I wrote this article for a online pastoral care group I formed called Looking Out, which is for the disabled, ill and their family and carers.
I remember around 1999 when I sat in a church leadership meeting and shared about some issues and experiences I was going through at the time. While I can’t remember what they were 14 years later, I do remember the responses given to me and my feelings about what just happened.
Two people opened their Bibles and quoted a couple of passages of Scripture and nodded their heads at each other and to me. Feeling that they had provided the needed pastoral care, they shut their Bibles and glowed with the warm satisfaction of doing their Christian duty. Now I have to admit, up til that time, it too had been my own pastoral response to others when they shared life with me. Now granted, those responses of mine and the ones given me were not as bad as a recent case I heard where a certain pastor tweeted the following in the wake of the Oaklahoma Cyclone disaster.
Job 1:19 “when suddenly a mighty wind swept in from the desert and struck the four corners of the house. It collapsed on them and they are dead, and I am the only one who has escaped to tell you!”
But nevertheless I was a disappointed at the time with that response and it started me to think through the process and practices of what was good pastoral care and response is and the use of Scripture to go along with it. Over the years I was to be confronted with a number of crisis involving suicide. One of those times I came face to face with a man holding a shotgun to his head and suddenly I was thrust into the area of suicide prevention and awareness and eventually I was involved in setting up a suicide and awareness network across my local shire.
Over this time I was confronted with the pain of others. Divorce, death of a loved one – including children, miscarriage, loss of a home, unemployment, addictions, homelessness, accidents and injury as well as chronic sickness leading to disability and those who were seriously hurting from the inflicted pain from their experience of Church. A topic perhaps for another time.
In 2009 I was suddenly confronted with the reality of my own painful situation which led me to becoming separated homeless and eventually divorced. During this time I did some training and voluntary work as a telephone counsellor, which though was for a quasi Christian organisation, we were forbidden to initiate prayer or quote / discuss scripture with those who called us. This experience was to become a real eye opener for me. – I was taught how to listen to people and to actually respond in a new way to what was being said and that most of the time, I didn’t actually have to say a thing, except to continue to respond back what they were saying to me. And in the doing of this, the practice of Scripture become alive for me. You might be thinking Craig, what do you mean, the practice of Scripture become alive to me… Well I”m glad you asked. I’m going to use an extreme example here, Scripture tells us to laugh with those who are laughing and cry with those who are crying. It tells us to be empathetic with people. – but if we are faced with someone crying or laughing, would we just quote this passage to them – no, it means that we will either laugh or cry with those we are with.
Towards the end of 2009 I started a Cert 1V in Chaplaincy and Pastoral Care. While I did this through the Australian Christian Churches movement (AOG / Pentecostals) the course was the one the Salvation Army do when training their chaplains and pastoral care teams. And once again, we were confronted with the methodology of how to care for those in times of crisis and pain, and one of the biggest no no’s was that of quoting Scripture or preaching at / to those going through such crisis and pain. During my period of training, I was to meet a pastor who had been actively pastoring churches and planting churches for the last 30 years and who was well known in his denominational movement as a stirrer and shaker and skilled pastor – he said till he done that course and started implementing what he had learnt, he had till that time done very little pastoring or pastoral care of people. He organised a team from his church to do the course, they become active in pastoral care within their community and suddenly it was as if they become part of the community in which they lived and they were being asked to come to a wide variety of public and sporting events across the town in which they lived.
Within a pastoral care situation, there may be times when praying with others is warranted and accepted. But, the very core of pastoral care of people is living out the truth of Scripture to those you are ministering to. By all means pray for all. I certainly do. As a chaplain and pastoral carer, there are times when I pray with those I meet in my day to day activities. There are times I will let the person know that I am praying for them and how I have been praying for them. And within that regard, I have been praying the following every morning for all in this group
I pray for your health to improve, that you will be strengthened in doing what you need to do, that you will be delivered from fears and anxiety, that you will be provided for – what ever those needs may be. And I also pray that you will know the love of God.
Within a pastoral care situation, there may be times when the discussion of Scripture is warranted. Often that discussion is around the encouragement that there is a God who cares for and loves you. And again, if the context allows for it, further discussion about that can take place. But context is the key.
But the essence of real pastoral care is that of the ministry of presence. The ministry of being there. Its not the ministry of having all the answers. And while the ministry of presence can be harder to practice then it is to implement, its benefits are immeasurable. And just as Scripture tells us that God is for us and not against us – we live that out in the ways we interact with the hurting, through showing and proving that we too are for them and not against them.