By Lynne M. Baab —
In my first post in this series, I described a community dinner and a prayer support group as examples of patterns of Christian caring that are now being recognized as pastoral care. Those two examples illustrate several of the trends in pastoral care that I identify in my new book, Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century.
Here are the seven trends I think need to be in the front of our minds today in the area of Christian care today:
- Pastoral care has many models. The model of pastoral care from 50 years ago, a minister sitting in an office having a one-on-one counseling session with a parishioner, still remains. In addition, people who lead the Wednesday Night Dinner I described in my last post – cooks, servers, greeters, clean-up people, and folks who are trying to build relationships across socioeconomic boundaries – are providing care, as are people in small groups, task groups, and music groups in congregations. A conversation in the parking lot after a committee meeting, where two people take the time to ask how each other is doing, is also a form of pastoral care.
- Teams and a variety of individuals provide pastoral care. Many congregations these days have pastoral care teams. Roman Catholics led the way here because the shortage of priests means that others in the parish must provide pastoral care for parishioners who are in need. In my own Presbyterian congregation, the board of deacons functions as a pastoral care team, taking meals to people who have just gotten out of the hospital and bringing communion to shut-ins.
- Christian Pastoral Care Is Grounded in the Triune God. The term “pastoral care” is used in numerous secular settings these days, and Christians can only rejoice when people provide any form of care. However, Christians must have a clear understanding of what makes Christian pastoral care uniquely Christian. I wrote last week about the shepherd passages in the Bible. Christian pastoral carers must understand and experience God as our Shepherd, the one who guides and empowers human care-givers.
- Christian Pastoral Care Is Missional. About 25 years ago, some Christians began to use the word “missional,” to refer to the understanding that we are sent into the world as Jesus was sent (John 17:18). Christian pastoral care is always a part of the mission of God, revealed in Jesus Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to bring God’s love to the world. Christian pastoral care today, then, meets needs within congregations but also in the wider community.
- Pastoral Care Occurs across Ethnicities and Religions. Throughout the world, cities, towns, and neighborhoods are becoming more ethnically diverse. Many congregations have experienced increasing diversity. As congregations reach beyond their doors to their community, they often encounter ethnic and religious diversity. Caring today involves engaging with and meeting needs experienced by people who are different than we are.
- Pastoral Care Empowers. In many caring professions like social work, professionals are becoming more aware of the dangers of dependency. The goal of professional care is to empower people to find their own strength. Christian pastoral carers increasingly have the same concerns. One small, unexpected strategy that encourages empowerment is the growing awareness that all Christians are sometimes carers and sometimes care recipients. No one lives in one role forever, and that is quite freeing.
- Pastoral Carers Consider the Web of Relationships. Individuals don’t exist in isolation. All of us are embedded in families and communities. In the past, pastoral care was often viewed as helping an individual. In the twenty-first century, we have a growing understanding of the significance of the clusters of people connected to those to whom we are providing care. Increasingly, pastoral care seeks to meet the needs of families and other groups of people.
These seven trends are shaping pastoral care in our time. I invite you to ponder the way you see the trends impacting Christian ministry in your setting. In my next two posts I’ll discuss skills for pastoral care. To be continued . . .