I’ve added a new category to this blog — Pastoral Care. In small churches, pastoral care becomes a primary and expected ministry of the pastor. Here’s the first post.
I ran across this definition of pastoral care recently —
1. Help, advice and moral guidance offered by a clergyman or other spiritual advisor to a group, such as the children in a school, members of the armed forces, a church congregation, etc.
If you’re a pastor, that’s the primary business you’re in — offering help, advice, or moral guidance to folks in need. But I would like to add one more item to the definition of what pastors offer people in need, and that is prayer.
I always offer to pray on-the-spot with people in need and here’s why:
- I represent God. The people who have come to me may have gotten help, advice, or guidance from a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a social worker, a friend, a family member, a neighbor, or a counselor. But I represent God to them and for them. None of the other helping professions shows up in the name of God to help people. I do. And I offer to pray to that God right then on their behalf.
- I can pray, but I may not be able to do anything else. People in need are always hearing others ask “What can I do to help?” You may not be able to change the circumstances, heal their child, write them a check, or solve their problem. But you can pray and you can do it right now in their presence.
- I may not have another opportunity to pray with them. At the moment you are standing in the hospital room, or sitting in their den, or holding their hand, or sharing their grief, you can pray for them. Circumstances change, people die, hearts get hard, the moment passes. Offer to pray for them while you are with them. It may be your only opportunity.
- Prayer invites God into their world. Wherever you have met these people in need — the hospital, the jail, the funeral home, or the church office — prayer invites God into their world. No one else will do that, and you can.
- Most people want you to pray for them and appreciate your offer of prayer. In all my years in the pastorate, I have only had one person decline when I asked, “Could I have a prayer with you right now?”
One word of caution — before you pray be aware and sensitive to the situation. Years ago, I was standing in the ICU room of a young woman who was brain-dead from a car accident. Her parents were standing with me as they faced the decision of turning off her respirator. Another pastor from the community came rushing in and offered to pray. With great enthusiasm, he prayed that God would heal their daughter, and then he turned and rushed back out of the room. I was left to comfort parents who knew the end was near. The last decision they would make for their daughter while she was alive would end her life. Praying for healing at that point was an insensitive and hurtful act.
But pastoral prayer isn’t just for crisis situations. Recently after visiting a couple who had visited our church, I offered to pray for God’s blessing on their new home. The couple both broke into big smiles, and said, “Thank you. We’ve visited a lot of churches in the area, and most of those pastors have visited us, but you’re the first to offer to pray.”
I always offer to pray. I represent God. If I don’t pray, who will?