Five reasons I always offer to pray for people on-the-spot


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.

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I ran across this definition of pastoral care recently —

pastoral care
noun
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:

  1. 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. 
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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. 
  5. 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?

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8 Comments

  1. You sound like a priest – I mean that in a good way, but you might think of the implications, on (ana)baptist theology, etc. Compare it to Catholic theology, especially the statement, I represent God. That’s good stuff though.

  2. Hi, Simonas — Yes, this does sound priestly, which it is. By saying “I represent God” I am reflecting the perception of others, rather than a theological office. The priesthood of the believer is a key doctrine to us Baptists, but that priesthood includes all of us — ordained or not. But the perception among those who need us as pastors is that we do represent God at times of crisis. Obviously, I could have said it better, but that was my point. Thanks as always for your helpful comments. — Chuck

  3. I wholeheartedly I agree, Chuck. All of us are capable of representing God (and do at times). But I think back to this little book I read (I think that’s the one) – David Adam On Egles’ Wings: The Life and Spirit of St. Chad, London: Triangle, 1999. In it the author talks about Celtic monks, who by the virtue of their character did represent Christ to His followers. It is the recognized leadership for spiritual direction, which includes comforting, that pastors are called for. So, there is no infringement even on Baptist theology, I think, to have the pastor as a symbol of Christ, called to priestly ministry (to intercede for people).

    I know it’s rambling of sorts, but that’s how I connect Catholic and (ana)baptist theology in this respect.

  4. Chuck, I think I mislead you in the choice of the book, but I’m not sorry if you ordered that one. It’s also good. The book I talked about was Michael Mitton, Restoring the Woven Cord – Strands of Celtic Christianity for the Church Today (Darton: Longman and Todd, 1995).

  5. Hello; I’ve just read the five reasons to pray for people on the spot. The reasons apply to lay church leaders as well as to pastors. My wife and I are involved in three areas of prayer at our church. Pre-service prayer, Prayer chain and post-service prayer. the first is prayer for the church service and the church activities during the comming week. the second is prayer for those in need. the third is prayer for members of the congregation after the worship service. I am not sure who is blesed more, my wife and myself or those whith whom we pray. What is most interesting in our church is that the people who are most active have been there four years or less. God is doing a new thing where we worship. Thank you for this article. God bless

  6. Hi Chuck,

    You’ve got it goin’ on! I often take the weight of the world on my shoulders and end up with too much on my plate…this is a great way to help others without getting overloaded. It’s immediate, comforting and lets them know you sincerely care. Thanks for being a good pastor/priest.

    Alison

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