I was a pastor for 21 years and was continually around people I had a desire to help, people who were making unbiblical decisions and heading the wrong way. It was heart breaking.
One of the hardest aspects of pastoral ministry for me was the confusion over what I was supposed to do to help people doing crazy stuff.
Helping people spiritually is not easy. The best explanation of it was by Paul in Galatians 4:19, “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you,”
Giving birth is hard, so I’ve heard! Although I’ve never done it, I have watched it. It didn’t look fun. Getting people to grow in Christ feels like that! Perhaps not as intense into a moment, but it hurts.
Childbirth is natural, like, it’s going to happen whether you want it to or not if you’re pregnant. Getting people to grow in Christ is not natural. Many actively fight against it. Trying to get someone to do something they don’t want to do is gut wrenchingly difficult.
It would be nice if the Bible told us how to do it. It does, but you’ll find it’s not exact to specific situations and people.
The Bible presents a broad spectrum of possible ways you can help people. Here are some examples:
1 Corinthians 9:19-23—Paul says he becomes all things to all people so that by all means he might win some. This seems like he’s saying “do whatever you gotta do.”
Jude 22-23—some people you show compassion to and that works, others you actively go grab and drag them out of the fire. No time for compassion, you just gotta go get em.
1 Peter 3:14-16—be ready for when people ask you. If they aint askin, they probably don’t care to hear your opinion.
Matthew 15:11-14—Jesus tells the disciples that the Pharisees are blind leaders of the blind. He tells the disciples to “leave them alone!” That’s fascinating. They will fall into a ditch, so let em. Some people have to hit rock bottom and you should let em go do that.
Philippians 3:15-17—Paul says God will show people where they are off. It’s not always your job. Leave room for God to lead people.
1 Corinthians 5:5—some people you hand over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh. This is primarily talking about church discipline.
So, on one end you do all things for all men to save some, show compassion on some, yank others out of the fire, leave them alone, wait for them to ask, let God show them, and on the opposite end is handing people over to Satan.
Those are quite the options!
So, after 21 years of accumulated pastoral experience and wisdom, what do I think you should do to help people spiritually?
I have no idea.
People and situations are different. I can’t answer specifics, but I’ve at least gained these general insights.
The one theme that runs through the New Testament is that you should pursue righteousness and holiness yourself. If you’re not, odds are they won’t listen to you anyway. And, if you’re not growing in righteousness, it’s debatable that you are the one who is equipped to help anyway.
Before getting all fussy about sawdust in your neighbor’s eye, take the beam out of your eye. Clean your own mess first. There are too many busybodies in Christianity trying to fix everyone.
You’re not everyone’s mom. It’s not your job to fix everyone.
If you are in a place where you think you can help someone, then pay attention. Listen to them. Don’t just judge and lecture without knowing what’s truly going on. Study the Bible. Look at the contexts above to see why they acted this way toward certain people, because there are reasons!
Pray. Really think this over with the Lord. There are no cookie cutter approaches to helping people spiritually. You really need to pay attention to them, you, the Word, and prayer.
Also remember Paul’s warning to consider yourself when dealing with other people and their sin lest you also be tempted. If you struggled with addiction of any sort, maybe you’re not the one to try and deliver others from addiction if you feel tempted to relapse.
Leave room for people to respond to God Himself. Cult leaders make everyone listen to them. God is the enemy at that point. Don’t do that!
Many people obsessed with fixing others actually just like power and the feeling of being needed. It has little to do with helping others and much to do with inflating their pride.
One of the urges to help people or to fixate on the sins of others is to keep you distracted from your own sins. If you’re always the fixer, you convince yourself you don’t need fixing. A guilty conscience often makes people obsess about other people’s problems.
Helping people spiritually is very difficult. If people don’t listen to God very well, I can’t imagine they’d listen to you very well either!
I don’t know how to fix people, but I have figured out this: pray, study the Word, pay attention, listen, pursue righteousness, and consider your own condition first. If you do these things, there’s an off chance you might actually be helpful to someone at some point. But don’t hold your breath!
If you’d like to hear more of my accumulated pastoral “wisdom,” I wrote a book. CLICK HERE to get a copy of it, because that’ll make me feel better about myself!