Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Providing Christian Care in Our Time: Skills for Pastoral Care

Friday August 17 2018

Providing Christian Care in Our Time: Skills for Pastoral Care

Stress is ramping up. I use the term “new/old” to describe the stress people today deal with. “Old” sources of stress include all sorts of stressors that have always been around, such as illness, grief, unemployment, and family discord. New sources of stress include political polarization, the tyranny of smart phones, and the rising cost of housing and education. Understanding the new/old sources of stress that people face today is a key skill for pastoral care.

In my previous post, I wrote about trends in pastoral care, and in the post before that, I introduced the idea that our understanding of Christian pastoral care has changed in recent years. These ideas come from my new book, Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century.

The second half of my new book focuses on four skills for pastoral care. I’ve mentioned one of them already – understanding stress. I’ll discuss two more of them today, and in my next post I’ll discuss one of them that will perhaps be most relevant for readers of my blog, many of whom have a deep commitment to Christian spirituality.

Understanding new/old sources of stress, how stress affects the body and soul, and how to cope with stress is one important skill for caring in our time. A second significant skill for pastoral care is listening skills. In 2011, I conducted interviews with 62 ministers and congregational leaders about the role of listening in congregational life and mission. Almost all of my interviewees agreed that many Christians need to grow in listening skills. They talked about how common it is for people to be uncomfortable with silence.

Many of my interviewees talked about the concept of “inner noise,” those racing thoughts that intrude on our ability to listen. Maybe we just can’t let go of the to-do list. Maybe thoughts of the conflict we just had with a friend or family member keep intruding. Maybe we have a strong need to help or fix the person we’re listening to, and we just can’t stop ourselves from giving advice. Learning to cope with inner noise as we listen is a key pastoral care skill.

A third important skill for pastoral care is the kind of self-care that builds resilience. Many people who engage in a lot of caring are soft-hearted, gentle people who are often more aware of other people’s needs than their own. All pastoral carers, but especially those who focus most easily on other people’s needs, must develop rhythms of life that nourish inner strength and provide balance.

I am a devoted Sabbath keeper, and I have found great benefit from my Sabbath practice. Others have found that they can nurture resilience by rhythms of walking, hiking, exercising at the gym, gardening, reading, crafting, meals with friends or family members, and many other forms of re-creative activities.

How we think about our life and our responsibilities also influence resilience. The challenge is to let go of the inner messages that encourage us to be busy every minute, or to serve until all needs are met. We need to encourage each other into beliefs that enable us to embrace rhythms, such as:

  • God calls us to rhythms. Sometimes we are care-givers, sometimes care recipients, and sometimes we rest.
  • I can listen to my body when it tells me to stop and rest.
  • God calls me to fun and play as well as to service and caring.

The three skills I’ve mentioned here lay an important foundation for healthy and effecting Christian care in the twenty-first century: understanding new/old sources of stress, listening well, and embracing rhythms that nurture resilience. A fourth skill for pastoral care is engaging in spiritual practices, both for our own sakes and for the sake of care recipients. I’ll write about that in the next post.

(Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

You may enjoy some articles I’ve written on listening, which you can find here.

Providing Christian care in our time: Seven trends in pastoral care today

Friday August 10 2018

Providing Christian care in our time: Seven trends in pastoral care today

In my post last week, I described a community dinner and a prayer support group as examples of patterns of Christian caring that are now being recognized as pastoral care. Those two stories illustrate several of the trends in pastoral care that I identify in my new book, Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century.

Here are the seven trends I think need to be in the front of our minds today in the area of Christian care today:

1. Pastoral care has many models. The model of pastoral care from 50 years ago, a minister sitting in an office having a one-on-one counseling session with a parishioner, still remains. A minister or a pastoral care team member may visit a shut-in or someone in the hospital, a form of Christian care. In addition, people who lead the Wednesday Night Dinner I described in my last post – cooks, servers, greeters, clean-up people, and folks who are trying to build relationships across socioeconomic boundaries – are providing care, as are people in small groups, task groups, and music groups in congregations. A conversation in the parking lot after a committee meeting, where two people take the time to ask how each other is doing, is also a form of pastoral care.

2. Teams and a variety of individuals provide pastoral care. Many congregations these days have pastoral care teams. Roman Catholics led the way here because the shortage of priests means that others in the parish must provide pastoral care for parishioners who are in need. In my own Presbyterian congregation, the board of deacons functions as a pastoral care team, taking meals to people who have just gotten out of the hospital and bringing communion to shut-ins.

