One of the core skills of being a church member is being able to offer care and comfort to others. And contrary to cultural precedent, this is not the sole responsibility of the pastor. In fact, most “pastoral” care can be offered by non-clergy or laity.
The problem is that many church goers feel under equipped or ill-prepared for those conversations. (As a side note, so do I, despite having literally hundreds of hours of pastoral care visits). So I wanted to offer a few basic steps to offering care to someone you know in your church. These won’t make you a counselor or therapist, but they should help you be a better friend and church member. Some of them are fairly obvious, but worth restating.
Pray -I understand that this sounds somewhat basic, but it’s so easy to forget to pray before you walk into someones hospital/nursing home room, or their house that it is worth saying up front. You can’t offer the peace of Christ is you’re not all prayed up.
Be Present – You need to be physically, spiritually, and emotionally present. Try to leave your stress and distractions out in your car before walking in, because otherwise the person you’re visiting will catch on. The visit doesn’t have to last long, but you need to be fully there.
You’re not MacGyver – One of the biggest things that prevent people from trying pastoral care is that “they don’t know how to help”. What they’re saying is that they don’t know how to help fix peoples problems. You’re not MacGyver, and you don’t need to fix the problems that people bring to you. Most times, people simply want someone to listen to them while they process their situation. You don’t need to feel the pressure of solving every problem you encounter.
You don’t know everything – One of the most important skills you can have when providing pastoral care is the ability to sit in silence. Too often, we get uncomfortable when there is silence after a very personal revelation or comment or a difficult question. When that awkward silence pops up, we often say the first thing that comes to mind, which is usually a cliche or some unrelated piece of advice we found helpful at one time. Neither one help.
You’re not a biblical scholar, professional therapist, or any other expert. Don’t feel like you need to be. You don’t need to know everything to offer pastoral care.
Know yourself – We all have emotional triggers. Things that are too close to home for us. You need to try and be aware of those. There are just some situations that you shouldn’t try to provide care for because it’s too raw for you. Giving yourself space to process the emotional run off of your life and the lives of those you visit with is critical for pastoral care.
There you go. Five things to help you do some basic pastoral care.
Remember, I love y’all and there’s nothing you can do about it.