“Pastoral care” is the clinical term for the emotional, social and spiritual support that pastors and ministry leaders provide for those they lead and serve. Think of hospital visits, bereavement calls, crisis counseling and visitation. For centuries, good pastors have expressed their love and concern for their flock by being there for them when they needed comfort, direction and care. They’ve laughed and cried with us, married us and buried our loved ones and been a great source of comfort.
The perfect model of Pastoral Care is, of course, the Lord. He is the Good Shepherd. He provides the care and comfort we need when we are in crisis. Following this model, it is the Lord’s desire for pastors to love and care for the God’s people when they are scared, hurting and vulnerable.
But CoVid-19 has decimated Pastoral Care as we know it.
Very limited hospital visitations have devastated some individuals and families. Nursing homes can’t allow visitors. Families who’ve lost loved ones during this crisis have been hurt by the lack of hugs from a pastor. In many places, there is no more meeting for coffee, no more visiting members at work. These things have systematically dismantled many pastors’ ability to show love and care for their church members and attenders. The result is a serious void in the lives of some church members and some unfulfilled and frustrated pastors. I’ve even spoken with a few pastors who feel guilty for not being there for their flock.
Add to these considerations that the pandemic has been extremely divisive in many churches. Pastors have unprecedented dilemmas. If a minister is blessed enough to visit in a home or public place, some folks are horrified when the minister doesn’t wear a mask; others are horrified when they do. Some people still insist on hugging, as though there is no danger involved. Others get offended when the pastor refuses to hug. Something as simple as a handshake has created serious problems for some pastors. I am sure that I have inadvertently offended some people because I choose to socially distance.
Then, we may factor in that many people are angry at leaders – any and all leaders – because of the pain they are enduring. We just expect those who lead us to be able to fix things (even when it’s not logical to expect this).
And, of course, the Pastor may be endangering himself and his family by exposure to sick people.
CoVid-19 has seriously hindered Pastoral Care. But Pastoral Care must continue, so, Pastors must be strategic and intentional.
Here are 6 ideas on how Pastors may provide effective Pastoral Care.
1. Invest in relationships. Since effective Pastoral Care is based on trusting relationships, wise pastors will invest more time in relationships than ever before. This requires proactivity and availability. In the pre-CoVid days, a phone call wasn’t nearly as effective as an in-person meeting. An email dealing with a sensitive topic could do more damage than good. But now we must rely on these forms of communication.
2. A Care List. More time must be invested in communication before a crisis happens. I suggest you create a list of people that need to hear from you. Establish a schedule and stick with it. While we may think that an organic expression of care is more “spiritual”, this is a great way for people to fall through the cracks.
3. Increase contacts. If you used to check on individual church members once a month, understand that, because you can’t do so in person, you may need to check on them twice a month or more. Remember, you don’t get as much “bang for the buck” with electronic communication.
4. Group texts. One text that is sent to large groups can be an effective method of care. Now, we must be careful not to try to mislead people – some Pastors unsuccessfully try to make their group texts appear personal. Most people know better. But addressing the entire flock at once is better than no contact at all.
5. Enlist and empower others to make contacts on your behalf. While contact from a Deacon or Elder or volunteer isn’t the same as the Pastor doing so, multiple contacts show true concern by the church.
6. Pray! This may seem like a given, but pray specifically for discernment about what is happening in the lives of the people. The Holy Spirit is well able to make us effective care givers even when we can’t be there physically. “The Lord laid you on my heart” is an excellent statement to open up a conversation with a church member.
Pastor, your flock needs you like they’ve never needed you before. Your job is harder than it’s ever been. But God has placed you as the spiritual shepherd of that congregation. He will equip you and help you as you equip and help them.
Finally, be sure to provide good Pastoral Care for yourself and your family.
One day, we will overcome CoVid-19. But until then, let’s fulfill Acts 20:28; “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”