I have said a few times that there are some comments, questions, concerns, or snide remarks that I would discuss in other formats other than in Sunday morning messages. In Sunday School we are working through the question, “”How do we prepare for/endure suffering?” by reading and discussing the book, The Uninvited Companion.
This is another comment/concern I will be reflecting on here;
Concerned that some church families receive more pastoral care than other families
To begin to understand what is “pastoral care,” there are a few terms to define, concepts to explain, and information to be presented. All of this has some general application to “pastoral care” in any, and all, situations…Not just within our church family and community.
#1 – “Pastoral” (adj) – Concerning or appropriate to the giving of spiritual guidance (definition).
Essentially, “Pastoral Care” is care provided to someone regarding their spiritual well-being. It is not, necessarily, only limited to care from one particular person, i.e. a “pastor”. It is a type of care given which can be provided by any number of different people (including a “professional pastor”).
#2 – In 1 Peter 2:4-5, Peter established what Martin Luther referred to as the “Priesthood of all Believers.” One thing that means is that anyone who is a follower of Christ has an important responsibility to provide spiritual care for others. Therefore, “Pastoral Care” does not mean a professional pastor is the only one who provides care. We all have roles to play in the growth of God’s Kingdom. One of those roles is living and sharing the Gospel of Christ so others may come to know Jesus. Another is how we are to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). This role relates to how we are called to support and encourage other Christians to continue to deepen their faith and grow in their relationship with Jesus, as His disciples. (Both roles include “Pastoral Care” for both Christians AND unbelievers!)
#3 – The mental health crisis in this country is very real! Mental health concerns were growing prior to COVID. COVID turned a “growing concern” into a crisis in record time. We live in a society, culture, and time of a nearly unprecedented combination of health concerns, division, hostility, anger, fear, hopelessness, etc. Someone recently told me that “the devil is working overtime and weekends now.” My response to that is that the devil always has. He NEVER stops working. The problem today is that more of us are participating with him in his destructive tactics. Pastors alone cannot provide enough care fast enough to undo the harm we all are doing to each other.
#4 – Professional pastors are not exempt from “Pastoral Care”. It is important to realize that many pastors do not have pastors. I’m not saying that they “shouldn’t”, because they should. It’s just different and difficult considering the situation of their own role. Pastors experience many of the same challenges, frustrations, disappointments, stresses, and temptations that everyone else experiences (some would say they experience many of these things at an even higher level than the average person). While dealing with life and all its challenges for themselves and their families, pastors are also carrying the heavy burdens of many within their church family. The greater the struggle of life in society, the greater the number of burdens many pastors are carrying with (and for) the people in their community.
None of the above is to say that pastors should not provide care. It is to say that we need to gain some perspective by asking ourselves a few important questions before we get concerned about who, what, and how much care…
Are there a lot of people hurting right now?
How am I offering spiritual care to others in my family, church, and community?
Could it be that my pastor is caring for a larger number of people during this time (including their own family and themselves) and, therefore, care from pastors themselves may look different than it has in the past?
Is the kind of “care” I WANT, the kind of care that I NEED? And what is the difference?
Is my pastor receiving the kind of care they need?
How might I find out and/or help them?
The fact of the matter is that some families do receive more pastoral care than other families. There are as many reasons for this as there are families within our church. The simplest explanation is that different families do not experience life and struggles the same. There are times when some families need more pastoral care than others. Another simple response is that it is important that we learn to ask for help when we need it. There are times of tragedy when it is obvious who is most in need, but outside of those times, it is important that we learn that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. It is, in fact, a sign of great strength to be able to admit that we need encouragement, support, and care.
As the pastor of Seeds of Faith and a pastor to our community, I try my best to live by Jesus’ example explained in Mark 12:14; “They [the Pharisees and Herodians] came to [Jesus] and said, ‘Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.’” What this means, in regards to the level of pastoral care I provide, is that I don’t take into any consideration someone’s last name, how much they tithe, how many committees they are on or Bible studies they’ve attended, how long they’ve attended the church, etc. I do not care any more, or any less, for anyone within our church family. I deeply care about every person in our church family and every person within our community. I do everything I can to provide the kind of pastoral care the Holy Spirit guides me to give and as much care as I am able to give; to the best of my ability and as fairly and equitably as I can. True and proper “Pastoral Care” is provided according to the discernment of the Holy Spirit. Not receiving the outcome, action, reaction, or attention we wanted does not mean we did not receive adequate pastoral care or that others have received better care.
These last 18 months have been a struggle and I have not been able to provide a level or amount of care that I would like, or that our church family or community needs. That is due to the fact that there are greater needs in our church family and the community. That is also due to the fact that I also have a family that has had our own struggles and challenges in this time. This has been a time where every situation is a lose/lose situation for many in leadership positions. Society has abandoned empathy and understanding…we are quick to consistently vent our frustration and disagreement and slow in sharing support.
I am the first to agree that, in this time, nobody has received the level of pastoral care that they may need or deserve. That includes pastors. That includes me. Unfortunately, there has been more needed in our community than I alone have had to give. (And, unfortunately, that is the case in most communities right now). Maybe it is weird of me to say, but I am not going to apologize for “not giving more” because I have given more than I have had to give…to the detriment of my own family and my own heart. What I will apologize for is living a poor example of self-care and setting a terrible precedent for myself, my family, and my church family. This is not a complaint or an indictment of anyone, this is me taking responsibility for what is mine to accept and reminding us all in this era of frustration, animosity, angst, division, and blame & shame…
We are all in this together. Let’s come together and work together to align who we are and what we are doing with the work of the Holy Spirit who is the bringer of hope, love, mercy, and redemption to this world!