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Rethinking Pastoral Care

By Zach Below


I’ve had a number of surgeries throughout my 35 years on this earth. Nothing major, just your general adolescent surgeries like tonsils and wisdom teeth and a few sports injuries like knee, wrist, and ankle surgery. (My parents paid a lot of bills for me to play a game!)

Every one of those surgeries had something in common…without fail, one of the ministers from my home church was there before I went back. Honestly, I always felt a little weird about it. There I was in a backless hospital gown, and sitting just a few feet away was one of my ministers. His duties seemed to be making small talk, cracking preacher jokes, and saying a quick prayer that I’d survive. I never really understood why they were there, but at the same time, I knew they had to be. In contrast, if kids from my youth group came to visit, I loved it. Why? Because they were my people!

Was it like that at the church you grew up in? Is it still like that in your church? Is it subconsciously built into the minister’s job description that they are in charge of visiting everyone in the hospital? Do congregants wear who visits them as a badge of honor?

If you are a really big deal, the executive pastor or senior minister visits you. If you are at least a regular tither, the associate pastor is sent instead. If you are in the doghouse for missing Sunday school or Wednesday night fellowship meal, well, you get the youth minister.

It’s obvious that I’m being a little facetious, but I want to suggest a paradigm shift in how we view “pastoral care” in our churches. I believe the model of “paid staff does it all” is antiquated, isn’t scalable, and models an incomplete teaching on what it means to be a pastor shepherd.

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So what is the alternative? Let’s release our ministers and empower our people and our small groups. Let me give you three reasons why you want someone from your small group visiting you in the hospital instead of me (a paid staff person).

1. TRAINING. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I went to 4+ years of Bible College and never took a single class, seminar, or even heard a lecture titled “How to Make Proper Hospital Visits” or even “How to Be There for a Family in Need.” I have no education or training that makes me any more qualified than the next person to love on people in need. 

2. PERSONALITY. You put me in a room with a stranger, and I am guaranteed to crank up the awkward meter. If I’m visiting someone I don’t know in the hospital, I always end up asking weird questions, making strange comments, or just raising the awkward level all in all. If you are a patient in a hospital, what is the last thing you want to feel on top of sick and anxious? Awkward!

3. GIFTING. We recently had a two-day retreat with the core team members from our campus. During that time, we took a “spiritual gifts test.” What is interesting is that NO ONE on our paid staff had more than a trace of a “shepherding gift.” What’s even more interesting is that about 10 of our core members had it as their numberone gift.  

On the flip side, when small groups pastor/shepherd one another…

1. It’s Personal. If you are grouping with someone, they are your people. When we shepherd one another in our groups, it is a personal endeavor because we are directly tied to one another. While I don’t necessarily feel called to visit everyone in the hospital as a “paid staff member,” you couldn’t keep me away from being there for my people.  

2. It’s Authentic. Small groups often claim that we “do life together.” Loving and supporting one another is an authentic and natural action that flows out of life together. 

3. It’s Empowering. When we designate staff members to manage all “pastoral care,” we are robbing our members from getting to be the church. It’s time we empower our people to be pastors right where they are. 

So, the question is, who are you pastoring/shepherding? Make a list of “your people” and give an honest evaluation of how you are pastoring them.

3 thoughts on “Rethinking Pastoral Care

  1. Avatar
    Tiffany Hassebrock

    While in Indy on a weekend soccer tourney I went to a church that actually had a ministry group who went out and visited with the sick. That was their calling, their gift. Once a month they came before the church body and were prayed over by the whole congregation. I thought it was a pretty cool idea. I’d never heard of a specific ministry doing this. These people heard a call in their lives and took the time to seek out training as a group to minister to a portion of the congregation that couldn’t make weekend services due to a health issue.

  2. Avatar

    Hey Tiffany. Sorry, I’m just seeing this. I think that is a great idea. We’ve identified a group of people that have that gift at OLW and they actually had their first meeting last week. There are non-staff pastors/shepherds filling our churches that just need to be released and encouraged. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Avatar

    How does this apply to a family-sized church of about 20 active members? Too small for small groups, and about half have known each other for decades. They do take care of one another, but they still want me, their half-time Pastor, to visit. What is the best balance?

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Rethinking Pastoral Care

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