Thursday, July 09, 2009

Pastoral Care and the Outward Focused Life

It would be really interesting to spend some time integrating the various pastoral care posts I've done over the last few years and the notes I've made at seminars and conferences. As I re-read this particular post I recognised some connections with the more recent thinking and reflecting I've been doing.

I guess we all could be forgiven for thinking that an outward focused life is primarily about outreach, about the processes and programmes we personally employ in order to share our faith with others. But we’d be mistaken.

Fist of all, through this blog and other sources, we no longer understand (if we ever did) our faith in this way. We talk about a lifestyle of serving others, of seeking to reconnect people with God. The programmes are still there, but they have a new context of simplicity, honesty, integrity and integration. Our goal remains the same: to help others discover God’s deep and amazing love for them, but our approach has broadened.

The question then that had been buzzing around my head for a few days now comes from being a long-time leader in the local church. It’s a question about what we in church call pastoral care and the place of pastoral care in the context of an outwardly focused life and ministry.

The problem is this. More and more local pastors, me included, do not see themselves as either gifted or equipped to fulfil the pastoral role that we’ve inherited in local church life. We’re not sure where that model came from, and we’re not at all convinced that the model is particularly biblical either.

It isn’t that we think pastoral care doesn’t matter, it isn’t that we think it’s not our responsibility. It’s just that we are not sure where it fits in our 21st century leadership model. We’re concerned about being alone with members of the opposite sex, we’re bothered by the fact that the old model means we tend only to visit people who are at home in the afternoons, and wonder if that’s a root cause for the lack of men on the church. We’re constrained by having too many other things to do.

And yet, not one us I suspect would ever deny the importance of pastoral care to the life and health of the local church. Which brings me to my basic question. If we could ignite a pattern of pastoral care than engendered self-care and church family-care might that inspire us to outward care too? If we looked after ourselves properly, if we looked out for each other consistently, might we not then learn the value of simple caring and be able to apply that to the way we see those around us in our wider communities?

Pastoral care might then be rescued from the bottom of the teapot and biscuit barrel of inwardly focused visiting patterns and released to impact communities seemingly bereft of people who stop and look and act with kindness and compassion. Perhaps there’s a more biblical perspective on pastoral care that integrates it with a more biblical view of evangelism that brings it into the centre of an outwardly focused life and ministry. Perhaps.

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