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Lecture 3: Pastoral Care and Connecting with People
In two sessions so far we have established some introductory things that are important, some definitions that are important for pastoral care and pastoral leadership. Then we talked about the care of self also as a very foundational issue.
A. Perception of pastors as psychological therapists
I want to for the next few sessions really talk about care. Care is the big part of what pastors do, though we have to be careful not to go too far. There was a time, let’s say particularly in the 1900s when there were very few pastoral theologies. Most of the pastoral care, I should say pastoral learning, was done through the reading of books largely by sociologists and psychologists. What that created was a lot of pastors who saw themselves principally as therapists and created in churches cultures that expected the pastor to be their personal therapist, listened for language and messages that would speak to their personal care. When I talk about pastoral care, it is within the framework of being a pastor, not becoming a therapist.
Where do we start? I want to talk about pastoral care and what I have titled here is connecting, connecting with people. Connecting with people, what does that mean? That can be a lot of things. Another word we have used sometimes in the church is visitation. It also seems archaic today to use that term. It feels like something that was more maybe in the 1980s or 1970s or even back to the 1950s, let’s say back to the Puritans like Richard Baxter, who made it a defining part of his pastoral ministry to visit people in their homes.
Seeing people in their homes today seems like less of an expectation. In fact, people are busy. People are uncomfortable. The idea of stopping by unannounced or without calling first would seem to be an inconvenience, it would actually seem to be just not part of what we should do in culture. There was a day that you did it. You stopped by people’s homes. It isn’t so much an expectation. It is not even so much a desire unless maybe you are a shut-in and you cannot get out into the world yourself. It is no longer considered in some circles to be part of a pastoral function because people are busy and spouses work and kids are into all kinds of sports. So people come home exhausted. Who has time for the pastor to stop by?
We have also I think contributed to this with technology. We have created a culture that actually loves to be in touch with people through technology, less face-to-face. We have grown to have less value for the face-to-face because after all, we can text or send an e-mail, or maybe even call. But not the idea of doing something face to face. We see it expressed in lots of ways, even with a lot of education today.
II. Connecting with People Personally is a Requirement
I want to make an argument here that if one is to be truly an effective pastor, I don’t care if your church is a church of 5,000 or 50, a pastor has to be engaged in connecting with lives and be in homes because it gets back to that term we used in one of our definitions, shepherding. Shepherds pay attention to people’s lives. It gets back to oversight. It is the role of a shepherd. The role of a shepherd, as we have already talked about, is to watch the flock and to attend to those who are hurting, and to go after those who are absent.
Here is a scary verse, Hebrews 13:17 says, “Obey your leaders as those who must give an account for one’s soul.” That scares me a lot. That means that all of those people I shepherded, one day I’m going to have to stand in heaven and give an account for their lives? Something like that seems to be part of the language being used here, which frankly will be somewhat embarrassing if many of us pastors go, “I recognize the name, but I don’t know if I really knew the person.” To know the person means you have to get into their lives. Part of it is getting into their homes.
III. Biblical Examples
A. God visited Abraham, Moses and others
If we need some examples of this, let’s start with God, who visited his people. When we read the Old Testament, he often visited. He visited Abraham, Moses, Hannah, etc.
B. Jesus left heaven and visited people in their context
Jesus is the ultimate connector. He left the nice, comfortable confines of heaven and came into our neighborhood, came into our homes. He visited people in their contexts. He would go to the Samaritan woman who was way off the beaten path, the nobleman whose son was sick. He went to the paralytic, even though the paralytic in John 5 was not asking for Jesus, but he made an unannounced visit to him. The man who was born blind. The tax collector. So he went to offices, he went to businesses, he went to homes. It would appear he spent a significant amount of time with Mary and Martha, Luke 10; Peter’s mom in her home, Mark chapter 1. He went to people where they lived, where they worked. He went to the marketplace and the tax office.
