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Is there a famine of pastoral care?


What is pastoral care anyway? The word ‘pastoral’ has a flavour of the countryside, of the kind of watching and listening that goes with caring for sheep or crops. Now that most of us live in cities, is it just an old-fashioned skill? My own picture of an urban pastoral care person is a maitre’d in a fancy restaurant. Someone who sometimes looks as if all they are doing is standing still – but they’re not! They are watching…watching…watching. They are the first to see that a plate is empty and needs removing. They know if someone has an empty glass or a dropped piece of cutlery and they are quick to do something about it. Nobody else may notice but they do. A good parent or teacher also has these skills.

Last week I did some training with a group of lay Christian leaders. We talked about Christians helping each other – and why we often don’t. Leaders in the church have no doubt that they and other believers are facing all sorts of everyday struggles in living out their lives inside their families or outside of them, at school, at work, in the gym or the office. In all the places where we are called to discover the lived reality of our Christian faith, committed believers ask questions about the will of God, their own response, about the value of prayer and the nature of faith in this circumstance or that. There are specific times in all our lives when everyone needs to talk in a safe place – times of bereavement and loss, times of relationship breakdown or family trouble or financial worry. But it seems as if the offering and receiving of pastoral care at these times is not common.

What is clear is that looking only to pastors for this sort of care makes no sense. Can we realistically expect extensive exercise of these skills from professionals who themselves are under huge pressure? My understanding is that for many of the pastors and leaders in our church, the offer of pastoral care for themselves is an equally rare event. So we can’t leave it all to the pastors; we all need to be involved.

At our workshop last week we looked at the need throughout the church to develop all sorts of qualities in ourselves: self-knowledge, availability and openness with each other and trustworthiness, trustworthiness, trustworthiness.

If I could develop one quality in myself and my fellow-Christians to improve this famine of pastoral care, it would be active listening. If each of us would take ten minutes after church to listen, really listen to what has been happening in someone else’s life this week, I believe the results would be profound…. So I’ll stop talking and hope you all have something to say in response!


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