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Larry has just started attending your church. He came to the Lord out of a background of drugs and alcohol, with all the baggage associated with his former lifestyle. He has custody of his ten-year-old son because his ex-wife is still an addict. The Lord has used these difficult circumstances to stir him to search for answers, and he found them in God’s authoritative Word. But he struggles with deep insecurity, and he rides an emotional roller coaster with depression. Worry and fear are constants in his life. Recently, when a relationship failed, Larry reverted to drinking to cope with the stress.
Like everyone else, Larry has a “worship disorder” inherited from Adam. Now that he is a follower of Christ, who is responsible for his soul? Who should be helping him deal with all the baggage of his past? Is it possible for our brother Larry to grow into a mature, productive follower of Christ?
It is clear that the Lord desires Larry to grow (2 Peter 3:18) and has put the Holy Spirit within him to help him (Galatians 4:6). Larry is responsible to “discipline [him]self for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7, NASB) by learning to apply Scripture to his life. But what is the role of other believers in this? Is it your pastor’s job to disciple Larry, or do you as a church member bear responsibility?
Christ commanded His followers to “make disciples . . . teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18–20). Notice that he didn’t just say, “Teach them all that I commanded you,” but, “teach them to observe [“keep” or “pay careful attention to”] all things that I have commanded.” Mature believers of all ages share the weight—and privilege—of this important command. Larry needs their help as he learns a new way to deal with life in both his inner and outer person.
Ephesians 4:12 tells pastors to equip “the saints for the work of ministry,” and Paul uses the same word in Galatians 6:1 when he tells all mature believers to “restore” a brother. In the gospels it is translated as “mending” torn fishing nets. The “perfectly trained” disciple will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). Clearly God wants mature believers not just to teach the Bible but also to equip, or disciple, and help mend and restore broken lives, with the goal of helping other Christ-followers grow to spiritual maturity in the image of Christ (Matthew 28:18–20; Ephesians 4:11–16).
We are part of a dynamic body helping each other grow toward Christlike maturity.
Larry’s sanctification is not just the pastor’s responsibility; it is a community effort. The whole body is called to love and edify one another.
It is no mistake that “love one another” is the most often repeated command of the New Testament, and it applies to counseling. Larry’s struggles are the struggles of many believers, and God’s Word tells us every mature believer is to be part of the solution. Paul writes, “If a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. . . . Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1–2). Practically then, believers in Larry’s church family should confront his drinking and lovingly help him learn to deal with his fears by choosing to believe the rich promises of Scripture.
This “one-anothering” is rooted in Genesis 1. God’s words, “Let us make man in our image” (Genesis 1:26, emphasis added), demonstrate relationship within the Trinity. As His image-bearers, made for relationship, we cannot mature on our own. Maturity happens as a work of God (Philippians 1:6), and part of His work is how He uses others in our lives.
Paul makes it clear that the whole body is responsible to care for Larry. In Romans 15:14 he wrote, “I myself am confident . . . that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.” He commends the Romans as a mature church because they are able to admonish (teach, warn, counsel) one another. A characteristic of a church full of mature believers is the ability of the whole congregation, not just the pastor, to care for the souls of those in the body. You and your church can learn how to use Scripture to help one another deal with the complex issues of life. (See biblicalcounselingcoalition.org for some resources).
Church is not just a Sunday morning gathering where we sit by people we don’t really know and accumulate more Bible knowledge. It is a dynamic body where the pastor is involved with the lives of his sheep and the members are helping each other grow toward Christlike maturity. The church is a community growing in Christlikeness together.
For Larry this means he must learn how to process his emotions, his difficult past, and his temptations through the filter of biblical principles. He has rejected his old lords of drugs and alcohol and needs guidance, help, and encouragement from his spiritual leaders and church family to know how to live by all that his new Lord teaches. This is “making disciples.”
For further study: Relationships, a Mess Worth Making and Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hand both by Paul David Tripp.