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PASTORAL CARE

by Mike Robinson


This paper was prepared by our Pastoral Team at a time when there was a measure of concern being expressed by some in our local Church that the traditional role of the Pastor in visitation seemed to be overlooked or neglected. This paper was designed to explain our understanding - as Pastors - of the nature of pastoral care and our part in that ministry

What comes to your mind as you hear the term, "Pastoral Care"?

Many would say that, with a name like that, it must be something that Pastors do! That is an understandable conclusion but it is also an inadequate conclusion. Maybe we need to find a new expression to identify the care and support that is meant to bring increasing wholeness to the Body of Christ as seen in the local Church.

In this paper, we want to clarify for you our own understanding of this "care ministry" and comment on ways in which we are seeking to develop CARE in the life of our Church. We do this so that your expectations about Pastoral care can be checked against our commitment to grow this ministry and how we are seeking to do that.

THE FOUNDATIONAL PRINCIPLE

In that wonderful analogy in 1 Corinthians 12 of the Church being likened to the human body, Paul sets out the foundational principle of pastoral care.

"But God has combined the members of the body....so that there should be no division in the body but that its parts should have equal concern for each other" (1 Cor.12/24,25)

The ministry of caring in the Church belongs to the whole Body and not to any one person or group of people.

This truth is at the heart of our understanding as Pastors when it comes to developing this caring ministry in the local Church. To miss this truth is to create a set of conflicting and unrealistic expectations and that, in turn, is bound to lead to disappointment on the part of some with how we fulfill our role as Pastors in this area.

Many of us who have been part of the Christian Church over many years have been raised in the tradition where the "minister" or "pastor" was seen to be the primary provider of pastoral care. In that tradition, he would visit in homes and hospitals and his care was understood by many to be the most desirable expression of the Church caring.

Visits by other caring people from the Church were appreciated but their visits were mostly seen to belong to another (even lesser) category of care. That perception was often conveyed with a comment something like, "It's nice that you came but when is the Pastor going to call?"

Please understand that the above observation is not meant to deny the value of the Pastor visiting in this way. It can be argued that, as one called to be a shepherd, the Pastor has a responsibility to provide such pastoral care.

However, while the responsibility of the Pastor to ensure that pastoral care is provided is not in dispute here, the idea of the Pastor being the primary (if not sole) provider of this care certainly is being challenged in this paper. To assume that the Pastor is the only one (or even the best one) gifted for such a ministry is not only a denial of the whole Biblical concept of spiritual gifts and every-member ministry, it is also a denial of the foundational principle set out in the Scripture quoted above from 1 Corinthians 12.

The caring ministry is the privilege and responsibility of every member of the Body of Christ.

Limiting our understanding to the Pastor or Minister as the main or sole provider of pastoral care has robbed the Church of the very rich ministry of caring that could have been exercised by many others if they had only been recognised, trained and released into the caring ministry. Of course, there are people in every Church through whom this care comes anyway. What is sad is that this has rarely been seen as their spiritual gifting at work and that their caring ministry is a valid and desirable expression of the Church caring. Even more than that, it is God caring through those gifted people.

The time has long since come for us to abandon those notions and expectations that would restrict this caring ministry to the Pastors. It is important that we divest ourselves of such concepts because they limit the value of care that is otherwise available to us through all kinds of people.

The role of Pastors is not to substitute for God in the lives of His people but to constantly link people to God so that they can enjoy His care of them through whomever He chooses. In the final analysis, the minister in the Church is Jesus Christ - alive, present and wonderfully active among His people. He gives gifts (divinely-empowered abilities) to all His people so that, through the exercise of those gifts, the whole Body is built up and strengthened.

It is our conviction that, because the Church belongs to Jesus and that He is actively present in and through His Body, He will come to us and care for us through whomever He chooses....and it won't always be a Pastor! What does it matter? So long as it is Jesus expressing care and love through that person.

But how does this work out in practice? In what ways might the caring ministry of a church express itself? What does it look like in action? We want to identify some of the ways in which Jesus Christ cares for and shepherds His people in our Church at this point in time. We emphasise "some" because His care is not limited to what follows.

[1] WELCOMERS / GREETERS

The care of the Church should first be experienced in the carpark and at the front door every Sunday! While we particularly have our visitors in mind at this point, there are other regular folk who need this same kind of caring welcome. There are churches (sadly, all too few) that give an immediate impression of being warm and friendly. While the building or meeting facility can contribute to this welcoming sense, it mostly comes through the attitude of people. A genuine greeting or welcome is an initial and vital part of our care ministry. Here again, this is something which is the responsibility and privilege of us all. Nonetheless, we recognise that there are some of our folk who are "naturals" at extending that kind of greeting and care.

