As a young pastor while in seminary, I served a congregation where the median age was probably 87. Yet amazingly, during my two years as their pastor, not one member of the congregation died, and only one had any kind of serious illness. I told them I was good for their health, and it appears that was the case, since two of them passed away within six months after my departure. Later, when I was an associate pastor in Tallahassee, I had an arrangement with the senior pastor. He did the hospital visits, which he enjoyed, and I did the committee meetings and other administration, which he despised. It was a win-win.
As we were developing our Master of Ministry program at Anderson University, I was sometimes asked if there would be a course on counseling. My standard response was – how long does it take to learn to refer someone to a trained counselor?
OK, so I am not Mr. Pastoral Care. Mercy and compassion are not among my primary spiritual gifts. My counseling style leans more toward grabbing someone by the scruff of the neck, shaking them, and saying, “Quit doing that!”
Though it may not be my primary ministry gift, nevertheless I do understand the vital role that pastoral care plays in ministry. In fact, before moving to South Carolina, we lived in Nashville and I was deacon training coordinator for a congregation where we had about 250 deacons, divided into 12 teams, and they handled 90% of the pastoral care needs of that church. The deacons did most of the hospital visitation – as the pastor told members, if they saw him in their hospital room it was not good news – so I helped train deacons for basic pastoral care tasks they would be performing in their ministry role. So though I’m not good at it, I do believe in it!
And I do find it interesting to think about the relationship of preaching to pastoral care. In the very first year of Preaching magazine – back in 1985 and 86 – I enlisted Wayne Oates to do a series on preaching and pastoral care. At the very start of that series, he made this observation: “For most of Christian history, preaching and pastoral care would not be spoken of with a plural verb. Preaching and pastoral care were seen and practiced as a singular experience. The earliest formulations of pastoral care in this century began in the pulpits of exceptionally persuasive and gifted preaching pastors.”
Oates cites several well-known preachers in their time as models of this synthesis of preaching and pastoral care, such as Theodore Adams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Richmond, VA for many years. “Adams’ preaching was energized by his shepherding care of individuals and small groups. In the early 1930′s he was intensely concerned with synthesizing his preaching with a genuinely scientific approach to pastoral care.
“Contemporary with Adams in the Southern Baptist ministry was a brilliant array of pastors in other communions. Ralph Sockman blended preaching and pastoral care as he preached to Methodist congregations. John Sutherland Bonnell and George Buttrick were Presbyterian preachers and authors whose sermons spoke directly to the needs of persons for ethical reinforcement of their Christian faith and personal fortification in their personal and family lives. Paul Scherer spoke as an inspired Lutheran to the need of people for pastoral care. To him preaching was an ‘event in eternity.’
“The issues of ‘being a real person’ were addressed . . . by Harry Emerson Fosdick at Riverside Church in New York. He measured the effectiveness of his sermons by the number of persons who sought his care and counsel in the following week. Norman Vincent Peale, in the Dutch Reformed Church, is well known for his books, but few beyond his parish (knew of) his remarkably pastoral preaching Sunday after Sunday at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Even fewer realize that he established what was probably the first pastoral counseling center in the context of a local church.
“These pastors, and many others of their generation, saw preaching and pastoral care as functional extensions of each other, not as separate disciplines between which a pastor chose. They taught homiletics and pastoral care in seminaries adjacent to their pastoral fields of action. In doing so they assumed that pastoral care and counseling is not a specialty apart from preaching but an organic whole with preaching.”
While these pulpit giants of the mid-twentieth century saw preaching and pastoral care as integrally related, in more recent years these two fields have been seen and taught as distinct specialties in pastoral theology. The danger of that separation is that without a lively connection to pastoral life, preaching can easily become an academic exercise disengaged from the lives of God’s people. Likewise, pastoral care needs to be connected to the active study and proclamation of God’s Word, “because without preaching as the proclamation of the good news of the available Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, caring for people wears thin and becomes trivial.”
This is why Oates insisted on the importance of “a holistic, inseparable relationship between preaching and pastoral care. . . . The primary responsibility of a Christian pastor is to convey the good news that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. Preaching, teaching, and healing are inseparable ways of doing so.”