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: 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  

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