3. Christian Pastoral Care Is Grounded in the Triune God. The term “pastoral care” is used in numerous secular settings these days, and Christians can only rejoice when people provide any form of care. However, Christians must have a clear understanding of what makes Christian pastoral care uniquely Christian. I wrote last week about the shepherd passages in the Bible. Christian pastoral carers must understand and experience God as our Shepherd, the one who guides and empowers human care-givers.

4. Christian Pastoral Care Is Missional. About 25 years ago, some Christians began to use the word “missional,” to refer to the understanding that we are sent into the world as Jesus was sent (John 17:18). Christian pastoral care is always a part of the mission of God, revealed in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to bring God’s love to the world. Christian pastoral care today, then, meets needs within congregations but also in the wider community.

5. Pastoral Care Occurs across Ethnicities and Religions. Throughout the world, cities, towns, and neighborhoods are becoming more ethnically diverse. Many congregations have experienced increasing diversity. As congregations reach beyond their doors to their community, they often encounter ethnic and religious diversity. Caring today involves engaging with and meeting needs experienced by people who are different than we are.

6. Pastoral Care Empowers. In many caring professions like social work, professionals are becoming more aware of the dangers of dependency. The goal of professional care is to empower people to find their own strength. Christian pastoral carers increasingly have the same concerns. One small, unexpected strategy that encourages empowerment is the growing awareness that all Christians are sometimes carers and sometimes care recipients. No one lives in one role forever, and that is quite freeing.

7. Pastoral Carers Consider the Web of Relationships.  Individuals don’t exist in isolation. All of us are embedded in families and communities. In the past, pastoral care was often viewed as helping an individual. In the twenty-first century, we have a growing understanding of the significance of the clusters of people connected to those to whom we are providing care. Increasingly, pastoral care seeks to meet the needs of families and other groups of people.

These seven trends are shaping pastoral care in our time. I invite you to ponder the way you see the trends impacting Christian ministry in your setting. In my next two posts (next week and the week after) I’ll discuss skills for pastoral care.

(Next week: skills for pastoral care. If you’d like to receive and email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

Some more links about my new book:
          How I came to write Nurturing Hope
          Overview of the book, plus endorsements 
          Purchase Nurturing Hope in paperback or for Kindle 
          For my friends in New Zealand, purchase Nurturing Hope from the Book Depository  

Providing Christian Care in Our Time

Thursday August 2 2018

Providing Christian Care in Our Time

For more than 20 years, a church in Seattle has offered dinner on Wednesday nights to anyone who wants to come. Numerous homeless people and others on the margins attend.

Members of the congregation are encouraged to attend, in order to build relationships with the people who come to the dinner. Over the years a great deal of caring has gone back and forth between the congregation members and the homeless and low income people who attend the dinner. For many years, the church hired a part time social worker to help people in the Wednesday Night Dinner community with housing and job issues.

Should this ministry be called local outreach or pastoral care? The answer must be “both.”

Five women meet twice a month to share prayer requests and pray for each other. They listen to each other deeply and support each other in many ways. Between their meetings, prayer requests often fly around in emails and text messages, and words of support and encouragement are sent in response. The members of the group know that the others are praying for them.

Is this a small group or is it pastoral care? Again, the answer must be “both.”

Pastoral care in our time is changing. More accurately, our understanding of what constitutes pastoral care is changing. Fifty years ago, most Christians perceived pastoral care as something done by a pastor or church staff person, involving one-on-one conversations in a church office or a visit by the pastor to a parishioner’s home.

Today Fortress Press is releasing my new book, Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century. I had a great time writing that book because I want Christians to understand the fascinating trends in Christian pastoral care that we can see today. In the book, I outline seven trends. I also describe four key skills for pastoral care in our time.

The trends and skills need to be situated in an understanding of what exactly pastoral care is. “Pastoral” comes from the Latin word pastoralis which means “relating to a shepherd.” Christians get their understanding of shepherding from passages in the Bible like Psalm 23 or Jesus’ words about being the Good Shepherd in John 10:11-18.

The clearest passage about the tasks of a shepherd is Ezekiel 34. God speaks through Ezekiel, saying that the leaders of Israel have not shepherded the people. God will become the people’s shepherd. God will seek out the lost sheep, feed them, and give them rest. God will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak (Ezekiel 34:11-16).

