Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century

Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century Buy now »

When I was asked to write this book, the “anchor volume” for a series of books on Christian pastoral care, I thought about what I would want to say about pastoral care today. I decided there were two major topics I was concerned about: trends in pastoral care and skills for pastoral care.

Pastoral care has changed so much in the past couple of decades. Some of the change relates to who we expect to do pastoral care and how we do it. Some of the change relates to the recipients of pastoral care, who are more varied ethnically and more often members of the wider community rather than members of a church community. In addition, the term “pastoral care” is often used in secular settings, so Christians need to be clearer than ever about what makes pastoral care uniquely Christian.

I came up with seven statements that summarize the trends I see. (You can read a blog post that describes each of the trends here.) These are the chapter titles for Part One of the book:

     Pastoral Care Has Many Models
     Teams and a Variety of Individuals Provide Pastoral Care
     Christian Pastoral Care is Grounded in the Triune God
     Christian Pastoral Care is Missional
     Pastoral Care Occurs across Ethnicities and Religions
     Pastoral Care is About Empowering
     Pastoral Carers Consider Extended Families, Societies and Systems

In the area of skills for pastoral care, I thought of four areas I consider to be essential. People are so stressed these days, and they are stressed in new ways as well as “old” ways. Listening skills are obviously essential, and I wrote an entire book on listening skills. I see prayer and other spiritual practices as essential for pastoral care that is guided and empowered by the Triune God. And resilience is a huge challenge for people in caring ministries, because compassion fatigue is so common. Therefore my four skills chapters, which make up Part Two of the book, are:

     Understanding Old/New Sources of Stress
     Using Listening Skills Wisely
     Engaging in and Leading Others in Spiritual Practices
     Nurturing Resilience

You can read a blog post about the three of the skills here, and a separate post about the role of spiritual practices in pastoral care here. I also wrote posts about how I came to write the book and an overview of Christian pastoral care today.

My hope and prayer is that the book will help Christians to show love to each other more deeply and in ways that helps each person move toward wholeness.

I received a number of very encouraging endorsements:

Nurturing Hope is the most helpful book on pastoral care I have read for a long time. Few authors have Lynne Baab’s understanding of the changing patterns and the solutions needed to provide effective care. The interweaving of story and practical advice makes this an easy to read, yet an essential, addition to the library of all who work to provide care in church congregations.”
—Christine Sine, contemplative activist, blogger and author of numerous books, most recently Rest in the Moment.

“Discerning where God is at work and communicating the loving care of God are foundational both for mission and pastoral care. Lynne Baab points to the why and how of cooperating with God in being present with people. She demonstrates that a deep commitment to the mission of God and to authentic pastoral care belong together. Nurturing Hope is an outstanding textbook for practitioners and students of pastoral care and chaplaincy, and anyone desiring to be a caring presence in their networks and relationships.”
—Darren Cronshaw, Professor of Missional Leadership, Australian College of Ministries, and Pastor, AuburnLife Baptist Church, Melbourne

“Reading this book nurtures my hope! Lynne Baab is a masterful, seasoned carer and teacher of care-givers, and this book benefits from her deep reservoirs of experience as a pastor, researcher, professor, and open-hearted person of faith. The Baab oeuvre—especially her books on Sabbath-keeping and listening—has informed my living and teaching for many years. Nurturing Hope builds on that earlier work, offering spiritual insights and practical counsel for all people who engage in pastoral care. Anchored in Scripture and attentive to contemporary scientific and cultural analysis, this book encourages and guides us as we seek to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds, while endeavoring to love our neighbor as our self.”
—Susan S. Phillips (Ph.D.), executive director and professor of Christian spirituality at New College Berkeley (Graduate Theological Union), sociologist and spiritual director, and author of The Cultivated Life: From Ceaseless Striving to Receiving Joy.

“Lynne Baab’s Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century is an important and welcome publication. It expands our understanding of what constitutes pastoral care and who counts as pastoral carers in the postmodern world in which the contemporary church finds itself. Baab highlights several ways in which the field of pastoral care must take into account the diverse and complex contexts in which Christians are called to minister today, which require more intentional cultivation of lay pastoral care and greater sensitivity to cross-cultural and socio-economic realities. She describes the way forward in pastoral care, firmly grounded in a Christian theology of care. Baab’s inclusion of concrete examples of the issues being addressed, her ‘training tips’ and questions for reflection in each chapter, and her focus in the second part of the book on both practical and spiritual skills needed for today’s pastoral carers makes this an ideal resource for pastors, lay pastoral care teams, seminarians, and church groups of all kinds.”
—Lydia F. Johnson, author of Drinking from the Same Well: Cross-Cultural Concerns in Pastoral Care and Counseling.

“It’s hardly surprising that pastoral care in the 21st century needs to shift and adapt to the pressure points of life today. Lynne Baab recognizes how consumerism, virtual relationships, economic hardship, political polarization, infertility, pornography, auto-immune illnesses, bullying, teenage suicide, shooting in school settings, social inequality, ethnic and religious diversity, migration, etc. all impact how people experience care. The overwhelming complexity of these things begs the “how do we do it?” question. Baab offers practical wisdom about how pastors and care givers can “open up a space for people to talk” about God and the stresses of daily living. Her grasp of pastoral care is rich and deep. She describes models of care that honor the context and web of relationships that surround people. She knows how to empower teams, laity, and clergy with skills that help others become more resilient.  She understands ‘pastoral care as lament’ and has also seen Facebook as a place care can happen. Those seeking encouragement, insight, practices and models for pastoral care will find this book a gift and a grace.”
—Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Co-Pastor of Spiritual Formation, Highrock Church, Arlington, Massachusetts, and author of Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Invitations From God, and more.

