By David Clements
I read somewhere the other day that US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, had indicated that loneliness is the new tobacco. In fact, he shared that loneliness may well shorten life by 25%, making it the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
With 40 years of caring for the flock through ministry to people, in one way or another, I can attest to that idea. Loneliness is a killer.
Around the same time, I heard a local TV station reporting that despair is the latest deadly disease. Again, I can attest to that theory.
But, there is hope. In his book, Can the Pastor Do It Alone?, the late Melvin Steinbron set out a ministry model to train and support lay people in the Christian Church to “Care for the flock.” He referred to these individuals as ‘lay pastors’ or ‘shepherds.’ Intrigued by Steinbron’s idea, I introduced it to the ruling body of the Pastoral Charge in which I served at that time. The concept was warmly received and, despite some opposition, implemented and - ultimately - proved extremely successful in enabling the people of God to minister to the people of God using their spirit-driven gifts to share love among the congregation.
What a simple yet amazing way to share the love of God among the people of God. Mel and I had numerous discussions about the potential of this model as a tool for growing the Church. But, Mel was adamant that while Church growth could well be a welcome side benefit, the sole purpose of the LPMI model was bettering lives through an intentional sharing of the love of God by the people of God among the people of God (the congregation).
While I agreed with that philosophy, I fully believed that the love that is God extends to all people. I knew Mel believed this too, as we discussed the concept many times. With this in mind, I reasoned that as long as there are enough trained lay pastors to fully serve the “Church families,” there were people, unaffiliated with the Church, who could benefit from regular visits from a trained lay pastor. The executive level of our LPMI team discussed this idea and we were delighted to see that over time, with careful planning and cooperation from our lay pastors, the idea was put into practice and actually did work. The caring ministry was extended beyond the actual Church membership as several of our lay pastors were able to bring love and caring to lonely and needy people in the broader community.
I’m pretty sure that Mel (who died in 2017) would agree that the LPMI model of training and supporting lay pastors is one that could be used in the battle against loneliness and despair that plagues so many lives in our world today.