Thursday, February 10, 2011
What I Miss About Pastoring: Pastoral Care
I never, ever thought I'd say this. Not in a million years. But after my fall, I found myself missing pastoral care.
If I could travel back in time to two years ago and visit myself and say, "Hey, Arthur, you're going to miss visiting shut-ins, sick people, making phone calls, chasing down absent members, and all that good stuff," the Arthur of two years ago would have laughed until his spleen busted.
I don't know if it's just limited to Southern Baptist ministers, but most of us aren't very fond of pastoral care. Maybe I should rephrase that. We prefer preaching over pastoral care.
You've probably heard it said that a minister is either really good at preaching or visiting. Even the guys I know that excel at visiting would rather be preaching.
Prepare yourself for a reality check. I heard a pastor refer to Wednesday night prayer meeting as "organ recital." I said, "what do you mean?"
He said, just listen to the prayer requests. "Pray for Uncle Bob's liver. Pray for Tom's kidney. Pray for Joe Bob's lung problem. Pray for Sue Ellen's eyes." He said, "Organ recital. No prayers for the lost. Just their organs."
That's the kind of stuff that makes pastors cynical. But he was right.
At first, it's not so bad when you're a young pastor. You want to get out there and visit, visit, visit. But then you realize that everyone in the church wants you to see their relatives, shut-ins, long lost members and your sermon preparation time is dwindling.
Then comes the dreaded moment - one of your church members was in the hospital and you didn't go see them. However, no one told you. But it's still your fault. You feel awful. You apologize profusely. If you're lucky, they live. If you're not, you carry a burden for a long time. If they do live, you might be constantly ribbed about it by them.
This, despite the fact, that you pray for your people all the time. You tell them to call you when people get sick. Friends, the job of a pastor in the realm of pastoral care is difficult. Pastors are not omnipresent or omniscient. I know that's a shock.
Something else, I don't know why it's been called "pastoral care." The care of the members of the church should not be limited to the pastor. Yes, he should visit the shut-ins, the ill and infirm. However, it is the job of the entire congregation to minister to the entire body of believers. However, this job in the American church has fallen squarely upon the pastor in most congregations. It shouldn't be that way. Anyway, on to the blog . . .
Today, I visited my lovely wife at work. I had the day off and had lunch with her. While I was there, I ran into Marlee and Rich, a couple I had been terribly judgmental of while at Angel Falls but had reconciled with before I left.
I hadn't had any serious contact with them since my fall, but saw them in the parking lot and I caught them somewhat off guard. I spoke to them and wanted to reach out to them. Rich's dad had been ill when I had left Angel Falls and I still loved this couple and hoped they would respond to me.
At worst, they could ignore me and walk away. That would be fine. I had hurt them. At best, they could speak to me. I would receive that as God's grace. I am at a place now where any kind of reception or kindness from the people at Angel Falls is God's grace. I long for reconciliation.
Rich came right over to me and smiled and shook my hand like we were old friends. He told me that his father was in poor health and about to die. I listened as he recounted the past week of his father's illness and told him I would be praying for him. The fact that he mentioned his father let me know that on some level he still trusted me. He connected with me.
It immediately hit me how much I missed pastoral care.
When I was a pastor, I would whine about the house visits, the calls, and the "organ recitals." But now, I found myself longing for those moments. I realized that those moments were the moments Christ gives us as pastors. Those are the moments we are given to love people where they are, in their hurt, in their most vulnerable times.
We perceive that we are being put out of our way because we have more important things to do. We have sermons to prepare. We have errands to run. We have lives to live.
For shut-ins, they have walls to stare at. For the ill, they have stomachs churning and an uncertain future. For the depressed and anxious, they have a mind aswirl of impatience and horrible thoughts.
As pastors, we think of our time. Our inconvenience. I wish I had seen it then. God forgive me. I could have gone home, kissed my children, made room in my schedule somewhere. God would have provided me those moments to prepare for my sermon. For what is more important in this life than people? He will provide.
The moments that stand out to me when I think of my pastorate are not of great sermons I preached. They are of lives God allowed me to touch. They are of the moments I spent beside people who were dying. They are of the times when I was praying alongside the ill or those who needed Christ.
Was it a sermon? No, but it was the Word. It was Christ Himself, active within me, living inside me, working through me. Yes, the sermons were alive and active, penetrating. Not because of me, but because of Him.
What I really wish I had done more is gone out, like my current pastor Brad. He just goes out in the expectation that people will be saved. Armed with the gospel of Christ and loves people like they are.
I miss preaching funerals. I miss being there for people who hurt after a loved one dies, hearing the stories of their departed loved one and then sharing those stories in a way that honors the one who passed.
I miss going to visit Mr. and Mrs. McGillicutty who used to go to Angel Falls 20 years ago but now live in an old trailer with no one to talk to. I visited them twice a month. No one else would. They have no children or family. They loved to see me coming. I had the church build them a ramp so they could get into their trailer easier. I loved them even though they never heard me preach. They were precious to the Lord so they were precious to me.
I miss seeing Mrs. Law. She came for about two years of my pastorate until she couldn't drive anymore. Frankly, she shouldn't have been driving those two years. She could talk your ear off. She would call me whenever she wanted. When you visited her, you better have at least two hours to spend, or an escape route, because she would go on for a long time. She had three children who ignored her and were just waiting for her to die to get her inheritance. I have 20 stories about her to tell. She's still alive and I love her. She's 90. Hope she outlives her kids.
I miss seeing people. I know now what it means to love as Christ loved. I missed an opportunity. Maybe one day I'll have that chance again.
If you're a pastor and you're reading this - don't visit cheaply. Listen to your people. Visit the elderly like they're your parents or grandparents. Visit them like it's the last time you'll see them.
Church members, listen. Call your pastor when you're in the hospital. Don't overwhelm him with stupid stuff. If you have a toenail surgery, don't bother him. If he heads off to Disney World with his family, leave him alone. The man needs space.
The church is the body of Christ. Minister to one another. Love one another. You all belong to each other. Act like it.