Friday, November 11, 2005

Philosophy of Pastoral Ministry

One thing I especially want to write about here, but have not yet gotten to is the issue of oversight itself. I am convinced that the oversight of souls is the heart of pastoral ministry. Everything else emerges from this concept. Our teaching, preaching, counseling, rebuking, encouraging, visiting and working on the way the church operates is to be an aspect of overseeing souls. The key verse on this is Hebrews 13:17, which will deserve more discussion in itself.

Perhaps one good way (and one I can accomplish at the moment!) is to point you to a statement of philosophy of pastoral ministry I have drawn up. I do not claim in any way that it is complete or definitive. It is a work in progress. It is the fruit of an effort to express on paper for a specific church what exactly I thought the Scripture says about the work of the pastor.


Barry Wallace said...

That's an excellent article, Ray. I have a couple of questions and comments on the subject that I'd really like to hear your thoughts on. I'll state my main question and then try to clarify my thoughts with some other questions/comments.

Primarily, I wonder if visiting the sick shouldn't be added as a third fundamental responsibility of overseeing/shepherding souls? Here are a few things that lead me to pose that question:

1) Since the passage in Acts 6 specifically refers to the unique duties of the apostles, it may not necessarily follow that those are the only two fundamental responsibilities of the pastor/elder. In other words, might not the responsibilities of the settled pastoral ministry of necessity be broader than those of the itinerant apostolic ministry?

2) It seems from James 5 that the elders in particular are directly involved in praying for and laying hands on the sick, which necessitates a visit.

3) Jesus' description in Matthew 25 of what all sheep naturally do includes visiting the sick.

4) A practical implication of the two previous passages might be that a pastor has an even greater incentive than other sheep do to minister to the sick, since we all tend to be both more deeply aware of our needs, and more receptive to the ministry of the Word, in times of sickness or other distress.

5) Historically, in the Reformed tradition, it seems that visiting the sick was viewed as a basic pastoral responsibility. Richard Baxter stressed it often in his writings, including in "The Reformed Pastor".

My question, I guess, isn't whether or not a pastor should visit the sick, but whether or not visiting the sick should be considered a fundamental priority of the pastoral ministry. I don't know the answer, and I look forward to your feedback.

Ray Van Neste said...

Barry,good point. One of my struggles in outlining the statement was organization- how to lay it all out, what were main headings, etc. I do certainly agree that visiting the sick is an aspect of oversight- esp. those seriously ill. I think I would want to say it is an aspect of both the ministry of the word (private) and of prayer. Whether it should be listed seperately to indicate its importance is a fair question.
I do think the precedent of the apostles in Acts 6 does hold, though. At this point in Acts the apostles are not itinerant. They are settled in Jerusalem and remain so even when persecution scatters the others (8:1).

That being said, the statment as it stands could lead someone to think that visitation of the sick is unimportant in the pastor's duties- and I would regret that. It would be useful to spell out more specifically some of the ways the private ministry of the word and prayer should be lived out. And the passages you mention would be helpful in fleshing this out.

Barry Wallace said...

Thanks for the feedback, Ray. You make some excellent points, and I do realize your treatment wasn't meant to be comprehensive. I agree with you, that if properly singled out and emphasized, visiting the sick could be subsumed under the ministry of the Word (private) and prayer. Thanks again for continuing to provide such helpful and thoughtful posts.