Constraining Church Assumption - Number 6
Mark Tidsworth, Pinnacle President
“Our pastor is THE provider of pastoral care for our church”
When it’s a life and death situation, most of us want our pastor with us. There are times when we need/want our pastor to function in the priestly role, representing the presence of God by our bedsides. When pastors serve in this way, we experience pastoral care as its finest.
Conversely, there are many times when we don’t need our pastor’s attention. Instead, we hope our pastor uses his/her time to lead our church forward, rather than tending to our insignificant health challenges. Sometimes pastors are so attentive we wonder if they actually have anything else to do or know what else to do. When the pastor is THE care provider for a church, the church is constrained, limiting its ability to move forward in mission and ministry. So, we invite you and your pastor to consider adjusting the role of your pastor regarding disciple care. The following steps form a process for moving to a more expansive disciple care ministry while increasing your pastor’s capacity to lead.
Step One – Recognizing the purpose of our caring ministry is to care for one another; not emphasizing who provides the care
We Christ-followers embrace Biblical encouragement to care for the sick and hurting. A quick glance at the lengthy prayer list of many churches indicates we are interested in caring for one another when we are hurting. In no way do we want to discourage that good work, recognizing caring for each other is one of the great gifts of Christian community. So caring IS the point, not WHO provides the care. At day’s end, we want to know we are caring for each other, not that our pastor is providing all the care. Let’s be purpose driven in our care for each other.
Step Two - Change language to change expectations
After we recognize the purpose is to care for one another, regardless of who provides the care, we are liberated to change our expectations. When we call the caring aspect of being church together “pastoral care,” then of course we expect the pastor to be the care provider. Why should anyone else do what clearly belongs to the pastor; what is part of the pastor’s role and calling? The pastor’s title is right there in the name of this activity. Over time I’ve shifted from calling this “pastoral care” to “member care,” and then “disciple care.” When we talk about the “disciple care” ministry of our church, expectations are shaped very differently, opening the door for more expansive ministry.
Step Three – Form and activate your disciple care team
Most churches have some form of a disciple care team already functioning (the casserole brigade perhaps). So for many, they are not starting from scratch. At the same time, training is often needed to help those who are called to serve in this way to get up to speed. There are many great disciple care systems available, while some churches create their own. The pastor then becomes part of the disciple care team, along with trained and ready disciples. A church with a strong disciple care team is a far more caring church than a church with a single provider care system (pastor only).
Step Four – Refocus the role of the pastor
This shift provides a great opportunity for your pastor and leaders to consider the role of the pastor in your church. The best leadership focusing question I know is, “What does this church need from its leadership now in order to take its next steps in mission and ministry?” The answers to this question are different, depending on the season and contextual priorities. Does this church need its pastor out of the office, cultivating community relationships? Does this church need its pastor doing “well visits,” cultivating the disciples in your church who are ready to grow and step out in faith? Does this church need its pastor to invest more time in worship prep and planning? These are great questions to engage regularly. Of course pursuing the answers also means expectations for lay leaders shift as well, given churches are living systems wherein every more influences everyone.
Step Five – Communicate, communicate, communicate
Changing expectations and launching a new approach to being church always involves risk. All along the way, with each of these steps, communicate with everyone and anyone about this change process regarding disciple care. Repeated and exaggerated communication before implementation is a great form of conflict prevention. Even so, some will not understand the changes, reacting negatively when they are cared for by the team rather than by the pastor. When effectively prepared, lay leaders are ready with their response. “Yes, that’s right. The pastor’s role has changed. We have moved to a team model of disciple care in our church. Now our pastor is part of the team, rather than THE care provider.” When lay people responding this way, then much potential conflict is avoided. Besides, we know how much communication in church is enough….about three times more than we think is enough.
One can easily see how continuing a pastoral care model constrains the capacity of a church to pursue its mission. Churches who do so typically become churches where pastoral care IS their mission, or at least a large part of what they do. Those who move to the team approach to disciple care discover the wonderful gifts for caring of many of their people, while liberating their pastor from constraints which limit missional progress. May we become the free people of God, liberating our churches from constraining church assumption number six.