The women who support each other in the prayer group I described are doing these tasks for each other as they pray for each other’s injuries and weaknesses. The leaders at the Wednesday Night Dinner, and the congregation members who attend in order to build relationships there, are doing this as they talk with people who have felt lost. These leaders and congregation members provide a place of peace and rest, and they share a meal.

Pastoral care is no longer an arena where only paid professionals can shine.

All Christian pastoral care is modeled after Jesus, the Good Shepherd who looks after his sheep, and who calls us to engage in his ministry. All Christians provide pastoral care at some times, and all Christians receive it at other times.

In my blog post next week,  I’ll lay out the seven trends I discuss in my book, and in two posts after that, I’ll describe the four skills that I think are essential for pastoral care in our time. 

To my beloved blog readers, I would really appreciate your help getting the word out that this book has been published. I would be so grateful if you could send a link to this post to anyone you know who is a chaplain, who’s in a pastoral care role in a congregation, or who you know who wants to grow in their ability to extend care to others. Posting a link to this post on Facebook or other social media would also be very helpful. Thank you!

To buy my book on amazon.com, click here.

To read my blog post from last week, where I explain how I came to write the book, click here

To see the page about the book on my website, which gives an overview of the structure and all the endorsements, click here.

(If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under subscribe.)

My new book on Christian caring: How I came to write it

Thursday July 26 2018

My new book on Christian caring: How I came to write it

In mid January 2017, I was enjoying summer in New Zealand and slowly working through closets and drawers in preparation for our upcoming move back to Seattle in June. I was glad we hadn’t planned much travel for the summer, because I find it overwhelming to sort through possessions, and I was making very slow progress.

My friend Beth Gaede contacted me that January. Beth served as editor for five of my books, and over the course of working on those books, she and I became friends. In 2016, she had taken on the editor role for a series of books on pastoral care that would be published by Fortress Press. In our monthly skype conversations in 2016, she had talked about the various topics the books in the series would cover, such as grief, relationships, and parenting.

In the first half of 2016, I taught a class on pastoral care using a syllabus created by Lydia Fuller Johnson, who I consider to be a genius at pastoral care. Lydia said in her syllabus that if she could have used a subtitle for the course, it would have been “the changing face of pastoral care.” As Beth was formulating the plan for the series of books, and as we talked about it on skype, I chimed in with my opinions based on what I had learned from Lydia’s syllabus and from my own practice of pastoral care in many settings.

On that big day (for me!) in January 2017, Beth asked me if I would write the anchor volume for the series. It would be a general overview of pastoral care, setting the tone for the rest of the books on specific pastoral care situations. This was the first time I had ever been asked to write a book, so I felt honored and very grateful for that affirmation of my writing abilities.

However . . .

We were going to move from New Zealand to the United States in late June. I would be teaching my heaviest load ever between March and June. I had numerous speaking and preaching dates set up for the months before we left. When we got to Seattle, we were planning on doing significant repairs to the house we had bought a couple of years earlier.

The publisher needed the book to be completed by September, and all I could see was VERY busy months between January and September. I didn’t reply to Beth’s email the day I got it, because I really didn’t want to say no, but I knew I needed to do that.

That night, before I feel asleep, I started thinking about how I would structure a book on pastoral care. I would want to devote half of the book to the trends in pastoral care that Lydia had laid out in her syllabus. I could think of seven trends I would want to cover. I would want to devote the second half of the book to skills for pastoral care. I’ve written books about listening, spiritual practices and avoiding burnout. I view those as three significant skills for pastoral care. One additional skill I thought of that night as I was pondering was understanding stress.

I woke up the next morning and wrote down this outline. I made notes about what I would include in each chapter. That day, I still didn’t respond to Beth’s request. Even though I had an outline for the book, I knew I needed to say no to writing it.

That second night as I lay in bed, I began writing an introductory chapter in my head. I could perceive the topics I would cover to introduce the seven trends and the four skills. The next morning I got up and wrote most of the chapter.

Hmmm. By noon on that third day I realized that I was going to write the book. I told Beth yes and dived in. I wrote all but two chapters in January, February and March. In April, I set the book aside to begin marking essays and finalize details for moving. In August, after we had arrived in Seattle, I did a lot of reading for the chapter on stress, and I completed that chapter and the other one I hadn’t written yet. The book got to the publisher by September, and it will be released next week on August 1.