What am I trying to say? Jesus didn’t come to say, “Hey, I’m here, let’s have a ‘come-to-me ministry.’” In fact, if you look at Mark 1, when they wanted Jesus to be sort of a contemporary Benny Hinn of his day and have all the people come to Peter’s home and line up, Jesus could have stayed right there and let everybody come to him. But you remember in that story, in the dead of night he was gone and the disciples went looking for him and said, “Why are you here? Everyone is waiting for you,” to which Jesus said, “I have come for this purpose, to seek and save the lost. I have come to go to other villages .I have come to go into homes. I have come to go where people are, not have them come to me.”
C. Early church leaders honored the role of visitation
Is there a place for people to come to us? Yes, we call it church and people come to us. But if it is only one way, you will have a ministry that will never be the ministry it should be. Why? Because God models it and also because early church leaders honored the role of visitation. Acts 5:42, there was this ministry of house-to-house, it appears. It was part of what the apostles did. They went from home to home. Acts 15:36, Acts 20:20, Paul made visitation his priority. In fact, James commands us in James 1 that part of authentic religion is to visit, to visit particularly those who are marginalized and the hurting.
D. Early Church history reveals a ministry of visitation
Early church history also reveals a ministry of visitation. Some of the earliest pastoral ministries centered around this. They had this conviction when you read early church fathers, that ministry cannot be done by a sterile distance.
I have been to conferences where I have heard big-time pastors talk about , “I leave that to other pastoral staff, I don’t have time for doing that, I have sermons to preach, I have boards to manage. I have a vision to set.” But then I would say, we are back to definitions, Is that the work of a shepherd? It is part of the work, but it is not the whole work of a shepherd. So, why are we calling people to this? Because God models it, the early church honored it.
E. Richard Baxter’s church
Early church history honored it and we go back to people like Richard Baxter and his ministry at ?_____(09:07.2). Let’s call it what it was, it was the megachurch of his day, it was 600, 700, 800 families. Somehow he found it part of his ministry. In fact, some would say it was his greatest pastoral achievement. He systematically annually visited every family every year, 800 families. Monday and Tuesday he visited some 15 to 16 families, teaching them, keeping notes on their lives with precise care and oversight, which characterized his ministry.
Let me just add this. It is a privilege we have that not a lot of other professions do have. How many professions come into peoples’ homes? Pastors have this and it is an honor to visit. So the question is, if I have convinced you that there is a role and a place for it, what is involved in doing this?
IV. Essentials for Connecting
Let me give you a few things that over the years I have experienced.
A. The first one, let’s call it order.
There is a certain order to this. It can’t be haphazard, probably like sermons that are not part of an order will end up in our default subject that we like to preach more often than others. Or in visitation we will end up seeing the same people that we like to see. So part of order, with a certain amount of careful administration, is to keep notes. To take a church directory, which by the way I have found is one of the most important documents for a pastor. That is where I kept my notes. When someone would call me or I would see someone, I would write notes, so I kept current about people.
Also keeping a bit of a log. “I saw this person April 15th” so six months has gone by. Baxter would keep notes, not only of who he visited, but he would keep notes on what he discovered because in that time we often, and we should, get to the question of, “How can I pray for you?” or “What is going on in your life?”
The first thing is order: having a plan, working through the directory, keeping track of who I have visited, lest again, I neglect some and spend too much time with others. Remembering this, we can’t forget this, I am representing not just myself, I am representing the church. I am the church coming into people’s lives. I am hopefully Jesus coming into people’s lives.
Second is intentionality. That is, I need to think through how long I need to spend. If it is too brief, it is simply perfunctory. If it is too long, they will be relieved when I leave. It is sorting out how much time do I spend. Part of this intentionality is transcending the social. You are taking time maybe to say, “God, I want to consecrate this conversation.” It needs to move beyond the chit-chat that happens often in the foyer on Sundays. It looks for opportunities to talk about faith.
Thomas Oden, who is a wonderful pastoral theologian, put it this way: “When Jesus met people in their homes and work settings, He cut through to the marrow of their lives. He exposed their idolatries. He awakened a living sense of the presence of God. He looked deeply into their souls. He heard them and he called them to repentance and faith.”
