n church we hear a lot about pastoral care which seems to be a catch-all phrase which might mean different things to different people. One of the definitions I’ve read is “An ancient model of emotional, social and spiritual support which can be found in all cultures and traditions. The term is considered inclusive of distinctly non-religious forms of support as well as support for people from religious communities.”
It can involve sustaining people through prolonged difficulty or immediate need, enabling a person’s journey of healing and wholeness. It can also support people through the process of reconciliation with God, self and others.
There are seven main functions of pastoral care: leadership, prayer, worship, discipleship, evangelism, fellowship and ministry. These are the keys to a local church being biblically healthy and growing. Churches which focus on these areas have greater impact on their communities and world.
At the base level, anyone can show pastoral care to other people merely by listening, comforting, encouraging, practically helping and praying if appropriate. This level of concern can be offered by anyone with an empathetic nature but most caring people carry this out naturally to family, friends, neighbours and their community. Thanks Ekaterina pexels.com
These days there seems to be a massive number of people who are experiencing mental health and emotional problems. A whole industry of professional counsellors and mental health specialists seems to have sprung up in the last few years, not helped by people being affected by the pressures which social media, peer pressure and online trolls can cause. Previous generations would not have been affected by this type of distress but it’s now a serious and growing problem, particularly among young people. I know that, in many schools, there are now teachers or pastoral care workers who have to organise anti-anxiety/well-being classes for pupils who are experiencing mental health or emotional problems – and that even includes primary schools. I even worked in a primary school where a member of staff was tasked daily with observing pupils as they arrived at school to see if they were showing any signs of upset.
Graham – Jesus was known as being the ultimate pastor showing people great care, compassion, love, kindness and empathy regardless of their background, race or religion – an example to us all. He performed many miracles and even brought people back from the dead.
With the ever-increasing complexity of modern life and the problems being experienced in our society and throughout the world, what pastoral care do you think Jesus would show? Even more difficult, how do you think God or Jesus would sort out today’s world problems? And, on a personal level, have you any examples from your own ministry of how your own pastoral care saved someone from despair?
Rev Graham replies:
Thank you, Carol, for your question about pastoral care and how it might work out in a church and wider worshipping community. As you have referred to, there are a number of qualities which are evident in pastoral care including leadership, prayer, worship, discipleship, evangelism and ministry. In regards to pastoral care outside the church, it will consist of different functions but with similar goals, particularly the care and welfare of all peoples in whatever circumstances they find themselves.
In regards to my own experiences of pastoral care, it has been expansive and very varied including working specifically in a church context and then in a wider community setting when working in a supported housing project in Bury, Greater Manchester, for 13 years. Then for 14 years I trained and worked in and outside the church as a Life Coach and, in both cases, they sat alongside my work as a Minister and Author.
Cure of Souls
One of the main functions of a Minister of Religion and as a local Pastor in a church is to exercise responsibility for the ‘cure of souls’ which is clearly outlined in ordination services for new Ministers and Vicars. Thank you pexels.com
The role of a Pastor can be based on the simple model of a shepherd and servant who lovingly cares for the needs of his or her ‘sheep’. Such a shepherd’s care will involve feeding and guiding, protection and ensuring they have a safe and secure shelter to rest and enjoy. The shepherd will want their charge to grow and enjoy being healthy and, when illness and certain stresses come to them, to know that they are able to cope and be comfortable throughout all the challenges and changes which come their way.
In the absence of stable and elderly family members to confide in concerning life choices and pathways, the role of a Minister, Coach and, in a different capacity a Counsellor, are very important in the modern world to help people where necessary. Within a loving and caring environment we may find that, on a regular basis, loved ones are being esteemed and affirmed and are able to share in confidence those issues which are concerning them.
When you asked, Carol, what type of pastoral care Jesus would exhibit, it would be similar to those you have outlined. In John 10 we have a comparison of Jesus being likened to a good shepherd who knows his sheep and the sheep hear and recognise the shepherd’s voice. Jesus listened to people as he walked and talked with them. He endeavoured to understand and empathise with them in their varying life situations. He did not always and overtly judge them for what they had done or not done but, with wisdom, he highlighted the areas where the people had to change and embrace new pathways so as to please a Holy God.
Many people blame God for the ills and problems within society and also feel that God lacks a capacity to heal and resolve many of the concerns we encounter today. God puts into the minds, hearts and emotions of all people to be kind and helpful. God does not want us to fight and become divided; He wants us to be forgiving just as we are forgiven and to recognise that our failures do not have to be judged negatively but can be seen as a way forward to becoming a better person within society and community. If everyone embraced such attitudes and actions, the world would be a far better and happier place.
