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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.

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