Just the other day, I was listening to a podcast featuring a ministry leader who made a statement that caused me to press the skip back button. He said that he struggled with pastoral care—in fact he said he “hated” it.
To be fair to him, I do not know him personally, nor do I know much about his ministry outside of this podcast. However, the host spoke of how pastoral care visits were intimidating and how he was wired in a more cerebral way. As a teacher, he wanted answers to give for suffering, and sitting with others as they walked through times of trial was uncomfortable. It wasn’t that he hated people; he hated how hard it was for him to minister in that way.
For the church, pastoral care is essential. In fact, every church that desires to be healthy and grow must create a “culture of care” as a part of its discipleship ministry. As we make disciples who obey the commands of Christ and become more like Him, caring for needs of others plays a vital role in that process. The Bible teaches us of God’s desire for His people to care for one another, as well as the world around them.
In the Old Testament, we find time and time again God commanding the people of Israel to care for the oppressed, the poor, the foreigner and others in need. This was to show the world the reality of God through the work of His people. In the New Testament, God’s Kingdom goes beyond a certain people and now shines forth through all those who make up the Body of Christ, the Church.
If we look in Acts at the early church, we see a culture of care that speaks to the world around them. In chapters two and four, the church meets the needs of others through generosity and sacrificial giving. Chapter five highlights care for the sick and healings that take place. Peter even makes an incredible pastoral visit to Dorcas, who the Holy Spirit brings back to life through Peter’s prayers.
How can churches today create a culture of care for members of the church body and the community?
First, pray. Creating a culture of care is something only the Holy Spirit can truly create. He cultivates our hearts and transforms our lives to see and love people like Jesus did.
Second, creating a culture of care in your church flows out of the leadership. Pastors and staff must love and care for those they are called to lead. If the pastor does not demonstrate a level of pastoral care in his own life, asking members of the church to will not go far.
To be clear, pastors or any other pastoral staff members are not superheroes. They carry a burden of ministry leadership and all the work that comes with it.
That leads to a third step in creating a culture of care: discipleship. As leaders train and equip members of the church to engage in the work of ministry, people are cared for, and others will join in the work. The more that this takes place in the church, the more normal it becomes and culture forms.
Not only does this relieve the burden of any pastor from meeting all the needs of ministry, but it also engages Christ-followers in service. Serving is a key component to maturity as a disciple.
You may wonder, “What is the best way to organize ministry in creating a culture of care in the church?” The answer: small groups. Sunday School groups and small groups form the organized structure that allows care to take place, so that no one should be left out if a need arises.
We are not called to have all the answers to the suffering that people face. However, we are called as disciples of Jesus, and the church, to care for the needs of others as they face those difficult times. Creating a culture of care in your church not only serves as discipleship but also demonstrates the Gospel to the world.