In the next few weeks for my blog posts here, I’ll write about the trends and skills I present in the book. Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century will be my eleventh book, not counting my three Bible study guides and my four fiction books. Some of my books were like this one, written in a short period of time, pouring out of me as if God were giving wings to my words. Others of my books took many months, written in two or three mornings a week, balanced with other work.

So many people ask me questions about the publishing and writing process. I thought you would enjoy hearing a little bit about the steps that lie behind my latest book. I am thrilled with the book, proud of the content, and grateful for the opportunity to write it. I feel humbled by the privilege of being called by God to be a writer.

(Next week: trends in pastoral care. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.”)

Two articles on listening, one of the key skills in Christian caring:
          Listening past the noise
          Letting go of agendas so we can listen to God and others

Friendship skills of asking, giving, and thanking: A biblical example and some questions for reflection

Thursday July 19 2018

Friendship skills of asking, giving, and thanking: A biblical example and some questions for reflection

The story of Jeremiah and Baruch illustrates the relationship between asking and intimacy. Jeremiah, that passionate and beleaguered prophet in the Bible, got lots of help from a man named Baruch. Jeremiah 32 describes an incident where God told Jeremiah to buy a field as an act of hope for the future of Israel. Jeremiah asked Baruch to take the deed for the field and bury it in a glass jar so it would be safe for the future, and Baruch obeyed Jeremiah’s request.

Jeremiah 36 records another vivid drama. God instructed Jeremiah to write down the words God has given him, so Jeremiah again solicited help from Baruch. Jeremiah dictated God’s words to Baruch, and Baruch wrote them on a scroll. Jeremiah had been banned from the temple, so Jeremiah asked Baruch to take the scroll to the temple and read it out.

Ultimately the news about this scroll came to the king, who chopped the scroll into pieces and burned it in his coal fire, a dramatic portrayal of someone who passionately wanted to avoid hearing and obeying God. The king then set out to arrest Baruch and Jeremiah.

“But the Lord hid them” (Jer 36:26), so they were safe. Then the Lord instructed Jeremiah to write down all the words of prophesy again, so once again Baruch recorded Jeremiah’s words on a scroll.

Baruch is often called Jeremiah’s secretary, and indeed he filled that role. But he did more. He entered into Jeremiah’s call from God and helped him in more ways that simply writing down his words. He travelled with Jeremiah (Jer 43:43:1-4) and shared Jeremiah’s emotions (Jer 45:1-5).

Jeremiah is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and I like to ponder the fact that we probably owe its existence to Baruch’s willingness to write it down. Twice. Baruch’s loyalty illustrates the kind of friendship that can exist between people who are willing to serve God and do as they are asked, even if the roles they have been given are very different.

Jeremiah asked for Baruch’s help numerous times. Their friendship also illustrates the kind of partnership that develops when someone is willing to ask for help and someone else is willing to give it.

This is the last post in this series on the role of asking, giving and thanking in friendship. Here are some questions for reflection:

1. In what situations or with which friends do you find it difficult to ask for help or companionship? In which situations or with which friends do you find it easier to ask for help or companionship?

2. Ponder the obstacles you experience in asking for help from friends. Are they rooted in models of relationships from your family of origin or other childhood influences? Are they rooted in pride in self-sufficiency or shame in having needs? In what ways would you like to respond to these obstacles or pray about them?

3. In what ways do you like to give to your friends? Time? Gifts? Words? Helpful actions? Explore the reasons why you like to give in that way.

4. Do you find it easy or hard to thank people? Have you experienced someone else’s thanks as a step closer in intimacy with them? Why or why not?

5. This week, ask two or three of your friends, colleagues or acquaintances how they would define “friend” or “friendship.” Watch particularly for any components of their definition that relate to asking, giving and thanking.

6. Spend some time praying about your patterns of asking, giving, receiving and thanking. Ask God for insight to understand why you do what you do, and ask God for help to grow in these areas.

Previous posts in this series:

     The friendship skills of asking, giving and thanking
     Giving, asking, noticing and thanking
     We belong together
     Obstacles to thankfulness

(Next week: first post in a new series on Christian care. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several boxes of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.

Here are prices for the United States, including postage:
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for New Zealand, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

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