Chatting with a leader

A primary function of a congregation is to provide pastoral care to its members. For a minister, this not only means visiting members who are in the hospital or bedridden, but also fostering an environment within the church that can meet whatever demands life puts on it. A structure that effectively creates a pastoral care network within a congregation might include trained pastoral associates who can provide targeted care in times of critical stress as well as pastoral caregivers who might be able to provide meals or a caring ear to members with ongoing needs.

Working with the youth group through a difficult issue

Not to be overlooked are programs that help members connect with one another outside of Sunday worship and coffee hour. For several years I’ve been a big promoter of small group ministry, also known as covenant groups. At the San Antonio church, our covenant group program grew from 20 members to 120 in five years. In Evanston, half the congregation was involved in a covenant, affinity, or similar small ministry group. It was where people could share their stories and be truly seen by others.

Pastoral care takes many forms

Many years ago I spent five months working as a hospital chaplain. As I walked the halls on rounds, or responded to the pager in the middle of the night, I often found myself in awe of the stories I heard. That long chaplaincy taught me that listening to another’s sorrow or pain is not only a gift we can give, but also a gift we receive as we open our hearts and engage in each other’s lives. That is what pastoral care is all about.

My most recent ministry to the armed forces opened my heart to the moral injuries carried by our nation’s military members and families. Addressing alcohol dependency, domestic violence, suicide, and overwhelming stress were all weekly conversations I would share with the mostly 20- and 30-somethings I served. A big part of my job as a chaplain was hosting marriage retreats, fielding resiliency outings, and teaching classes–but it was all in service to the soul repair needed by these young people who serve.