How To Use a Care List in Elders’ and Members’ Meetings
Local churches should prioritize vine work (people) over trellis work (programs). Trellises exist to support the vine. People, not programs, are the mission. But if we’re honest, it often feels like trellis issues dominate our time, especially in elders’ and members’ meetings.
How do we work against that?
There are many ways, and one of them is to use something called a “care list.”
WHAT IS A CARE LIST?
A care list is an administrative tool that serves elders and church members in caring for weak, hurting, and straying sheep. It is comprised of members who are experiencing an acute need or are found in unrepentant sin. There’s a private version of the list seen only by the elders, and there’s a public version of the list that would be known to the whole congregation.
When the public version is used as a church discipline tool, it offers a formal way to obey Jesus’s command to “tell it to the church” (Matthew 18:17), while then providing a space of time to elapse before the final step of “treat[ing] them as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17). At every step, the goal is for the straying sheep to feel the weight of their sin and its effect on their church. The goal is their repentance and restoration.
USING A CARE LIST IN ELDERS’ MEETINGS
A care list begins privately among the elders as a way of identifying the most vulnerable members. It prevents any difficult situations from falling through the cracks. The chairman might say to the room, “Is there anyone you think needs special attention?” This provides every elder the opportunity to raise the matter of a troubled marriage, or of someone who is sowing division, or of an elderly member’s failing health.
To put someone on this internal, private list is his way of saying to his fellow elders, “We need to keep our eyes on this, brothers, and make sure we’re checking in.” It’s like a siren or flashing light. It reminds them to pray for and maintain regular contact with these vulnerable sheep.
Once a situation gets added to this list by elder consensus, it stays there for future meetings until the circumstances are resolved.
USING A CARE LIST IN MEMBERS’ MEETINGS
Sometimes, when a problem is acute enough, an individual’s name will move from the private care list to the public one made known to the members in a members’ meeting. And here the list works similarly. It points the church toward significant pressure points and helps them know how best to minister to their fellow members.
Put simply, it’s a mobilization tool. It says to the congregation, “Look and minister here!”
During the meeting, the care list would be shared with the congregation. I recommend doing this verbally and not in written format, which is best for confidentiality. An elder should then share a brief rationale or update for each person on the care list, take questions in most cases, and pause to pray for each person.
If someone has been added to the list as part of a discipline process, the congregation should be instructed on how to engage with the member in hopes of restoring them to repentance. For example, the elders may think it wise for only those members with a prior relationship to reach out, while others are exhorted only to pray. In other cases, the elders may think it best for many members to make contact. Either way, the elders should prepare the congregation for the possibility of excommunicating the person at the following meeting should they refuse to repent.
Sometimes, a personal crisis is so severe that a member is added to the care list (cancer diagnosis, house fire, death in the family, etc.). This alerts the congregation to give special support and prayer to their hurting brother or sister. As many battle-tested saints can attest, the worst days of suffering often come after the initial wave of support. When a loved one passes, or someone gets sick, people rush to the scene and rise to the occasion. But what about the weeks following the funeral or the months after the dire diagnosis? A members’ meeting care list keeps the congregation’s mind and heart on their hurting members.
TWO BENEFITS OF USING A CARE LIST
First, a care list lessens the shock value of an escalating church discipline case and thereby protects leaders from unwarranted accusations. Members can take the necessary time to process the news, share relevant information with elders, and raise questions before exercising the keys of discipline. Church discipline is a sorrowful exercise. While a care list doesn’t remove the pain of ex-communication, it does provide a trellis for the necessary work. Rather than feeling forced by elders to act immediately, a care list gives the church time to become informed and to act with freedom and purpose. We know Satan loves to use church discipline to sew division and break down a congregation’s trust in its leaders. A care list chokes this tactic by its inherent transparency and intentionality.
Second, a care list engages the whole church in both corrective discipline and caring for the weak. In large congregations, the hurting and the straying can sometimes be hard to see. After all, they’re one in hundreds or more! But thankfully, a care list points to serious opportunities to show love and give service.
IS THIS USEFUL FOR A SMALL CHURCH?
If you’re like me and come from or pastor a small church, you may think care lists are only necessary for big churches. Does a 50-person church really need a trellis like this? I would suggest that it does. Even small churches can fail to recognize their greatest needs. Because discipline can affect a small church’s unity even more than a large church, it may be even more pressing that the leaders of small churches prepare their people well before asking them to make a decision about discipline.
Since discipline is often infrequent in smaller churches, some members may be navigating it for the first time. The shock value may be high, so care lists provide a cushion in the form of time. In most cases, and certainly in small churches, slowing down and being deliberate is the wisest path.
We will not regret any extra time spent caring for God’s sheep. Yes, a care list may add more time to elders’ and members’ meetings, but the cost is worth it.
In fact, we should be willing to cut other things to make room for caring for the most vulnerable. Our people are going to dwell forever in heaven or hell. This truth has a focusing force to it. A care list may serve your church to keep the vulnerable safe and rebuke the straying. It’s a trellis that supports the vine.