Member Care and Life Together

By: Dustin M. Walters

On a recent podcast, Matt Mouser and I discussed pastoral visitation. You can listen to that episode on your favorite podcasting platform or here at this link. That discussion motivated me to reflect further on what it means for pastors to do member care and what it means to do life together as Christians. This essay will demonstrate that member care is not only an important priority for pastors but also for every member of the congregation. Three influential works will frame this essay including The Reformed Pastor by the Puritan Richard Baxter, Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Being Leaders by Aubrey Malphurs.

Pastoral Ministry: An Overview

Pastoral ministry is about serving as an under-shepherd and equipping the saints for the work of ministry. There are some responsibilities in pastoral ministry that are weekly including the weekly preaching and teaching ministry, administration, evangelism and discipleship, and other regular responsibilities. There are other responsibilities that are occasional, such as speaking or praying at community events, being present during funerals, and others that no doubt come to your mind. Pastoral ministry is serving as an under shepherd under the Lordship of Jesus. There is much more to ministry than only the proclamation of the word, though that should be a key priority for the pastor. One responsibility the pastor must not neglect is the responsibility to do what is normally referred to as member care.

Understanding Member Care

Pastors are called to compassionately care for those King Jesus has entrusted to them. Shepherds care for sheep. That’s their primary responsibility. Even though I am using the language of member care, I do not want you to think that pastors are not responsible for those who only attend Sunday services but are not members. Most of the pastor’s time should be devoted to those who belong to his sheep pen, yet there are other sheep that come along that need our care, love, and investment also. So by member care, I mean in the broadest sense the pastor’s responsibility to care for people with the goal of leading them toward a greater love and submission to God, so that He alone will be glorified.

The Puritan Richard Baxter has a lot to teach us about pastoral member care. Baxter believed that,

Every Christian is obliged to do all he can for the salvation of others; but every minister is doubly obliged, because he is separated to the gospel of Christ, and is to give himself wholly to that work. [1]

Baxter had high expectations for himself and for other pastors about member care. He passionately taught that pastors should know all their people so that they could better shepherd them. Baxter described the importance of this aspect of ministry when he said,

It is past doubt, that we should perform this great duty to all the people, or as many as we can; for our love and care of their souls must extend to all. If there are five hundred or a thousand ignorant people in your parish or congregation, it is a poor discharge of your duty, now and then to speak to some few of them, and to let the rest alone in their ignorance, if you are able to afford them help. [2]

Matt Mouser mentioned in the podcast episode that member care is about intentionally getting to know your people. Baxter and many others attest to this aspect of member care. Member care is simply taking care of the sheep Jesus entrusts to you as the pastor.

On Pastoral Leadership

Pastors are leaders, though they can be good, bad, or mediocre just like any other leader. There is an important connection between the member care and the way people view him as the leader of a local congregation. Aubrey Malphurs is one Christian writer who has reflected on the different types of Christian leadership. Malphurs describes Christian leaders as “servants with the credibility and capabilities to influence people in a particular context to pursue their God-given direction” and therefore “Christian leadership is the process whereby servants use their credibility and capability to influence people in a particular context to pursue their God-given direction”. [3]

Malphurs outlines three stages of pastoral ministry which help us better understand the importance of pastoral leadership. Those three stages are the chaplain stage (the preacher), the pastor stage (the pastor), and the leader stage (my pastor). He asks how a pastor moves from being a chaplain to the primary leader of the congregation. His answer is that pastors become leaders when they develop personal credibility and trust. [4] The key to developing that credibility and trust from church members is demonstrating that you care and that your character is worth following. Malphurs said, “To compromise your character is to compromise your leadership and erode the trust of followers”. [5] One reason young pastors struggle so much is because they try to make organizational changes in the church without first earning the trust of their people. (May God forgive me for my pride and arrogance for not earning the trust of his people in the past and may He equip us all to do better!)

The point is that member care is a key component of a successful pastoral ministry. Pastoral leadership involves doing the work of member care and equipping others to do the same.

The Communal Life of the Church

The New Testament describes the church as the body of Christ. We were never meant to do life alone and that includes our total personality. We need other believers to encourage and admonish us in the ways of the Lord. Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood this when he formed an underground seminary during World War II. We are able to consider Bonhoeffer’s views on the church’s life together through his work Life Together.

Life Together was written to show Christians how Christian community is possible exclusively through Christ. Bonhoeffer said, “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren”. [6] Bonhoeffer wrote about the Christian’s life alone and his life with other Christians, even though he labororiously articulated that “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ”. [7] Christian community is not only a possibility but it is reality grounded in the person and work of Jesus. Just like being a part of a family, being a part of a church community means that we have both privilege and responsibility.

We are privileged to do life together, yet we are also responsible for one another. We are our brother’s keeper. Let’s recognize that it is not only on the pastor to foster a culture of a thriving church community where member care is shared among the believers that make up the congregation.


  • We must all prioritize life together and by implication caring for one another as part of Christ’s body.
  • Pastors have an important role in not only caring for those in the church but also must equip others to carry out the work of ministry or serving one another.
  • Member care is the responsibility for every member. This means that people will receive care not only from the pastor, but also from their small group, Sunday School class, and others in the church.


In this essay, we have reflected on pastoral leadership, member care, and the role of the church community. I hope this post has encouraged you to reflect more intentionally not only on how the pastor cares for you, but for how you and I care for others. Aside from making disciples, our responsibility is to encourage and admonish each other as we wait for the day when Christ’s kingdom is fully realized.

[1] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor, ed. William Brown (Banner of Truth: Carlisle, PA, 2007), 196.

[2] Ibid., 42. Baxter uses the term ignorant to refer to the those who were not catechized. He was so committed to the personal instruction of every member that he was not bothered by the more than 800 group of people he once oversaw in a parish. To know each member on that level is no doubt challenging, but Baxter’s point is convicting and intriguing.

[3] Aubrey Malphurs, Being Leaders: The Nature of Authentic Christian Leadership (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2003), 10.

[4] Ibid., 53.

[5] Ibid., 56.

[6] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1954), 10.

[7] Ibid, 30.

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