*NOTE: this is more of a "Long" word, rather than a "Quick" word, but definitely worth reading. I want to share with you some of my experiences with Pastoral Care. I grew up old-school. We lived on a 50-acre farm, and there weren’t a whole lot of other children around, so my Mom would often take me to visit our neighbors. Elderly neighbors. I would visit Margaret Messer every Wednesday, and play piano for her on her upright 1920’s Steinway. On the weekends I would visit our other neighbor, Zelma Shelton (who became Grandma Shelton to me), and we would pick apples and pears out of her orchards and I would help her can tomatoes and snap beans. When I got old enough, Mama didn’t have to drive me over there anymore; I just walked because I loved spending time with these women. When I began ‘working’ in the church, I was exposed to a variety of different pastoral care styles. One of my senior pastors regularly wrote articles for publication on the ‘Art of Home and Hospital Visitation,’ and ‘The Pastoral Call: A Dying Art.’ Another Pastor I worked with -- YOU DID NOT WANT TO SEE HIM COMING TO VISIT YOU, because that certainly meant your time in this earthly realm was close to being over. Recently I had a congregation member send me an article about ‘How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches.’ WHAAATTTT??? My knee-jerk reaction to the title was negative and I felt offended, but there were some insights that forced me to stop and think:
‘If you’re a good pastoral care person (and many pastors are), people will often love you so much that the church will grow to two hundred people, at which point the pastoral care expectations become crushing. Caring for 30 people personally is possible. Caring for 230 is not. The pastor is frustrated that he or she can’t keep up, and the congregation is frustrated over the same thing. Consequently, almost everyone gets hurt in the process. It’s ironic. The very thing you’re great at (pastoral care) eventually causes your exit when you can no longer keep up. If a church is going to grow, congregations have to let go of the expectation that their pastor will be available for every medical emergency, every twist and turn in their lives, every family celebration and every crisis. It’s an unsustainable expectation that the congregation relies on the pastor for all of its care needs, and possibly worse, it fuels unhealthy development in a pastor that needs to be needed. That’s a tough sell for many congregations, but if a church is going to grow, it has to happen.’ WHAAATTTT??? (again) In Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul writes that there is a call to have multiple shepherds to lead a church flock. “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints of the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” So there are lots of talents in the body that contributes to building it up. Not just one pastor. Or two. Christ has given different gifts to different people: Different gifts = Different people Not: One person = All Gifts. Even Jesus adopted the model of group care, moving his large group of hundreds of disciples into groups of seventy, twelve, three, and then one. (Luke 9:1-6, 28-36; Luke 10:1-20; Matthew 10; Matthew 17; Mark 6: 7-13; Mark 7,) Even the universe required a Trinity to handle all its needs. As I consider our congregation, I think about our Deacons who minister weekly delivering flowers and carrying communion to those who aren’t able to worship with us. I know two former Deacons who pay regular, weekly visits to individuals in care facilities. I’m reminded of our Benevolence group that helps individuals in need with bills and payments. I’m humbled by our Stephen Ministers and Leaders that minister confidentially to individuals. I’m grateful for our sister, Episcopal Chaplain Barbara Sorin who hosts a caregiver support group to uphold those giving loving care to friends and family members. I cherish Bible Study and fellowship times with the residents of 3 different elder-care facilities (anyone can come and attend), along with innumerable personal visits. And then there are those in our number who go unnamed and unrecognized, who regularly provide worship and fellowship in a variety of other care homes, and even prisons. I’m sure there are others. There are prayer groups, small groups, building groups, book clubs, women’s circles, and a variety of times and places where care happens – sometimes planned, sometimes impromptu. And then there are all the phone calls, the cards, and the kind words. One colleague shared that 98% of pastoral care is having someone who cares. It doesn’t have to be the pastor. It’s simply impossible for a church to grow under one or two people’s direction, care, and leadership. If there’s one thing that MPC has experienced repeatedly over the past 5 years, is that the Church is not the pastor(s). The Church is the people. Congregational care reaches much further than pastoral care alone. As pastors, our role is to be the ‘Undershepherds;’ equipping the Body of Christ. Our true mandate is to equip the lay community to take on leadership and ministry roles for themselves. Yes, we are the ‘paid’ pastors, but there are many others who go unpaid. When two or three people on staff do good ministry, it isn’t impressive. It’s when you have 40% of your attendees who care enough to minister to others in the church – now that’s impressive. It’s the Body that counts. Richly, Nikki If you would like to share your gift and calling of visiting and caring for individuals, or know of someone who would like a visit, please contact Deacon Sue Hare, Deacon Renee Erickson, or Rev. Nikki Passante. The three of us are working together to build a dynamic network of folks caring for one another.