BUILDING SOMETHING GOOD WILL TAKE TIME
Developing effective pastoral care in the church is somewhat like the challenge Jesus faced when He came to earth and needed to raise up missional leaders for His kingdom movement. His approach was to prayerfully select a few potential leaders and fully invest Himself in them, training them to become the leaders they needed to be. This model of equipping disciples to be leaders is the basis for leadership in the church in general. I would also use this model for raising up pastoral care leaders in the church.
This will take time. We cannot just design a complete model and implement it. In the beginning we may not have enough people willing to serve in pastoral care. Some may not realize their gifts. Some may have been burned in previous pastoral roles. Some may lack confidence. Most will need training. We cannot rush this. Better to start with a few and do the job well, rather than push people before they are ready.
Pastoral care in the church includes three kinds of care: mutual care, pastoral care and professional care. Developing effective pastoral care in the church should address these three layers, in this order.
If we do not care for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, then formal pastoral care from the church will not succeed. In my opinion, the bulk of pastoral care ought to be shared by the church members. Getting to know each other, listening to each other, helping each other, noticing when others are struggling, praying for each other, encouraging each other.
This kind of care will make it easier for people to be open with each other. When our community is a place of grace, we will see more lives healed and transformed and set free and flourishing!
1) Social Coordinators: People need to feel they belong at a social level before they can feel safe to share at a personal level. I would look for people in the church who have the gift of hospitality or who enjoy planning social gatherings. I would encourage them to help plan opportunities for people to gather and connect, to be invited and to feel included. In my own church we have “Faith Families”, where members are assigned to regional groups to better facilitate such gatherings. In this context I would look for gifted “Faith Family Coordinators” to help plan their regular gatherings, and to help people feel welcome and included.
Social care is essential to pastoral care. It helps develop trust in the congregation (Criteria #4) and opportunities for relationship building (Criteria #5) and follow up (Criteria #6).
2) Encouragement Partners: Another way to develop mutual care is through what I call ‘accountabili-buddies’. Two people getting together on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for an hour to update each other on how they’re doing, where they’re struggling, where they see God at work, etc. Each person has up to half an hour to share, and the other person’s only job is to listen. They may not interrupt with their own stories or observations or advice. These relationships may be uncomfortable at first, but in time a bond and openness develops.
I am presently involved in a number of these relationships, and each one is growing in depth and blessing. But I also realize I cannot do this with everyone in the church. Nor should I. Jesus’ model was to equip disciples then release them to repeat this equipping with others. My personal goal is to help those I meet with develop these relationships with someone else.
Mutual care is the foundation of more formal pastoral care. It is where we would need to start to build effective pastoral care in the church.
3) Pastoral Care Workers: Instead of asking the elders to add pastoral care to their leadership task, I would propose identifying and equipping members who have spiritual depth (Criteria #1) and pastoral gifts (#2) and develop them through training and mentoring in the skills and practices of effective pastoral care (#3).
These PCWs would not be assigned districts or Faith Families, but would receive monthly assignments (fewer in the beginning, more as they develop) based on the needs and concerns within the congregation. The pastoral staff would oversee their development, would make visits with them, and would send them out on pastoral visits as they are able. Training would be built into their monthly meetings, with a topic addressed every month. There would also be time for praying together for the members and needs of the congregation. This would not be a business meeting, but a prayer, share and care meeting.
Their primary task would be to provide pastoral C.A.R.E. to those they are called to work with:
- Concern: to have concern for the sheep, and to respond to concerns as they arise.
- Assistance: to offer or find practical assistance to those who are struggling.
- Relationship: to get to know people, to listen to their story, to build trust through ongoing connecting.
- Encouragement: to speak words of hope and strength to those who struggle, to walk alongside of them.
These workers would not be appointed for a term, but would be commissioned by the church and serve as long as they are able or feel called to serve. Because they are not ‘in office’, and because they are gifted in this kind of care, they would always be care givers for the church, doing what they love and are gifted for.
4) Pastoral Staff: Most churches have pastoral staff who have gifts and training in the area of pastoral care. The pastoral staff ought to see their role as encouraging and equipping the PCWs, and assisting them as needed. In the beginning, as this model develops, there may be fewer PCWs and therefore more work for the pastoral staff. This is unavoidable, and part of the process towards developing effective pastoral care.
In most churches, the pastoral staff carry the bulk of pastoral care. And too often the pastoral staff cannot carry it all, or do not make pastoral care their top priority. In my view the pastoral staff should not carry it all, nor should pastoral care be their top priority. Their primary focus should be developing mutual and pastoral care among the members (Ephesians 4:11-13), and being an active helper in that care. Their job should be to develop the care team, and to multiply care-givers. Like Jesus, they should be gathering, equipping and releasing workers in the kingdom!
Pastoral Staff are not usually professional counselors. They should recognize the limits of their training and the complexity of many people’s struggles. It is not a weakness to call upon professionals like christian counselors and other health services.
5) Professional Counselors: Churches ought to take advantage of christian counselors. Pastoral leaders ought to know who the counselors in their area are, what their specialties are. Church Leaders ought to address the challenge of the cost of professional counseling, as many who need this care cannot afford it. Our church has a partnership with Shalem, a christian counselling service. This partnership allows for members to access a number of free sessions a year.
6) Professional Services: Another way for the church to serve its members is by promoting and/or providing conferences and workshops provided by other churches and professional agencies. No need to reinvent the wheel, find what is out there and encourage the members to participate.
WHAT ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF THE HOME VISIT?
As we saw in the last post, there are benefits that the home visit provided.
— reminding the family that they were not forgotten, but part of the church
— an opportunity to discuss some concerns in the life of the family or church
— an open line of communication between church leaders and members
— an opportunity for the elder to learn and grow
While the first one can be addressed by the above ideas, the other three will need to be worked on. There is great value in keeping the link between the congregation and the leaders strong. Communication is key, and the elders have to guard against being isolated from the congregation.
One idea is to have an annual survey. Another idea is to regularly invite members to attend Elder Meetings to provide input and feedback. Another idea is to have the Elders visit one other Faith Family (in addition to their own) through the year. Whatever ideas the Elders adopt, it is essential for them to stay connected to the congregation, and for the congregation to sense that the Elders are approachable and willing to listen.
DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE PASTORAL CARE
These are some steps that I would work towards if I were wanting to develop effective pastoral care. There are more ideas out there as well. If we as Church Leaders (Elders) put our hearts and minds together, I am certain we can come up with a better model than simply reproducing what we have always done.
It is NOT the job of the Elders to DO pastoral care, but to make sure that the BEST pastoral care they can develop is happening in the church. It is my conviction that Jesus’ model of developing disciples, of leaders equipping gifted and passionate members for ministry (including pastoral care) is the BEST way forward.