Sunday, July 23, 2006

Pastoral Care Triage

Bill Tammeus writes good stuff – about faith, the church, ministry, and life in general. This week, he wrote about pastoral care. Using a touching story about a young man who received care from a non-clergy caregiver, Bill wrote that some of the most meaningful pastoral care a person can receive come from laity, rather than clergy.

He goes on to say that many congregations are simply not set-up to equip the laity to do pastoral care. Why not? He gives three reasons.

Reason 1:
“Sometimes it’s because people act like they belong to a club with a hired manager (the clergy) instead of to a church that requires ministry of some kind from all members.”
I know congregations like this, don’t you?

Reason 2:
“Sometimes it’s because clergy are insecure and feel threatened when competent laypeople express an interest in living out their faith by offering pastoral care to others.”
I know clergy like this, don’t you?

Reason 3:
“But mostly congregations fail in this area simply because their members are so busy just surviving, just doing all that must be done to work, rear children, pay the mortgage and nurture family relationships that they think they have no time to spend” doing pastoral care.
I know … just about everybody fits in here … don’t you?

I have developed a kind of pastoral care triage by which I work, in order to keep things all in balance, or, at least as balanced as possible. I have to start out with the confession that I will not be able to visit every person who needs a visit. That is hard for me to say, because I am a type “A,” first born perfectionist with a pretty advanced case of “People Pleaser-itis.” It is hard for me to acknowledge that I am unable to be all things for all people. But the truth is, I simply cannot provide pastoral care for everyone who needs it.

But I try very hard to provide pastoral care to everyone who asks for it. Triage level one is people in the hospital and their loved ones, family and friends of people who have just died, and people who come to me with immediate crises, situations in their lives that are urgent, spiritual or emotional needs that they need to talk about. Providing pastoral care at this level takes up a lot of time. In fact, it takes up just about all of my week that isn’t allotted to something else like worship planning, sermon writing, study preparation, correspondence, and the like.

That leaves out triage level two which is comprised of people who, for physical, spiritual, or emotional health reasons we need to sort of “keep in touch with” more intentionally. They are not in immediate crisis mode, but are still very fragile, very vulnerable. This group is ministered to by our able and dedicated group of Stephen Ministers. I cannot commend this program highly enough for a church wanting to expand its care-giving ministries. The Stephen Ministers in our congregation are compassionate, well-trained, and have a clear understanding of their role in the life of the church. I am so grateful for them.

There is another level, though. This group is comprised of people who are not in immediate crisis, and who are not in an especially vulnerable place, but who just may not be able to get out of their house, or may live in a nursing home or care facility. Some refer to these people as “shut-ins” or “homebound” persons. I visit such persons only rarely. I wish I could more often, but the reality is that I cannot. Fortunately, we have a gifted and compassionate man who has answered God’s call to coordinate (as a volunteer staff member) the visiting ministries of our congregation, and his focus is on people in this category. One of his ongoing challenges is to equip and train more visiting ministers to stay connected with God through their church.

I guess I am lucky to be serving in a congregation who doesn’t think that I am the hired manager of their club. Also, I try to encourage and equip parishioners to offer pastoral care in various ways without any fear or insecurity that they will be somehow usurping my role. My prayer is that we will all not end up being “so busy surviving” that we end up unable to care for one another as we should. A church whose members care for one another is a healthy church. And a pastor who is fortunate enough to be a part of such a congregation is a healthy pastor, as well!

1 comment:

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