“This book is not only about pastoral care but about the care needed for all who pastor others. As Baab reflects on the rhythms of ministry, she also reveals the rhythm of the Spirit at work in bringing wholeness, healing and communion to the world.”
—Daniel Groody, Associate Professor of Theology and Global Affairs, and Director of the Global Leadership Program, University of Notre Dame

"Lynne Baab’s new book challenges us to rethink what pastoral care means today for the church and the world. She prompts us to respond theologically, practically, pastorally and missionally so that the church can really be the church in today’s society.
—Dave Male, Director of Evangelism and Discipleship for the Church of England

“In this accessible and compelling work, Lynne Baab writes with theological depth, personal experience, and practical wisdom.  She reclaims hope as the heart of Christian caregiving.  For anyone who wants to grow in their skills and understanding of pastoral care, this is a must-read.  I will be recommending this to all my clergy friends for them and their caregivers.”
—Heather Wright, co-author of Sacred Stress: A Radically Different Approach to Using Life’s Challenges for Positive Change


Here's a review by Darren Cronshaw, an Australian pastor, writer, and seminary teacher, which really captures what I was trying to do in the book.

Mission to the Western world often begins with a basic commitment to pastoral care. In my local context of mission to my Auburn neighbourhood, my community engagement is at its best when I am functioning fruitfully in pastoral care. Recently this has included offering hospitality to newcomers to our neighbourhood, expressing compassion to grieving family and friends, and listening to friends who are struggling with vocational and relationship dilemmas. As a pastor, I seek to discern and recognise where God is already at work and express the loving care and presence of God in the midst of life’s challenges. Missional church writers have convinced me of the need for more leaders functioning apostolically, prophetically and evangelistically, but I am a pastor and a teacher. And among the ways I most effectively cooperate with God in mission are expressions of pastoral care.

I have had a sneaking suspicion that my deep commitment to the mission of God and to authentic pastoral care have more overlap than many books reveal. Refreshingly, Lynne Baab’s Nurturing Hope offers thoughtful frameworks and stories for integrating mission and pastoral care. Baab is a Presbyterian minister and teacher of pastoral theology. Her previous books explore Sabbath, spiritual practices, congregational health and listening. She consistently advocates for listening to God, to congregational members and to the wider community. She has often beautifully hinted at the overlap of mission and pastoral care, but in Nurturing Hope she makes the connection explicit.

The first section of the book discusses shifts in thinking about models and approaches of pastoral care. She warns against fostering dependency, becoming a rescuer, succumbing to colour blindness or reverting to advice-giving. She presents a high view of pastoral care of teams of church members, over against individualistic and clerical models that professional pastoral counselling has tended to foster. Baab explains how intercultural sensitivity, understanding generational differences and empowering leadership can inform quality pastoral care in a complex world. But drawing on Nancy Ammerman and Eugene Peterson she also reassures readers that pastoral care is foundationally about paying attention, and helping people see where their ordinary lives overlap with the holy:

“When we talk about the intersection of daily life and Christian faith, or the overlap of the ordinary and the non-ordinary, we are simply acknowledging that while God is present in all of life, often we find it difficult to perceive God’s presence and need help to do so.” (p. 7)

Pastoral care is less about what we do and say, she urges, and more about being present and bringing God’s presence (and in fact recognising how God is already present):

“By the Holy Spirit living inside us, whenever we enter into any situation, we bring God’s presence into that situation, and sometimes God’s presence is all that’s needed. Advice, helpful ideas, and strategies – all of which come all too easily to me in conversations – are appropriate sometimes, but many times simply being with someone in pain is all that’s necessary.” (p. 48)

Baab’s second section outlines four skills that are critically important for twenty-first century pastoral carers. First, she discusses sources and measures of stress people face in contemporary life. Second, she outlines the power of listening and attitudes that help it such as receptiveness and holy curiosity. Third, she encourages resourcing people with spiritual practices, including simple spontaneous prayers and Bible reading during pastoral encounters, but also practices that are especially relevant in modern life such as fasting (from technology) and simplicity (to deal with clutter). Fourth, she discusses the importance of resilience and rhythms of Sabbath for all of us, but especially anyone caring for others.

One highlight of the book is Baab’s illustrating these models and skills with the experiences of others and also sharing her own journey, most transparently with depression and eating disorders and associated support groups.

My favourite section of every chapter were the discussion questions and tips for teaching. Baab’s teaching style is to facilitate discussion more than present a lecture, and the appropriateness of her questions for starting conversations is clear, for example:

“Give them a chance to brainstorm settings from your congregation where conversations about the overlap of daily life and the holy take place, and the kinds of questions that help to make those conversations happen.” (p. 17)

“Discuss examples of pastoral care beyond the congregation from this chapter, your own congregation, and other congregations participants know about. Allow space for participants to ponder why God is calling them to provide care outside your congregation.” (p. 65)

Part of the challenge of mission to the Western world is that the gospel invitation to a life of faith comes in contested space. Engaging with people in and beyond congregations with attentive pastoral care is an appropriate demonstration of the shepherding care of God. Baab presents a high view of pastoral care, not in opposition to but in synergy with mission. Nurturing Hope is an ideal textbook for practitioners and students of pastoral care and chaplaincy, and anyone seeking to being a caring presence in their networks and relationships.

This review was originally published in Practical Theology 11:4 (2018), 362-364.