Pastoral Care Musings
Imagine sitting down to watch a Jane Austin production. As you watch, the characters take shape, their personalities, odd ways, petty grievances, massive dysfunctional relating to ‘get their man’, hidden agendas (and I don’t mean like when the Secretary hides our leadership agendas and we have to find them).
In the course of the drama, in steps another character. This one isn’t really taken too seriously and is always presented in one of two ways: 1. As a sinister plotting megalomaniac intent on getting what he wants by any means necessary, including murder and pillage, and like a locust he is off to fresh green pastures that he will no doubt devour. 2. As a limp wristed, thickly be-speckled, wispy, goofy, dribbling buffoon. Welcome the vicar-minister-preacher-parson-”religious-nut”!
While shows like East Enders do their best to produce characters in the number one mode, period dramas such as Jane Austin (etc), produce characters firmly rooted in the two mode. It is this mode that has shaped a cultural view of the ministerial role; this mode helps us to assume we know what a minister is and what pastoral care really is; this mode is what sits deep, happy and unchallenged in the popular imagination of Christians and non-Christians alike.
In short, if we want a bit of drama to our mostly pretty drab lives, we may risk an occasional rendezvous with Pastor number one. But really, most of us (by most I really do mean 99.99% of the world’s population), really do want a soppy drip of a man to be at our beck and call, to be seriously interested in the details of why the begonias are not as productive this year as they were the past (500 years – global warming and the Muslims I tell you), and they seriously expect this weak man to drink weak tea in a pretty weak way!
My burden and my challenge is simply this: The pastoral role, for me as a pastor, and for us as a caring and loving church must be rooted in the radical and dangerous ground of the Gospel, or it is nothing. We must be people who are saturated in the Gospel or we have nothing to offer. If the pastoral care is to be biblical, then it must be shaped primarily on Jesus (and also on Paul), and I am absolutely certain, that if it was shaped around this biblical mandate then both roles described above would be ditched in the time it takes to watch Pride & Prejudice.
In short, if we insisted that the pastor visit and the pastor was Paul we would soon stop insisting he visit. If we insist that pastoral care is really social care and our end-goal is not the growth, maturity and joy of the believer in glorifying God, then we must drop ‘Baptist Church’ from our name and call ourselves ‘Itching Ears Social Club’.
Pastoral Care as I understand it biblically, is a God-orientated focus and direction to the things and ways of God that the Christian can grow in and learn from. The template (for want of a better word) is found in Paul’s list of the 5-fold ministry in Ephesians 4:11-13 where he mentions apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. These are given, in conjunction with the other aspects Paul mentions in 1 Cor 12 & Romans 12:3-8, for a specific purpose: for the equipping, maturing and upbuilding of the people of God. The aim is to:prepare God’s people for work’s of service, so that they attain the unity of fait and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Without this as the drive and goal, any church will simply become lopsided or stunted, failing to become what it should be.
We are reminded at this point that pastoral care, especially in the OT but also noted by Jesus in John 10 (cf. Ezekiel 34) that pastoring is also shepherding. And so once again the image of what pastoral care looks like has to absorb another biblical facet into it’s structure. Shepherds are strong and caring; sheep are dumb and smelly. But the shepherd loves the sheep. It is inconceivable that a sheep would venture to tell the shepherd how to do his job or what he needs, or offer mediocre at best and utterly trivial at worst, insights into what the shepherd should be doing.
Eugene Peterson is a master-writer to pastors. In his book, ‘The Contemplative Pastor’ he categorises three types of pastor that all pastors should emulate if they are to be biblically faithful to their ordained ministry. In leading up to this in a previous book, he castigates modern means of the pastoral role. He says pastors are abandoning their posts at an alarming rate. They still get paid by the church, they look after the church, they still preach and pray and commune. He says they are ‘whoring after other gods’ because what they ‘do’ under the guise of pastoral ministry hasn’t ‘the remotest connection with what the church’s pastors have done for most of twenty centuries.’ The cult of success, size, faddish business models, wealth, secularism, etc, have all taken their toll on much contemporary Western Evangelicalism.
As far as I can tell, under the lead of God for the actual pastor’s role, is prayer, Bible and discipleship (which includes both the comforting and sending aspects). Therefore, the three categories he insists a pastor must live by if he is to be faithful and carry out prayer Bible and discipleship is the following:
1. The Unbusy Pastor. “How can a pastor persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if he has to juggle his schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?”
