Monday, July 10, 2006

Pastoral Care Essential

I am increasingly concerned that guys who are earnest to reclaim the importance of biblical proclamation are losing sight of the importance of pastoral care. Increasingly I hear of guys who think their only role is to fill the pulpit and that they should not be bothered with other things. This is simply not the biblical model. How can we adequately oversee the souls of our people- in preparation for God holding us accountable (Heb 13:17)- if we are not involved in their lives on a regular basis? No doubt people are over-reacting to examples where pastors did much visiting but no real preaching. Let us not answer with the opposite extreme, however. Of course, if we do not provide biblical instruction we are not truly pastoring. But, you cannot adequately preach to people with whom you have no or little contact. The New Testament does not refer to our office as “preacher” but with three terms:
Elder- stressing spiritual maturity
Pastor- stressing the shepherding aspect
Overseer- again stressing the oversight and care of the congregation
Let us not think that ‘oversight’ here would focus on ‘oversight’ of the budget, building, etc. These did not exist then. The concern here is the oversight and shepherding of the people. Preaching is one aspect of that.

This “preaching removed from pastoring” does not emerge from the Reformation. I have previously posted on Martin Luther’s comments on the necessity of deep, practical love for one’s people. Let me then point to the example of the other key figure in the Reformation, John Calvin. Whether or not one agrees with Calvin, he is a key figure in the Reformation and a significant proponent of the centrality of expositional preaching. Some even view him as austere, removed and perhaps too academic. However, in the brief biography written by Theodore Beza, Calvin’s close personal friend and successor, mention is made of the time when the plague severely struck Geneva. Beza writes:
At that time the custom in Geneva was, to send those suffering by the plague to an hospital outside the city. The assistance of a steady and careful pastor was required. The greater part declined from fear of infection.
Beza notes then that three pastors including Calvin volunteered. One was chosen and he then refused to go in fear. Calvin greatly desired to serve in this way, but the other leadership intervened to keep him from going. In spite of the fact that Calvin was regarded as the leading theologian and the most published scholar in the region, he did not use that as a reason to absent himself from the daily care of his people. The pastor’s heart yearns to care for his people. The heart that seeks to avoid the people in order to do other things is the heart not of the pastor but of the hireling.


Cameron Cloud said...

Can I add a loud AMEN!?

This is one thing that really burdens my heart (pastorspeak for "ticks me off"). Shepherding is neglected in the name of "feeding". I agree that study is important, but preaching is only one part of pastoring.

Those who minister this way would do well to read Baxter's "Reformed Pastor."

Thanks for speaking so clearly on this issue.

Klay Aspinwall said...

How true brother! Through my days at Union and SBTS I was active in local church ministry, and I could always tell which students were not. They latched onto the "few" profs who only went into education as an escape from local ministry. They loved to talk about being a "rancher" rather than a "shepherd". May God save our churches from such men!

(Oh, but the pulpit ministry is my strongest gift and my greatest joy in ministry -- but it must be excercised in concert with the office and not in isolation from the office of pastor)

Perry McCall said...

Dr. Van Neste,

Thank you for your blog and especially for taking up this issue. I am apart of a new fellowship of young pastors who believe that we need a pastoral reclamation in Baptist life. We call this reclamation a reclaiming of the shepherd model for pastoral ministry as a "prescribed" model from scripture. We reject the idea that the “shepherd” terminology in the NT is just a culturally conditioned metaphor. I believe that our verbal plenary position on inspiration requires us to accept such a position. I readily admit that fleshing out the “how” of modern shepherd ministry will be difficult and will look different in different settings. But I do believe that we must begin with the presupposition that a pastor must be a shepherd and that care giving is a task that defines whether or not someone is a pastor.

Ray Van Neste said...

Glad to hear of this discussion going on in other places. The Bible is indeed clear that such care and oversight is non-negotiable. Too often people dismiss it because it is difficult in many of our typical church structures. However, this should cause us to question our structures rather than dismiss the biblical guidelines.

And for clarity, this post (and other ones like this from me) serve not only to critique what I see elsewhere but also to continually call me to this truth. It is so easy and tempting to slide away from the challenging task of shepherding.

Gordon Cloud said...

Great post. There must be a balance between the preaching and the ministering.

The balance comes from commitment on the part of the pastor to do the work of the ministry and an understanding on the part of the congregation on what constitutes a need for pastoral attention.

Brett said...

I once heard a megachurch pastor I respect in many ways boast that he hadn't made a hospital visit in years. I'd much rather study for my sermon on Sunday than drive up to the hospital and pray for someone, but it always does my soul well to make that visit and also helps my message fall on more willing-to-listen ears on Sunday morning, not to mention more attentive ears from the family directly affected for several weeks or months. I hate cliches, but there is a lot of truth in "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."

I recognize that a pastor of a church of 1,000+ cannot possibly make all the visits, but I believe it is entirely possible for him to make some and I know that many actually do. Hurray for those who do continue to some counseling, some weddings and funerals, some visitation of the sick, etc., even when their churches reach mega status (w/out neglecting their families).

Ray Van Neste said...

Indeed Brett.
My concern is that this sort of pastoral ministry be seen as our biblical mandate and not as simply something'nice' to do if you can.
And if our structures make it more difficult to obey the Bible perhaps we should reconsider our structures.