I am going to be a little critical here. I think with a lot of pastors, it is just glorified chit-chat, which changes nothing, really. So, intentionality.
A third is listening. It is being intentional to listen. Let’s be honest. They have heard enough from us, they hear us every week. We need to let them tell their story. We need to ask penetrating questions. We need to ask the kind of questions that allow people to talk about their favorite subject, which is themselves.
I find when you open up opportunities for people to talk about themselves, they want to spend time with you. They get rather tired of listening if it’s one-sided coming from us. In visitation we have the opportunity to give attention to details, which doesn’t happen in the foyer after a morning service. Sometimes when people want to open up to me in church, I might say, “We could go a lot further with this conversation. How about if we get together this week?” Because if you are not careful, if you don’t manage things, you can spend all of your time with one person when you gather corporately, then that robs people you also need to see. When you are in the home, then you can give that focused attention.
Here is the fourth part that is involved. That is prayer. I know that kind of sounds like the obvious, but sometimes people don’t do that.
I have never had anyone when I said, “Can I pray for you?” that said, “Not this time.” People love when you pray. They love when you bless their home. How many people do that? Just say, “Can I take a moment just to pray that God would use this space to do amazing things and advance his Kingdom?” I have had people invite me to go room by room and do that. I will go into a study and I will just pray, “Lord, may this be a place of deep connection” or maybe in the family room, “May this be a place of great hospitality.” Just asking God to bless.
E. Share a needed word
Here is something else, the fifth. Obviously, sharing the needed word. There is always a needed word. This again is where it can naturally flow out of your own relationship with God. I find a lot of times, and I would guess you do, where if you go deep with God, God somehow uses that in a later conversation. I will find myself going, that is exactly what God was saying today. I don’t think there is any mistake or coincidence there.
So, a needed word that builds on friendship, that shares needed wisdom, that gets beyond the chit-chat, that sometimes allows people to open up. Just to say, “You haven’t seemed yourself lately in church” or “How is your relationship with your daughter going?” or “Are you really happy in your work right now?” or “I can’t help but notice a lot of times you leave the church fairly soon. Is there something of an engagement in the body that we are not being attentive to?” “Is there a gift you would love to impart or share?”
V. Rewards for connecting
What are the rewards? There are a lot of rewards, but here are some I have listed.
A. You are participating with God
We are participating with God because when we go into a home, we are going with God. We are bringing his presence into people’s lives. We are becoming an avenue for God to work.
B. You are authenticating your ministry
We are authenticating our ministry. Frankly, I’ll tell you, it means little to me if a pastor says up front in a pulpit, “You know, I love you and I care for you, church” but they never see him in their home. How do they know you really care? Not that that will completely authenticate it, but people remember.
C. It enhances your preaching
A third thing, it enhances our preaching. Our ministry takes on relevance. It puts life in perspective. “It kindles the homiletical mind” is how Oden puts it. Not that you talk about the people you visited, or you will never be invited to their home, but it helps you to see the things you need to address.
Let me illustrate what I’m saying. A number of years ago I visited this rather large popular church, more of a health/wealth gospel kind of church. The pastor was talking about building bigger barns, kind of how I remember it, and how God honors that. In the course of the time he shared a story of the past week where he was at this conference with all these big-name people and he lost the keys to his rental car. The story was funny and humorous and he went into great detail. In fact, such great detail that I think it was at least a third of the sermon. I suddenly thought, This gal I’m sitting next to might have just gotten a report from the doctor this week that she has cancer and he is talking about losing his car keys to a rental car at a conference. The more I listened to him, I thought, this man is totally out of touch with people, with life.
I will tell you this, almost every time I have gone into a home and I have listened to people where they are, I find myself driving back to church going, I have to change that illustration, that would mean nothing. I have found myself totally humbled. I think I have it hard?
