It’s finally happening. A large percentage of highly effective pastors are dropping pastoral care from their agenda. Instead they are focusing on being the spiritual leader who sets the culture of the congregation and mentors the core leaders.
Does this mean that pastoral care doesn’t happen? Certainly not. But it does mean the traditional way of understanding “pastoral care” is changing and become more biblical. In fact the term “pastoral care” needs to be dropped from our vocabulary. In its place we need something like “congregational care” implying that it is the congregation’s responsibility to care for one another.
The problem is 90% of the laity (I hate that term) thinks it’s the role of the pastor to do all the pastoral care. Years of non-biblical teaching and practice has left us with a terribly self-centered crop of laity who believes the church exists for them. The thought of giving their life for the sake of non-believers doesn’t compute with them. It is their church and don’t you forget it pastor.
Somehow we have to change this view of the role of the pastor and the church if established Christianity is to thrive once again.
One of the best examples we have of a biblical understanding of the role of pastor and congregation is the circuit rider model used by the Methodist Church. In 1784, there were 14,986 members and 83 traveling preachers. By 1839, the denomination had grown to 749,216 members served by 3,557 traveling preachers and 5,856 local preachers. The circuit rider would ride in and preach and then leave, making it the responsibility for the congregation to care for one another. Using this model The Methodist Church developed one of the strongest denominations in U.S. history. It also was able to plant a church in every town as the country grew from East to West.
The Methodist Church did fine until the mid 1960’s when it began to decline. Interestingly, prior to the 1950’s the average Methodist pastor hadn’t gone to seminary. By the mid 1960’s seminary training was mandatory. Along with mandatory seminary training also came the absolute dependency of the congregation on the pastor for everything.
The Scriptures refer to the one another responsibilities some sixty one times making it clear that the early Christians understood the corporate roll of caring for one another. We need to return to a “one another” model of congregational care.
So what does a “one another” model look like?
This model can play out many ways but none of them rely totally on the lead pastor or any paid staff for that matter. However, two of the most used models are small groups and Stephen Ministers.
In the majority of effective churches congregational care happens in the structured small group systems. The larger the church the more likely the small group system is lead by a paid staff person whose responsibility is to equip the small group leaders and keep the overall system healthy and growing. The goals of most of small group systems are: to provide a place where people can share their lives with one another; and to mentor apprentice small group leaders. In some of these systems a third goal is added – the multiplication of small groups by existing small groups multiplying.
In some churches congregational care is supplemented by Stephen Ministers. These are highly trained (through a specified course) members of the congregation who have a desire to help others. Often a paid staff person supervises the Stephen Ministers.
It really doesn’t matter what model a church uses as long as the model doesn’t depend on the lead pastor to do it. Even the smallest church shouldn’t require the pastor to do the congregational care. It just isn’t biblical and it robs the congregation of one of its most potent assets – caring for one another.
The transition away from a pastoral care model to a congregational care model takes time and persistence. It took me several years to wean the congregation off a dependency on the pastor for everything. I did it by taking people with me to the hospitals and shut-ins to train them how to make care visits. As they became comfortable giving care to others I would slowly let them do it by themselves until they felt ready to fly solo.
The lead pastor should never totally abandon caring for others. However, it’s deadly for the lead pastor to allow the congregation to depend on him or her for every spiritual hangnail. It violates Ephesians 4; 11-12 and denigrates God’s church. In whatever model is used the Pastor and staff function as scouts and coaches rather than players. They don’t do ministry; they equip others to do ministry
So, how are you doing functioning like a biblical pastor? Are you spot on or do you need to make some adjustments?