Pastoral care. Complicated people. Complicated situations. Crises. Meals and visits. When that was how I thought of pastoral care, I ground myself into miserable exhaustion. And I didn’t do a very good job of loving people.
Pastoral care is not just the “strong” and capable loving the weak and dysfunctional (have you noticed how patronising pastoral care often seems when “carers” are discussing the “needy”?). There is no neat boundary between the needy and the carers, as if we are only ever one or the other.
It is easy to treat people as problems to be fixed or outsourced. This happens when we think of pastoral care in the crisis, curing sense. Needing to fix people and their problems. Getting impatient and frustrated when they won’t fix. Giving up when it doesn’t “work”.
Scripture presents God’s people as family which stays together permanently. We don’t fix people problems. We stand and walk beside each other for the long haul. We’re persevering together until we see Jesus, in crisis and out of it.
Pastoral care is rejoicing with the joyful and sharing the sorrow of the sad. It’s about bearing each others’ burdens, while maturing to bear our own. It’s helping each other change, in these waiting days, into the likeness of Jesus. This doesn’t only happen in a crisis. A lot of good pastoral care will be prevention (training in godliness), and fortifying each other for future suffering.
A lot of hardship, grief and suffering outlasts a brief crisis. Real, long term relationships are what we need.
So perhaps it is helpful to think about pastoral care as all the stuff we all do to help each other persevere and mature, in long term relationships. It’s not only what leaders and paid staff of a church do for everyone else, in the crises.
The end of pastoral care is the Day when we see Jesus. The goal of pastoral care is to have people get to that day, loving and trusting Jesus. It’s about encouraging each other while it is still called Today, until that day, lest we drift in the meantime (read Hebrews).
It’s not our job to rescue people and take the mess away (Jesus ultimately does that). Our job is to help them endure through it, leaning on Jesus. Part of that encouragement will be alleviating crises with meals, visits and some solutions. But our care for people in a crisis won’t be particularly effective if there is no shared “family” life before and after the crisis.