3 Views on Pastoral Care: Which is Yours?

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Sometimes people seem surprised at my job title: Minister for World Mission AND Pastoral Care? How can that be?

My instinct, if I’m honest, is to sympathise with their thinking. I’ve experienced in my own life the sense of guilt and drivenness that sometimes comes with being part of a church or agency with a passion for mission. In the last few years –  and yes as I’ve got older! – I’ve come to appreciate quietness, meditative prayer, and read books on ‘emotionally healthy-‘ and ‘slow spirituality’ from evangelical authors who expose the evangelical obsession with activity and are trying to redress the balance.

But although I sympathise, I’m never quite content to concede that mission and pastoral care are almost in opposition to one another. For a start, they are both part of Biblical Christian practice. They come from the heart of One God. So how do they fit together?

Here are three models of Pastoral Care…

1. Traditional model.

Pastoral Care is,

“the practical outworking of the church’s concern for the everyday and ultimate needs of its members…”*

Some have spoken of an unspoken agreement between churches and their members: ‘You come to this church on Sundays and we will care for you, visit it you when you are sick, pray with you at the crisis points and crossroads of your life.’ Eugene Peterson (himself more of a Classical than a Traditional practitioner, however… but that’s a different story) would add, ‘And we will point you to God and the signs of his grace.’

2. Contemporary Missional Church model.

LICC (an excellent group that are blessing the church and have my full respect) for example has spoken of “moving away from a classic pastoral care model to one that emphasises the call to equip one another for the missional cause”. LICC proponents spell out what they mean…

“Leaders in the church seem to have entered into a ‘benefactor agreement’ with their congregations, where they are expected to be the providers of what people need pastorally and spiritually.

We have ‘taken hold of that for which the Church has taken hold of us’ instead of taking hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of us.

When we do this, we effectively become like a ‘shell’, insulating people from the life of discipleship that Jesus has called them into, instead of a skeleton supporting and helping people to disciple others.

The church becomes like a crab or a wood louse, with the staff surrounding the people with care and teaching, catering to their needs. But what we want to see is the church operating like a human body; arms, legs and torso supported by the skeleton and working together to achieve the commission that the head gives it.

Jesus’ commission is ‘Go and make disciples.’ Are we primarily doing that as leaders? Are we helping the people in our church to do that? If we are not, then are we really fulfilling the commission that Jesus has given us?”

So the aim of Pastoral Care in this context is to equip and encourage folk to stand in mission on their front lines for God.

While there is much with which I can agree in both of these 2 models, I think they are still slightly wide of the mark.

3. Biblical Missional Church model (sorry – can’t think of a better name!).

Yes, it is our duty to equip people for mission. And yes, Pastoral Care is “the practical outworking of the church’s concern for the everyday and ultimate needs of its members…” But this concern stems from God’s love for his people and his world. As such, pastoral care is part of God’s mission to his broken creation; a Christ-centred mission to address the many and terrible results of the ‘fall’.

Pastoral Care ministers to the agents of God’s mission, but not simply to get broken people back to fitness for service on the frontline and certainly not to pamper them. Pastoral Care rather advances God’s missional purposes for and in his people, on their long journeys to personal wholeness. This is a Pastoral Care that addresses issues of the human heart as discipleship issues whilst refusing to get stuck in ‘navel gazing’. The goal of this approach is to form worshippers, not primarily missionaries. The happy bi-product of this approach will certainly be better equipped missional people.

So God’s mission has ethnic/geographical, holistic/integral AND spiritual/emotional aims. It reaches as far and long as the ends of the earth, as wide as the whole of creation, but also as deep as the depths of the human heart. And Pastoral Care belongs to the latter.

 

 

 

* First quote is from Pastoral Care, Counselling and Psychotherapy in the New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, Eds. David Atkinson and David Field, 1995).

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