 This was only one child, but one lost child is of incalculable significance.
Peter Wagner says there are three prominent symbols of the shepherd mode: home visitation, hospital visitation, and personal counseling. “In the healthiest of churches, the pastor is doing the leading while the lay people are doing the ministry.”5 More than pastoral care, church members desire pastoral leadership to help them discover, develop, and deploy their spiritual gifts. Russell Burrill says that in the early church, “the laity were seen as the performers of ministry and the clergy as the trainers and equippers of ministry.”6 Perhaps if people feel loved and needed, they will stay.
Every time I come back from a trip, I cook a meal for my wife. I’m not a great cook, but I try to impress her. She always expresses her amazement, saying the meal is delicious and asking what ingredients I used. I always say that I put in a secret ingredient—love. I discovered that this ingredient is more tangible than I thought. In a letter to the owners of a New England bakery, after inspecting their facilities, the United States Food and Drug Administration itemized several violations. One violation was listed as misbranding: “Your Nashoba Granola label lists ingredient ‘Love.’ Love is not a common or usual name of an ingredient and is considered to be intervening material because it is not part of the common or usual name of the ingredient.”
I cannot disagree more. In the con-text of church ministry and pastoral care, love must be the most common ingredient. And the Lord of love pleads with us as He pleaded with Peter, “Do you love Me? . . . Feed My sheep” (John 21:17, NKJV).
1 David Trim, “Retention and Reclamation: A Priority for the World Church” (PowerPoint presentation, Annual Council, October 11, 2015), Seventh-day Adventist Church Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research, adventistarchives.org/ac2015-retention-report.pdf.
2 Trim, “Retention and Reclamation.”
3 Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1941), 187.
4 Dominique Mosbergen, “Caught on Video: Toddler Falls Out of Moving Van onto Busy Road in China,” HuffPost, Feb. 3, 2016, huffpostbrasil.com/entry/toddler-falls -out-of-van-video_s_56d6816ce4b0bf0dab33e678 ?ec_carp= 3187869952427092757.
5 C. Peter Wagner, Church Planting for a Greater Harvest: A Comprehensive Guide (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock,2010), 117.
6 Russell Burrill, Radical Disciples for Revolutionary Churches (Fallbrook, CA: Hart Research Center, 1996),29, 30.