We have a number of folk who are doing this and we want here to recognise and honour the vital nature of what they are doing. A recent study suggests that most people who come to a new church have made up their minds in the first 12 minutes whether or not they will return! That's long before the Pastor preaches! We never get a second chance to make a first impression. That is why a welcome that expresses the care of the Church is so important. If this is an area in which you would like to share, please let one of the Pastors know of your interest.

[2] PASTORAL DEACONS

In conjunction with our Small Groups Pastor, some of our Deacons have been identified as having a pastoral or caring gift and they have been set aside for this important role. We are encouraging them to be active in contacting our people and we urge all our folk to recognise the value of their care and to encourage them and receive them when they, on behalf of the Church, reach out to members of our Church Family.

[3] HOME GROUPS

There is no doubt in our minds that the most effective means of ministering pastoral care is through caring Home Groups. A small group of people who are getting to know each other and are building trust relationships is the ideal setting for support and care to be experienced.

This is one reason why we give such high priority to developing Group Life and why we desire that every person in our Church Family be linked with a Home Group. We need to stress that NOT being linked with a group is to limit the quality and quantity of care you can both receive and give.

[4] PASTORAL COUNSELLORS

There are times for us all when we need the kind of care that requires the care-givers to have some further level of training or insight so that wise and informed counsel can be given. When such times come to us, we can be too close to a situation to properly understand what is happening. While we recognise the limitations of psychology, we do gratefully acknowledge that there are insights that psychology can give and we want to avail ourselves of every avenue through which God may work to bring healing and wholeness to us.

There are a number of our folk who have availed themselves of Christian-based counsellor training and they are available to be channels for pastoral care to come into the life of the Body. Others are currently undertaking such training and we are very encouraged at this growing resource within our local Church. Contact can be made with these counsellors through the Pastors.

[5] PRAYER MINISTRY TEAMS

This expression of Pastoral Care comes in two primary ways. First, opportunity is given at the close of our Sunday services for people to come forward to be prayed for by one or two folk from our Prayer Ministry Team.

The second way involves a team of two or three people meeting with the person in need of Prayer Ministry and, if necessary, doing so over a number of weeks. At the end of an agreed time, the people concerned mutually evaluate progress and decide on any future course of action.

Waiting on God in prayer often results in God giving specific guidance to the Team which becomes a key to unlocking and resolving the issue or problem.

[6] "EVERY-MEMBER" CARING

This happens when a Christian friend rings to ask how you are. It happens when you receive an unexpected note of encouragement in the mail. It happens when someone tells you that you have been on their mind and they have been praying for you. It happens when they drop in for a "cuppa" and, after they have left, you know that their visit refreshed you. It happens when you are in hospital and someone calls on you or sends a card or flowers.

If Jesus Christ has used any of the above to touch your heart, you have been the recipient of "pastoral care"! And there need not be a Pastor in sight!!

[7] PASTORS

We leave ourselves to last, not because if all else fails, we are the last line of care (!) but because we recognise and accept our responsibility to ensure that the best pastoral care is available through all the means mentioned thus far. It is not ours to do it all but to make sure that it gets done! In no way are we seeking to abandon our responsibility to provide pastoral care. On the contrary, we believe that what we have outlined above provides this Church with a much greater level and quality of pastoral care that we couldn't begin to achieve if it rested with us alone.

PLEASE NOTE: As we have repeatedly stated, we are always available to come alongside you at any point of need you may have. All you have to do is let us know and one of us will be there as quickly as possible. We need to state that fact again because it seems that there are still some of our folk who think we ought to know about their needs without being told. If we are not told, then we cannot know.

CONCLUSION

If what we have written above is true, then the whole church carries the responsibility of Pastoral Care. We urge you, as part of that Church, to be always open and sensitive to ways in which you can express care to others in the Name of Jesus.

Be alert to folk who are standing alone or sitting alone on Sunday.
Talk with our Small Groups Pastor about ways in which you can care for others.
Hospitality is a wonderful expression of care and friendship.
Are you a letter writer? What about notes of encouragement to others?
Plan to 'phone at least one person per week - preferably someone you don't know well.
Begin to read some books about practical ways to be a friend to others.
Pray through the Church directory over a two month period.

So, let's commit ourselves to care for each other!

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