Pastoral care within the Christian context is inextricably linked to the biblical image of the shepherd: In the New Testament this image begins with Jesus Christ: I am the good shepherd1 Jesus tells his listeners in (John 10:11). The Lord is my Shepherd the psalmist declares in (Psalm 23:1) In the twenty-third Psalm the Shepherd ensures the eternal security of his sheep, by leading, guiding, feeding, comforting, and protecting them. The role of the caring pastor must follow a similar pattern as he or she works within the Christian communities that most probably will contain many people experiencing crisis such as loneliness, anxiety, depression, and many other problems including tension within the family unit.
It is within these areas that Christian pastor has a duty of care and a huge opportunity to help people often by simply been there to listen and to encourage people in whatever type of distress they are experiencing in life. It is also important for the Christian pastor to realize that the boundaries of pastoral care are not contained within the church or Christian groupings to which they belong, (these must not be self-enclosed communities) Christians care must extend beyond themselves and their communities, like it did in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
This essay will attempt to examine these issues and how they are dealt with, within a Christian context, will also attempt to examine how the above issues are approached and dealt with by those who work and live outside the Christian way of life.
Christian pastoral care is an activity that has existed since biblical times and has been often referred to as the cure of souls and is by its very nature Christ-centred. It is an activity which must come from the attitude and commitment to love one another it has to flow from the commands given by Jesus in (Matthew 7:12) In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets, and (John 13:34) and I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another. The love that the Christian career needs to have in their hearts is described very well with this question and answer by John Pritchard What kind of love is thisa love that prays2 This excellent statement by Whipp takes this praying in love for others a step further: You can pray with them sometimes, but pray for them always3 As the Christian pastor becomes involved in peoples lives and identifies with their struggles, a yearning for the will of God needs to be present in the situation, the following statement highlights this essential ingredient: Alan Lorimer says: In pastoral care, we practice paying attention. Paying Attention to God, to self and to the other. In the context of Christian Pastoral care we intentionally orientate ourselves to the God who is present.4 This forms the Theological platform5 that Alastair Graham rightly maintains that the Christian career must work from, that is essentially a prescription from God to tend my flock. This theological platform must be supported by what Whipp describes as the; particular characteristics of intercession, incarnation, intention, information, and integration.6 It is only when the Christian pastor puts this attention’ to God in place, that he/she will be able to work from a theological platform and work in a divine presence that is not present, in a non-Christian caring context. It is exactly this dimension which most distinguishes Christian pastoral care from other human services like social work, counseling, and is the difference between Christian pastors and other human beings that carry out helping activities such as police, doctors, nurses, teachers, etc. Pattison highlights the difference between pastoral care, and other human services where he says, in other human services; there is no necessary reference to any religious dimension at all.7 An example of what Pattison means here could be: Divorce, where a serious breach of trust has been committed perhaps, adultery, by one of the partners, which has led a ferocious animosity between the couple, and a trip to the solicitor’s office is inevitable so that a clean break can come about, and the family assets divided. In a situation like this the animosity, the anger, and frustration will only most likely increaseand possibly there is no other way out. Here there is no necessary reference to any religious dimension at all. Possibly in such circumstances no religious reference would have helped, and there was no other avenue of human consultation that would have stopped the couple from make the complete break that both desired. However, in the Christian Care context particularly, (but not necessarily) if the couple were members of a Christian community or church, and a pastor recognized even a glimmer of hope of reconciliation, and this serious breach of trust had happened in a one-off time of human weakness to temptation. It is very possible, that after, many visits and much talking, and more importantly listening to each partner by a Christian pastor. A meeting in neutral surroundings, and with the two individuals, and in the presence of Almighty God would lead to a very different outcome. Another and probably better example could be when there has been a sudden death of the close family member, perhaps as a result of an accident, or massive heart attack. After such a tragedy, the tragic news must be told to a husband, wife or parents. Other human services, police, doctors, nurses etc, can only break the news in the way that they are trained, and most probably will leave shortly afterward. The Christian pastor, on the other hand, working from a theological platform, (will not lessen the initial pain and the shock) but will by his/her continual presence, and it could be many hours, even by been silent and by being prepared to listen will bring about a gradual calming to the soul of the bereaved. This is a most important role in the work of a Christian pastor, and Alastair Graham rightly highlights Despite the secularisation of society, people still seek the help and support of the church at the death of their loved one The pastors response is drop all and go. The bereaved familys trauma should not be part of the pastors routine… Presence without prescription Effective presence leads to ownership of the occasion.8 Whipp also makes a very helpful statement on this type of human suffering which the pastor should find most helpful when he or she is ministering in these times of grief: The first prerequisite to someone in the depths of anguish is presence. It is not to offer a sophisticated theoretical explanation of their situation, but simply and genuinely to show that you care.9 In the second part of this excellent advice, she outlines the possible need of a carer from a non-Christian contextperhaps from the medical profession. how that care is expressed in practice may be an awkward combination of the love of the amateur [pastor] and the discernment of the professional.10 In this statement by Whipp, we see why care in a Christian context and in a non-Christian context need not be opposites, but can complement each other in the role of people in their care of others. Whipp continues 11 But the humble pastor strives to bring a professional steadiness in the midst of crisis together with all the tender-heartedness of a sincere friend aware that in the midst of sorrow she too is a frail earthen vessel whose strength and consolation comes only from God. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
The pastors ministry must always intentional and purposeful, and as one who tends the flock, he or she must go about doing good (Acts 10:38) They need to be aware, of problems, and possible problems within (and outside) the community in which they work. Very often this will involve visiting homes and drinking cups of tea in the afternoon, a practice to which Pattison is very much against. (pages 73-79). I totally disagree with Pattison here, and believe that visiting is vital to the role of the pastor if they are to exercise an effective duty of care to all in need. I agree, with Pattison when he says there may be great discrepancies between the significance a pastor attaches to visiting and the perceptions of the people visited.12 I believe, that this is simply Bad Practice by pastors, they have not communicated with, or disclosed any prior intention, or purpose of their visit to those they intend to care for. Whipp put this well: In a society which can be suspicious of or, in some sectors, overtly hostile to the Christian message, it will not do for representatives of the church to assume the right to visit people in their homes hospital without a justifiable and clearly articulated rational .One of the most precious gifts of the pastor is often to stay present to the suffering of another person there is a difference in being purposeful and being prescriptive