What is Pastoral Care?

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What is Pastoral Care?

For those of us in Church ministry, when we’re first asked this question we can scoff a little and chuckle. Of course we know what Pastoral Care is… Everyone knows what it is… It’s the time we spend in hospitals, visiting our community members. It’s having the mentoring conversations with the youth group and leading the counselling sessions with the couples in the Church. That’s pastoral care.  

Or is it? What if I told you that pastoral care was far more than these activities, that pastoral care was something we couldn’t achieve as a part of our vocation. What would you do if I told you that pastoral care wasn’t even something you could do?

In his book ‘Setting the Table’, Danny Meyer discusses his outlook on hospitality (particularly within the restaurant industry, but this is applicable across many different platforms). He challenges the perception that hospitality is something that is done, a task served or a role fulfilled. Rather, he insists on a separation of hospitality and service. Service being a ‘Technical Proficiency’ (Can you pour a drink or serve a table effectively), hospitality is ‘what people feel’ when you serve them.

I would argue that this redefinition could quite easily apply to pastoral care too. Can the ‘care’ be what we do, whilst ‘pastoral’ is what we are? And if so, what does this mean for our Churches?  

Before we begin to look then at what pastoral care really looks like, perhaps it might be worth establishing what the word ‘pastoral’ means.

There’s the two pronged definition, one which concerns provision for basic needs for livestock (a similar metaphor is used for the Church and the people of God). The other for bringing guidance in personal situations. However, I often find that examples help me understand far better than definitions. For an example of what pastoral-ness looks like, I like to look at the Biblical account of Philippians.

The letter to the Philippians was written to an early Church in a gentile context. If you study the letter, and the wider socio-historical context. You learn that there was a great level of unrest between the different civic classes and even between the influential families. The Apostle Paul speaks directly into one of these feuds and calls the parties to reconcile their differences.

The second Chapter includes one of the greatest descriptions of Jesus and his nature. If you haven’t conducted a study on the passage of Phil 2:5-11, I’d highly recommend you do this. But the very first verse of this encourages us to ‘In your relationships with one another, have the mindset of Christ Jesus’. Michael Gorman, in his book ‘Inhabiting the Cruciform God’, offers another translation of this which is helpful, ‘In your communities, cultivate the mindset of Jesus’

Essentially, behave like Jesus!

It sounds remarkably simple when put like that, but HOW did Jesus behave? Other than growing out my hair, wearing sandals and walking everywhere (except when I can hitch the occasion ride in a boat or on a donkey) how can I imitate that? Well, verses 6-8 unpack this a bit. Essentially, by not clinging to status and authority, even though its entitled. By preferring others over yourself and serving your community. This is the mindset that Jesus lived out, and that we’re encouraged to cultivate too. Suddenly, ‘behaving like Jesus’ doesn’t sound quite as simple as before.

iKnow Church is built around the scripture, ‘I am the Good Shepherd, I know my Sheep and my Sheep know me’ (John 10:14). We love this passage because it speaks of the pastoral heart of God. We see the attributes of Jesus outworked in another practical example. In the Parable, Jesus describes how the good shepherd is committed to his flock. How he’s willing to put his own life on the line to protect the flock and, ultimately, trust it enough to leave it whilst he goes to find the wayward one sheep. iKnow Church has developed tools to help the modern day ‘Shepherd’ as they tend to their flock. In the second part of this article, next month, we’ll have a look at some of these and how this new mindset of being pastoral can be applied to what you and your Church do.