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

First post in a new series: Connections between the Bible and prayer

Friday August 31 2018

First post in a new series: Connections between the Bible and prayer

I became a committed Christian at 19, and for the next two years I was actively involved in the Christian fellowship group at my university. The group was affiliated with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and we were taught that one of the basic commitments of being a Christian was to have a daily quiet time.

The DQT, as some people called it, had two components: Bible study and intercessory prayer. We were encouraged to pray briefly before beginning our Bible study to ask for God’s help to understand the passage. We were taught to look for three things in the biblical passage:

  • What does it say?
  • What does it mean?
  • What does it mean to me?

At the point where we were able to identify how the passage related to our life, we were encouraged to pray for God’s help to apply that truth in our lives. Then we moved on to intercessory prayer for the needs we saw around us.

The same pattern applied in the small group Bible studies I participated in during my university and young adult years. We prayed for God’s help to see God’s truth in the passage, discussed the passage, prayed to apply the truth from the passage to our lives, and then prayed for each other’s needs.

All of these things are good. In fact, very good. But prayer can deepen our Bible study in so many additional ways, and the Bible can shape our prayers so profoundly as well. This is the first post in a series exploring connections between the Bible and prayer.

I recently taught a class at my own church on this topic, and I asked the participants a series of questions to begin. The first question I asked was: “What do you pray for when you open the Bible to read a passage?” I was impressed with the depth of the answers:

  • I pray, “God help me know what you’re saying to me.”
  • I pray about the specific problems I have, asking God to give me answers from the passage.
  • I pray for what God wants me to see.
  • I pray that God would help me see the context of the passage and the relationship between that context and my own life.
  • I pray that God would show me what this passage means for me today.

I also asked them to ponder the role of the Holy Spirit as we read the Bible. Understanding the role of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the Bible provides a whole lot of stimulation for prayer. The people in the class I taught said that the Holy Spirit:

  • helps us understand a passage and its relevance to our lives
  • mingles God’s wisdom with our own experience
  • often gives us a new slant on a passage, helping us to see it in a fresh way
  • nudges us to act in response to what we read
  • reminds us of God’s broader story
  • reminds us we are dependent on God for everything, that we are not the central actors in our lives

All of these ideas can be fuel for prayer as we approach reading or studying the Bible. As we pray for these things, we are more likely to meet God through the words of the Bible. As we experience God’s presence and learn from God in the Bible, we are called to deeper prayer. A lovely synergy results as prayer fuels our Bible reading, and the Bible fuels our prayers.

(Next week: The character of God, as taught in the Bible, and prayer. 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.)

Two previous posts on this blog that set the stage nicely for this series on the Bible and prayer:

     Life in a two-beat rhythm         
     Open hands, open heart         

Providing Christian care: The importance of spiritual practices

Friday August 24 2018

Providing Christian care: The importance of spiritual practices

I am having a conversation at coffee hour with a woman who is struggling in her job. As she talks about her discouragement, I say, “Can I say a quick prayer for you?”

She says yes, and right there amid the people chatting over coffee, I put my hand on her shoulder and pray for God’s guidance, strength and mercy for her.

Pastoral care that is uniquely Christian must have a component of prayer. Sometimes we can pray aloud for the person we are caring for as I did at coffee hour that day. Other times, the prayer is silent within us, because we can see that the person we are talking with is feeling very far from God or would not welcome prayer for some other reason.

Pastoral carers can invite care recipients into many different forms of prayer, such as silent prayer, breath prayer, or inner healing prayer. In pastoral care settings like hospital visits, we might use a printed prayer or pray a psalm together. In order to pray with care recipients, carers obviously need to feel comfortable praying, which can only happen with experience praying on their own or in other settings with people.

Feeling comfortable praying – for the sake of praying with and for care recipients – is one reason by carers need to have a rich life of spiritual practices. I’ll write about three other reasons, and I bet you can think of even more.

1. Spiritual practices – various forms of prayer, various forms of Bible study, and other practices such as Sabbath keeping, fasting and journaling – enable us to perceive God’s guidance. Carers need God’s guidance in so many ways. Is God calling me to reach out to this person? In what way? What questions should I ask? What stories from my own life should I tell? Should I offer practical help or simply a listening ear?

I need God’s help to know what to do. Over time, spiritual practices train us in our ability to perceive God’s direction, an essential component of caring.

2. Spiritual practices help us rest in the fact that all caring is God’s ministry, not our own. Other people’s lives belong to God, not to us, and we are not responsible for what happens to them or what they experience. We are responsible to care, to walk beside people in their pain, but we cannot fix them, heal them, or change them. This is the single truth that I wish I had known more deeply when I was an associate pastor in a congregation.

In those years, I felt weighed down by people’s pain, as if I was somehow responsible to heal or fix their pain. I wish I had known more clearly that their lives belonged to God, and my responsibility was to journey with them. This perspective can be nurtured by spiritual practices.

3. If we have a rich understanding and experience of spiritual practices, we’ll be able to guide care recipients into spiritual practices of their own. One goal of Christian caring is to help people draw near to God. Therefore part of our caring involves helping care recipients figure out the best ways they can do that. If we have had a wide experience of spiritual practices, we will be more likely to be able to help care recipients talk through the ways they already draw near to God. We’ll be able to help them brainstorm new options.

I praise God that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who looks out for his sheep. We are called to be under-shepherds, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us into caring ministry, but God is the shepherd of all the sheep. We can rest in God’s care for us and for those we love.

This is the fifth and last post in a series about pastoral care today. I’ve been writing about themes from my new book, Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century. The previous posts covered: 

(Next week: the first post in a new series on the ways the Bible informs prayer, and the way prayer helps us meet God through the Bible. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

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.)

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