The word “soulcraft” might conjure different images in your mind. I am not talking about a boat or a bike. I am neither making reference about a video game nor a corporation. I am not referring to any avant garde religious expression. Rather, I put the two words “soul” and “craft” together to highlight the importance of what a solid pastoral ministry does for Christians. Sometimes the metrics we use in the church to determine its effectiveness and impact has more to do with budgets, attendance, and building maintenance than it does with the careful crafting of souls into the image of Jesus. We must become adept in the church at patiently and tediously constructing souls. Caring for the spiritual needs of people ought to be high on the list of priorities for every church ministry. It is a constant work in progress.
Just as the term implies, caring for souls is a special craft that one tries to constantly improve. Pastors and church leaders never come to the point of ceasing to need continuous training, education, and experience in the business of crafting souls that are bent toward Christ’s kingdom values. Throughout the history of the church much attention has been given to the care of souls. Early church fathers such as Gregory the Great took great pains to describe the pastor’s work as offering moral and spiritual guidance to both churched and unchurched persons. The Reformation teaching of the priesthood of all believers is a special emphasis upon every Christian’s privilege and responsibility to intercede and help others toward spiritual growth and health.
In 1656, Puritan preacher Richard Baxter wrote a book, The Reformed Pastor, which set the standard of pastoral care for generations. In his work, Baxter elaborated on seven functions of dealing with the souls of people: converting the unconverted; giving advice to inquirers; building up the believers; shepherding the families in the parish community; visiting the sick and dying; reproving the impenitent; and, exercising church discipline. All these functions are designed to do the pedantic work of crafting and forming souls. It is often not glamorous high impact work; it is humble nitty-gritty ministry which typically goes unnoticed by many because it is a slow process over time.
The many references to “one another” in the New Testament point toward the spiritual dynamic that needs to take place for souls to thrive. Encouragement, mutual edification, love, forgiveness, and hospitality are just some of the tools of the trade in a careful crafting of souls. As we look at the example of Jesus, such practices as healing, teaching, guiding, and mending souls were all a part of his mission to bring God’s benevolent kingdom to earth. As we learn to help people toward peace, sustain them in difficult times, reconcile broken relationships, and guide them in making wise choices, we are doing good spiritual work and fortifying souls.
We ourselves need to continually feed our souls if we want to do the work of soulcraft. Engaging in the spiritual disciplines such as daily Scripture reading and prayer, practicing Sabbath rests, silence and solitude, fasting, and other spiritual tools can enable us to be built up in Christ so that we might shepherd others toward the ways of Jesus.
The Apostle Peter encouraged his fellow leaders: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). In difficult times, there is no greater need than the presence of God. That divine presence is often mediated through loving shepherds and believers who take special care to bring grace to hurting people. May it be so, to the glory of Jesus.