Thursday, May 17, 2007

Proactive Pastoral Care

Back in seminary, Professor Hoeft taught a lesson about proactive pastoral care. Proactive pastoral care is basically approaching a person without invitation, offering care when they have not expressed a desire or need for it themselves. Visiting nursing home bound people falls into this category. So would calling a person whom you had heard through the grapevine was “having a hard time,” maybe a personal struggle or dealing with a family member’s issues. Calling someone “just to check in” or “see how things are going,” for example.

This kind of unsolicited care can be very meaningful and fruitful ministry. I understand that. The pastor who does a lot of proactive pastoral care is probably well-loved and highly thought of by the congregation. It really is a self-sacrificial kind of ministry, and a truly wonderful calling to fulfill. There are boundaries to observe, certainly, but when done with integrity and respect, it’s all good.

But here’s the rub: Having said all that, I cannot be a proactive pastoral care giver, or at least I haven’t been over the past seven years of my ministry. In truth, there is no way I personally can invest any more time and energy into ministry than I am already doing without coming completely unwound. All of the pastoral care I am able to do is responsive, not proactive. My pastoral care is responding to hospitalizations, people who call, write, or come by my study with issues to discuss, premarital counseling, being present with families upon the death of a loved one, and other situations in which I am contacted with a care request.

I truly treasure these care-giving opportunities as sacred moments of trust and Christian conversation, and I feel my calling to ministry fulfilled when I engage them. But when I add to that the time and energy of worship planning, sermon writing, Bible study prep, Sunday School lesson prep, administrative responsibilities, staff and leader training, etc. my work life is filled to the brim. Then I balance personal spiritual growth and family time into all of that mix, too.

Here’s the way we deal with the situation here in Northtown – we have abandoned the myth that the only person who can do proactive pastoral care is the pastor. Oh, there are some who are still caught in the mindset that says “If the pastor hasn’t visited me, I haven’t been visited.” But by and large this remarkable congregation takes care of one another. We have a dedicated group of Stephen Ministers. We have a compassionate Associate Pastor for Visiting Ministries. We have a Director of Lay Ministries who keeps tabs on things with amazing grace and patience. And, most important, we have a bunch of people who really love each other and know how important it is to care for one another in times of need.

So, there is proactive pastoral care happening, it’s just not me doing it! People are visited, cared for, loved. They stay connected to each other. Sometimes someone “falls through the cracks,” so to speak, meaning that occasionally we lose track of a person who hasn’t been around for a while. But that is definitely the exception, rather than the rule. And how lucky am I to serve a congregation who “gets it” with regard to this issue? I am the “responsive” pastoral care giver; the church themselves are the “proactive” care givers.

That seems to be a pretty healthy arrangement. I wonder if any of you readers have thoughts based on your pastoral care experiences in other congregations. Please feel free to share in the comments.


steveh said...

Hey there Luke, away with your (self-degrading) weapon. Proactive doesn’t mean you have to spend half a day to hunt someone down, take them by the collar, shake them violently (yet lovingly & pastoral), and interrogate them why the hell they haven’t been to church for 3 weeks – asking if they have a problem you can fix? Flash care – like flash prayer – can occur quickly and easily: a hand on a shoulder (you know not why), a sincere “how’s such-and-such..”, asking for help or delegating something to give you more time for these important things, a post card, a phone call, etc. You knoooow…

EyeRytStuf said...

Not addressing your point, I realize, but what's it called when you go to visit someone in ICU that did not solicit your visit? Especially when the someone is not a congregation member and is someone you've never met... Is that something other than pastoral care? Does it become the second brand you mentioned if a congregation memeber who is the mother of the patient's friend asked you to go visit?

I'm just wanting clarification in case I ever try to officially chronicle those life-changing events in my 2005.

Seamhead said...

I think that getting together with the guys to play some basketball could be considered proactive ministry. Well, if you don't foul too much.

Kansas Bob said...

In many churches pastoral care takes a backseat to pulpit ministry.

Anonymous said...

There are a lot of issues here, Andy. Choosing how to use limited number of hours; promoting healthy mental, physical and spiritual lifestyle; offering care before one is ready to hear it or receive it; the breadth of tolerance and acceptance; different abilities and competencies among pastors. My professor of preaching, Dr. Gene Lowry, would say that the sermon is, in many ways, proactive pastoral care. You are sharing with a large number of your flock how you might live and relate to others and make decisions that lead to healthy, joyful, meaningful lives. Every preacher needs to remember that the most effective sermon is how you live among your people. Peace, JB

John said...

I'm already finding it impossible to do proactive pastoral care -- just responsive.

I had License to Preach School a couple of weeks ago. Classes were 13 freakin' hours long, each day. It was on a college campus, but we weren't given access to the gym (not that there would have been time, I guess). My daily devotions nose-dived under the time constraints.

I don't mind being put under great pressure to work. I do mind being to do all these things and stay rested. It bothers me when the institutional UMC tells us be healthy, and then does things like this.