A New Model Merges Pastoral Care and Social Action

I am speaking tomorrow at Duke Divinity School to students in the Rural Ministry Colloquia, a monthly gathering of students involved in, or interested in, rural church ministry.  I have been asked to tell our story of how we started a community center, community music school, and several other projects here in our small town of 1300 people.

In addition to telling our story, I’m also going to share some very quick thoughts about the role of small churches in rural areas.  I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the theology and practice of pastoral care in a missional church, and how that is different from pastoral care in traditional churches.  I think I’ve come up with a least a few questions, if not fully-formed answers.  Here’s some of what I’ll share tomorrow:

  1. Missional theology and praxis calls for contextual, incarnational engagement with the community.  How does “the care of souls” fit into the missio Dei and our part in it?
  2. Why is pastoral care largely ignored in the on-going conversations about the tranformation of the church?
  3. Given the social structures of rural society, and the aging populations of small town and rural America, shouldn’t “the care of souls” be a part of our intentional ministry, and not just an afterthought during times of crisis?
  4. Considering the rampant poverty, increased alcohol and drug abuse problems, lower educational levels, and other social issues affecting rural areas, shouldn’t our care of people also include care for the community, and the transformation of communal issues?

I am also proposing tomorrow a new way to look at pastoral care and social action (which is not a term I like, but I can’t think of another more descriptive).

The typical pastoral care model is a dyad of both the spiritual and psychological care of a person or family.  The typical “social gospel” model (or social action model) is a dyad of  spiritual and sociological engagement with a community, or group in a community.

I am proposing a new model that is a synthesis of both pastoral care and social gospel — a triad of the spiritual, psychological, and sociological concerns addressed by both individual approaches to care, and communal approaches to care.

In the Bible, salvation is often seen as coming to a people, not just individuals.  Certainly, the salvation of Israel was not thought of as future, but as a present reality that God could, and often did, provide.  This does not diminish the importance and necessity of a personal response to Jesus’ call to “come and follow me” but rather it broadens that call to include the salvation of social systems and communities.

I believe that “the care of souls” is going to burst into our theological imaginations in new and exciting ways.  Some of those will be that care will be more relational and less educational; and, more contextual and less general.

The “care of souls” will also fill the gaps in the social fabric of rural communities who have lost much of their social framework to chain stores, increased mobility, and the loss of public spaces.  I am convinced that we need to see our communities, not just as potential additions to our membership roles, but as “sheep without a shepherd.”

Creating networks of caring, training spiritual directors, offering healing solutions to intractable social problems — these are some of the new ways in which pastoral care in the missional church finds new expression.   One of the primary tasks of churches is to make meaning out of life’s stages and events.  By viewing our communities, and the individuals and families within them, as in need of Christian care, I believe we change the tone and effect of what we are doing.

What do you think?  How has your church, small or large, had opportunity to express care both for individuals and the entire community?  How have you brought about community transformation through “the care of souls?”  I’m really interested in gathering examples of churches doing this because I think it’s the next new awareness of the missional movement.

10 thoughts on “A New Model Merges Pastoral Care and Social Action”

  1. Chuck,

    I just met yesterday with a deputy that grew up in our community just to get their thoughts on what the real issues/needs in our community are and how we can work to heal them. I resonate with what you are saying and I definitely think we need to be more proactive in caring for our neighbors in real and concrete ways.

    Unfortunately, I cannot share any stories of how we have done this yet and I hope others do, but I also hope to have my own story soon!


  2. Internally, this has really been something we’ve addressed over the past few years. Our pastor has lamented that when we expanded the building about ten years ago, the one thing where we skimped was choosing not to put in a lift. The only way to get a wheelchair from the upper floor to the lower was to go outside and through the parking lot. Since we’re in New Hampshire, much of the year that is … less than welcoming, shall we say. We put the lift in three or four years ago, but my pastor has talked about the fact that we overlooked that (he calls it “the sin we built into the building”).

    Outside the building, we’ve set up a call line for anyone needing a ride to church, and we’re working on expanding that for people who just plain need transportation sometimes. Since we’re in a college town, that opens a lot of doors.

    We also have a new team set up whose job is to do home maintenance for people who can’t afford to fix … whatever. Thus far, they’ve done two roofs and several smaller jobs, about half of them for people who aren’t part of our church. They’re just people who had needs, and the Service Response Team jumped in to help.

  3. You’ve done a great job Chuck laying out the issues. I came to the small town church that I now pastor 10 years ago. I defined my objective as: To provide pastoral care to the people of Osyka Baptist Church and the surrounding community. It has worked for me. I have done pastoral care groups (How to visit someone in the hospital, etc) as well as pastoral care sermons and worship services. I used Willimon’s idea, though not original to him, of worship as pastoral care. I think you are really on to something here. The mistake of southern baptist has been to put so much emphasis upon evangelism and outreach when pastoral care seems to work best in small and middle sized churches. Look forward to some more dialogue on this subject as well as any helpful resources. Going to Kanuga for the Southeast Regional meeting of the AAPC (American Association of Pastoral Counselors. Be back next week. Good luck tomorrow at Duke.

  4. Chuck,

    We have about 12 people helping with a reading program at the nearby charter school. It’s a great way for us to connect to our community. Reading with children is certainly “pastoral care” in my book. We also serve food once a month at one of the Toledo rescue missions.

    Have been checking out your blog every week for months now. Keep it up! I try to blog regularly on my “Faith Reflections” blog ( http://www.blogsmonroe.com/faith/ ) I know it’s quite a challenge!

    I’ve pastored the same congregational church since graduating from seminary in 1975. Just finished my 34th year here. We’re a medium sized church I suppose you’d say, about 275 in worship. Still, many times we seem to operate as a small church, especially in terms of people’s expectation for pastoral care.

  5. Bryon, interviewing law enforcement personnel is a great way to begin needs assessment. Let me know how this evolves.

    Wickle, good to hear from you, again. We have a similar problem except we put an elevator in our new building but left the sanctuary only accessible from the exterior. Older churches continue to struggle with accessibility, and as a consequence, ministry issues.

    Milton, I’d love to hear more about how you equipped your church to do pastoral care. Hope your seminar went well, and please drop me an email so we can chat further. You can message me on facebook, it that’s more convenient.

    Thanks for the link to your blog and for your example of pastoral care of kids by reading. I agree with you on that one! To stay in one place 34 years, you must be doing a lot right. I’d love to hear more about your church and what you are doing there.

  6. Steve, thanks for your question. Duke recorded my presentation, and will post the audio/PPT presentation on their site. When they do, I’ll post the link here.

    The Rural Ministry Colloquium is a lunchtime presentation that lasts about an hour. So, this will be my presentation with questions. For more on their Thriving Rural Communities initiative, go to the link on the Duke Divinity website here — http://www.divinity.duke.edu/programs/trc


  7. Thanks, Chuck, for pointing your readers to the Thriving Rural Communities site. We hope you all will come and check out some of the good work being done by and for rural congregations across North Carolina.

    The link to the audio recording is available here: http://bit.ly/171iSf. Our program director, Jeremy Troxler, also maintains a blog called The Covered Dish: Meditations on Rural Life and Ministry that may be of interest to some of you: http://bit.ly/257UMq.

    We’d be very interested in your account of the session and any thoughts it spurred, Chuck.


Comments are closed.