Alongside good shepherds, there will be bad shepherds who allow sheep to be destroyed and lost. In Ezekiel 34 we read of a contrast between the bad and good shepherds who both cared for animals and people. If we seek positions of power and privilege, self-importance and self-interest, then we will invariably bring with it more of a selfish and human focus which will affect how we care or not care for those we have responsibilities for.
There will be those who offer what might be termed as ‘heavy shepherding’ and seek to take control rather than empower people’s lives. In some church and community settings, leaders may take advantage of their positions and responsibilities and act in a more dictatorial leadership style compared with what Paul suggests as outlined in Ephesian 4: 12 – 16. The function of the leader is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry and enjoy serving and worshipping the Lord with freedom and joy. In such a setting people may feel squashed, discouraged and disempowered. They are told what to do and what not to do and try to take control of people’s relationships, careers and even their finances.
There will be distracted shepherds who are not attentive enough to the daily and weekly needs of those under their charge. They do not visit or seek to pre-empt situations and lack prayer and practical support for those in need or struggling in any way. If Pastors have legitimate or neglectful duties which take them away from fulfilling meaningful care for those they are asked to care for, then people will feel unloved and not fully cared for and will eventually look for other places of warmth and love.
As part of my gifting and calling, I love being a shepherd of people and offering love, care and support on behalf of the Lord to all I would consider to be my neighbour. Most of the training courses and personal development plans I have experienced have been in the context of working with and knowing how best to support people.
It has been my long-held belief, based on my own personal experience in my first pastorate in Pensby on the Wirral, that in having a strong pastoral care system for individuals and the church to receive and follow, it strengthens everyone immensely. It is also vital that any leader or Minister sets a personal example which others may follow, just like the modelling of Jesus and his disciples which was expressed in practical acts of care and love for each other and in forgiving, forgetting and moving on. Thank you Burak pexels.com
When I visit members of a congregation and those on the periphery, I see them as people who are loved and cared for by the Lord. My time with them represents a visit on behalf of the Lord. I would engage in appropriate small talk which shows a willingness to be empathic and have a genuine concern for the person’s situation. There have been many times of crisis visits due to illness, redundancy, broken relationships and the death of a loved one. I have prayed and seen God steadily heal and challenge individuals to change where required. I have visited people without any personal gain, and often at a cost financially and emotionally, because I wanted to offer pastoral care for them on behalf of the Great Shepherd.
In my pastoral responsibilities, I have been involved with individuals who have contemplated taking their own lives and those recovering from brain surgery and serious physical illness. I have offered support for those involved in relationship breakdowns and, equally, seen marriages and relationships restored. I have had the joy of conducting weddings, dedication and baptismal services which all involved offering support and love to families both small and large. I have learned to react to situations as they present themselves and try not to sit back and lose an opportunity and moment to make a difference in whatever way is required.
When I am asked to conduct a funeral service, one of the most important aspects o- it is a pastoral visit where compassion can overflow to those who have lost their loved one. Also, to listen and reflect back in word and deed what is asked for the service which will honour the loved one they have lost with a sense of thanksgiving. During COVID 19, it was very difficult to visit people face-to-face and most of the support and discussions were conducted over the ‘phone and online. Here I am reminded of that lovely bible verse which brings out how we are helped personally and then can support others as found in 2 Corinthians 1: 4: “God comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”
As you mentioned, Carol, pastoral care is not the exclusive preserve of Christians. Charlie Mackesy, in his paintings and writings, feels that the world in its quest to solve many of its problems should be more kind to each other as expressed in his book and animated film The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.
However, I do believe that any model or individual care in the name of the Lord, which specifically seeks the Lord’s presence and blessing, will make a difference from any human pastoral care. In John 13: 34-35 we read of God’s love which is shown in people’s lives which acts as a picture of God’s love that is alive and available for everyone.
The role of a Pastor, Minister, Vicar and Priest is clearly expressed in Acts 20; 28 in that all should keep watch over their flock whom they are called to care for and not to lord it over the people entrusted in their care. We are asked to be good examples and shepherds as Peter made clear in 1 Peter 5: 1-4 and therefore any modelling of pastoral care within a church has to be based around the life and example of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who offers total compassion, love and support for the needs of all people.
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