What if you had a brochure, membership class lesson, or church webpage that explained to people the type of pastoral care they could expect to receive when attending your congregation? Here is my attempt at what such an explanation by a Presbyterian congregation might contain.
Our congregation wants to provide pastoral care for you, whether this is your first visit with us or you are a longtime member of the church. What do we mean by “pastoral care?”
Pastoral Care Defined
When one hears the word “pastoral,” they often think of the minister of the church. Though the idea of pastoral care includes the work of the minister, we mean more by this term than only what the pastor does. The word pastor comes from French and Latin words for shepherd and shepherding. In English, we use the word “pasture” similarly. Just as sheep (a common Biblical metaphor for Christians) are protected and fed by shepherds, so the people of God are to be watched over and nurtured. The chief Shepherd of the church is the Lord Jesus Christ (Psalm 23; John 10:11; Hebrews 13:20), who calls upon spiritual leaders in each generation to care for His people by teaching them the Word of God, building them up in their faith and service to Christ, and even being willing to bring the Spirit’s correction to them if they go astray.
The importance of pastoral care is seen in the very name of our church.
Pastoral Care is in Our Name
The word Presbyterian in our name comes from a word meaning “elder.” God has appointed spiritual leaders to oversee or care for His church. As Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28). Unlike some of the churches today that use the name Presbyterian, we have chosen men for elders who are spiritually minded and biblically sound to shepherd our congregation. The Bible makes the distinction that there are two types of elders: teaching elders who are formally trained and are employed full-time in teaching and discipleship; and ruling elders who are men who work in the community but give of their time to care for the flock of God (I Timothy 5:17-18). All the elders have godly character and are managing their own homes well as the Scriptures require (I Timothy 3:1-7). The elders are not to lord over the church, but shepherd the people so that all will follow Jesus as the true King of the church (I Peter 5:1-6).
This shepherding begins with the elders watching over each other’s lives carefully, knowing the impact that will have on the congregation.
Pastoral Care Starts with the Leadership
As we saw above, Paul told the elders of Ephesus, “Be on guard for yourself and for all the flock…” Leaders of the church will have to give an account for their shepherding of God’s people on the great Day of Judgment (Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1). Thus, they must first encourage one another and hold each other accountable to righteousness. We have what is called “a plurality of elders,” which means we have several men who are set over the church to oversee it, for no one man is capable of self-accountability and individually leading the people of God. We regularly review one another’s work, and have opened up our hearts and lives to one another for examination and even correction. Another facet of being Presbyterian means that we are formally connected to a larger body of like-minded churches. Our work as elders is regularly reviewed by a regional association of churches known as the Presbytery to make sure we are following God’s Word in caring for His people.
What Dr. Benjamin Warfield told a gathering of ministers over a century ago still holds true for pastors as well as for elders. “Aptness to teach alone does not make a minster; nor is it his primary qualification. It is only one of a long list of requirements which Paul lays down as necessary to meet in him who aspires to this high office. And all the rest concern, not his intellectual, but his spiritual fitness. A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.” As a Puritan pastor Richard Baxter once said more succinctly, “A holy calling will not save an unholy man.”
So we give pastoral care to the leadership to encourage holiness, but it does not stop there.
Pastoral Care Extends to the Entire Congregation
Again, in Acts 20:28 Paul also told the elders to guard the flock, for the church was purchased with Christ’s blood and He appointed by the Holy Spirit the elders to shepherd it. Our church is a family, and we need to care for one another (Matthew 12:49-50; I Timothy 5:1-2). How then is this pastoral care worked out in the congregation’s life? How will you be cared for in this congregation? Primarily in three ways:
You will be prayed for and fed the Word of God. As elders, we have a primary and sacred duty to ensure you and your family are supported in prayer and nurtured in the Bible (John 21:15-17; Acts 6:4). We will do this by offering faithful preaching from the pulpit; devotion to prayer in our worship for the needs of the church; regular encouragements to grow in the Word through Bible studies, family worship, and helpful seminars; inviting you to elders meetings for counsel and prayer during important junctures in your life; and placing you in elder-led shepherding groups where you will be regularly contacted and cared for.
You will be regularly hosted by an elder or visited in your home. Historically, the church has watched over God’s people in part by the elders visiting members of the congregation in their homes or inviting them to their own home to encourage God’s people in Christ and to see if there are any needs the people of God might have. On a regular basis, our elders have the practice of visiting with you and asking you questions such as the following:
- How are you doing personally, relationally, and professionally? Are there any personal or family matters you would like to share with the elders for prayer and consultation?
- Review for us your practice in personal and family worship.
- Describe your relationship to others in the church. Are there any unresolved conflicts you have with another brother or sister? Is there a way we could assist you in restoring relationships?
- In what capacity or areas do you believe that God has called you to serve Him in His kingdom? Are there ways we as elders can help you accomplish what God has called you to do?
- In the last year, what areas in the life of the church have you been particularly thankful for? Are there any areas of concern that you have?
- Has the Lord put anything else on your heart to discuss with the elders?
We also will visit you in times of need and trouble, and, as Jesus’ under-shepherds, seek to walk with you through the valleys of this life (Psalm 23:4).
You will be equipped for ministry and service. We believe each person who trusts in Christ for salvation is a special member of the body of Christ. He or she has been given gifts to use in the life and ministry of the church (I Corinthians 12:12-20; Ephesians 4:11-16). Part of our duty to you is to help you see your gifts and how to offer them in service with others for Christ’s kingdom, as we are all called to offer care for one another. That is why we want to know you more fully, so we can encourage you in your discipleship walk with Christ. Often we help folks in our congregation find mentoring relationships where they can be trained in their service to God.
If you have any questions about our pastoral care or any other matter, please speak to the pastor or one of the elders! We are here to serve you.