God’s love in action: pastoral care for everyone
A mate has just lost his dad.
A faithful old stalwart of the church is in failing health and can't get out any more.
The family next door has just had their first baby and are walking around with haggard looks and bags under their eyes.
I've noticed that a pretty quiet "pew sitter' has become much less regular in church attendance in the last little while.
These are the sort of situations that arise all the time in the life of the local church and yet are not always dealt with that well. Jill McGilvray's little book God's love in action: pastoral care for everyone offers some insights that can help churches and individuals deal with them better, based on her experience in parish ministry in Sydney and as a bereavement counsellor at the National Centre for Childhood Grief. The book is only 80 pages long and set out in such a way that it can profitably be read through by an individual or used as the basis of a training course or discussion group series.
God’s love in action begins with a survey of the biblical basis for "caring'. It then provides an example of a structured approach a church could adopt to ensuring its members were cared for, especially for those who "slip between the cracks' of a growth group setup, maybe because they are "frail, shy or just not comfortable in groups'. This structure is centred on "lay pastors' who care for 2 or three people. The way they care is represented by the acronym PEACE (Prayer, Encouragement, being Available, Comfort, Example). The rest of the book (more than half of it) then provides practical advice on skills and principals that help us care for others.
In many discussions of "pastoral care' terms and ideas, and the relationships between them, can be a bit fuzzy. If there is a weakness in the book it lies in the fact that ideas like "love' and "pastoring' and "caring' were collapsed together and "care' became such a broad and all encompassing concept.
But the "lay pastors' structure (if maybe not the title) was a fruitful one to consider and the material on skills and principles for caring for people in situations like depression, dementia or hospital visiting provided some very helpful advice for people new to these situations. These approachs reflects Jill's extensive experience and I wish it had been available to me earlier in my own ministry!
If you'd like to be better equipped to respond to situations like the ones I started with in God honouring ways, then God's love in action is a good place to start.