2. The Subversive Pastor. “I am undermining the kingdom of self and establishing the kingdom of God. I am being subversive.”
3. The Apocalyptic Pastor. “With the vastness of the heavenly invasion and the urgency of the faith decision rolling into our consciousness like thunder and lightening, we cannot stand around on Sunday morning filling time with pretentious small talk on how bad the world is and how wonderful this new stewardship campaign is going to be.”
The reason I mentioned Jane Austin and the two types of minister at the start is simply this: If I, even for a moment, accept my culture’s definition of me, I am rendered harmless, useless, and helpless. Peterson gets it right for me. And if this is right, the pastoral role of “looking after people” takes a radically biblical direction, one that we can only thank God for, since it is rooted in Scripture and is given to us by Christ because of the Gospel.
The role, call and art of the pastoral office, as it has been biblically understood, and seen in 2000 years of church history is constantly under threat: kill the shepherd and scatter the sheep. Pastoral care is a primary attack of Satan closely followed by marriage. And one of the most subtle ways Satan is doing this is for all to see, as John Piper writes: “Professionalisation is killing pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of a slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake. For there is no professional childlikeness (Mt 18:3); there is no professional tenderheartedness (Eph 4:32); there is no professional panting after God (Ps 42:11). We cannot professionalise the love for the appearing of Christ without killing it. And it isbeing killed. The world sets the agenda of the professional man; God sets the agenda of the spiritual man. The strong wine of Jesus Christ explodes the wineskins of professionalism.”
I write this because if we as a church do not ‘get’ pastoral care, we will never do it as God intends, it will not be done for His glory, nor will we have eternity in mind as we care and lead God’s people. The proclamation of the Gospel is central to all ministry and church life, that includes pastoral care. The proclamation of the Gospel is a word about God and the salvation offered to all people. It is other worldy, it is supernatural, it is beyond us, yet given to us, it is proclaimed but it is unthinkable.
The aim of the Church, is eternal and it is spiritual. Anything that does not pass a Gospel test or filter, must be releagted to some secondary or third rate level of priority. Eternity and spirituality is not shared by any of the professions and it is precisely the failure to see this that we are dying.
Piper writes, “We are most emphatically not part of a social team sharing goals with other professionals. Our goals are an offense; they are foolishness (1 Cor 1:23). The professionalisation to the ministry is a constant threat to the offense of the gospel. It is a threat to the profoundly spiritual nature of our work. I have seen it often: the love of professionalism kills a person’s belief that he is sent by God to save people from hell and to make them Christ-exalting, spiritual aliens in our world.”
Finally (for now), all this is rooted in the Gospel, I hope that’s been clear. Genuine biblical pastoral care, be it the shepherd, the apocalyptic pastor or the teacher evangelist is Gospel centred,; Gospel driven; Gospel motivated; Gospel orientated or we have nothing. Jude writes that we are to ‘contend’ for the faith because where there is a truth there is a lie. If the Gospel isn’t central, what exactly are we offering? More tea vicar?
But no, we contend, defend, stand firm, run the race, fight the fight, build, plant, water; we guard the gospel as a priority. So we contend for this glorious faith, this Gospel of Jesus Christ. Jude continues, that we are to ‘build yourselves up in your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.’ This is the first stage of pastoral care. We build, pray, keep – ourselves. Then the very next verse propels us towards those whom God has given us. We are to ‘have mercy on the doubters, save others by snatching them from the fire, show mercy with fear – hating even the clothing stained by the sinful flesh.’
How can a hungry shepherd feed his sheep? How can a dry mouth proclaim the Living Waters of Jesus? How can a fleshly spirit wear the armour of God? Pastoral care starts right here with people who get the apocalyptic nature of what it really is. Then, we will have genuine, biblical mercy and hope for those in the fire or those who doubt.
And if like me, you are tempted to think on occasion, you’re not up to this, God is the source, author, goal and point of it all. Jude 1 refers to those whom God has called, the beloved ones kept for Jesus Christ. And by the time we get to v24 we read, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
So no, we’re not up to this task/ministry. But God is, and he who called you is faithful. He will do it.