So it authenticates, it enhances our preaching, it tells people we are real. When you stand up and say, “I know this verse. I know it connects with many of you because I know, I have listened to many of you, and I know that gossip is a big part of your lives. It comes out too often and too easily.” Or, “I know this is where you are because I have listened to many of you and many of you I know are not talking to your kids.” Or how about this, “I know this text is where God wants to speak to us today because many of you are bitter. I know that because many of you have shared stories, people that, try as you may, you can’t get over the injury, the wounds and it hurts and you still can’t let go.”
When people know that you know that, they are going to listen. It is not saying, “I was just in Ann’s home the other day and Ann, as maybe some of you know, is really bitter towards a husband who left her.” Obviously that is not what we are talking about. Or being authentic to say, “Sometimes I feel that way about my son.” If you are going to say that, you had better check in with your son first. I have learned over the years to never use my kids as an illustration unless I have their permission, Rule #1. Rule #2 is to not do it very often. I have actually tried pretty hard to keep my family life pretty private to protect them. I’m getting a little bit off here, but it is all part of what we develop sermons on and part of it is our visitation.
D. It gives relationships a chance to grow
Here is the fourth thing, the rewards, advantages. It gives relationships a chance to grow. My relationships don’t grow with chit-chat in the foyer after a service. But behind open doors it illumines hidden needs. It penetrates resistances. It heightens my pastoral conscience, if you will. It tells you things that you would not know outside of those closed doors. It tells you maybe things to expose unhealthiness that you wouldn’t otherwise know.
I remember once I visited a family and this man was this Godly man. In fact, he would call me up and go, “Pastor, I’m coming home from work. Could we just share the Word together or pray together?” He was very quiet, low voice, just a Godly man. Then one day I visited his family. All the curtains were closed. It was like 7 o’clock and the kids were already in bed. You got a sense that things just don’t add up here. The wife was very sullen and quiet while he just kind of went on with his things. I remember, later that week she called me and she said, “Can you come and rescue me and my family from my husband, he is at work.” It turned out it had been a long, abusive relationship. I would have never guessed in a million years until I visited their home.
So, it allows you to really know people. On a positive side, it allows you to go deeper with people too, to connect with things you have in common. “Oh, you are a kayaker also. You mean you also went to the Air Force Academy? Well, I went to the Air Force Academy.” Suddenly all of these connections and now the relationship is very different.
E. It counters loneliness
Here is a fifth piece to it as far as rewards. It counters loneliness. A lot of people are far more lonely than we realize. One discovers that while you might feel it is an inconvenience, some people have been waiting a long time for somebody to knock on their door that is not selling stuff, but just wants to come in and spend time.
F. It allows us to pray effectively
Here is the sixth major reward. It allows us to pray effectively. Now I know what to pray. I tried, best I could, not always faithful to this, but I tried to pray through the church directory. So each day I would pray for this page and the next day I would pray through this page, until I had prayed through the whole directory and then I would start over. I wanted my people to know I prayed for them. But for a number of people I would say, “Oh, Lord I pray for the Samuelsons. I don’t know what is going in their lives, but I want to ask you to bless them. I ask you to give them a heart for you. If they are going through difficulties, I pray they will find you as their strength.” General, but good things to pray.
But then, seeing the Samuelsons, I could say, “Lord, their son is grieving them with the choices he is making. I’m asking you to change their son’s heart.” That is what it does. Now you are praying in ways that really matter. So it helps us to pray more effectively.
It helps them to pray for us more effectively. When you say, “I hope you will remember to pray for me. In fact, you know what I would like to ask you to do. It would mean a lot if when you drive to church, you would pray for me on Sunday morning, that you would ask God to speak powerfully through me. I’m working on a text this week, I’m finding it really hard to understand. Would you pray for me? My son is making some bad choices also. Would you pray for my son?”
You start to develop a bond, right? It has changed your relationship, all because you took the time to enter into their home.
G. It builds endearment
Here is something else I have listed. It builds endearment and I have kind of touched on that already. “There is nothing that endears a pastor to the flock like personalized, caring visitation.” Back to Thomas Oden. I think that is true. I think over time these visits become times that endear you to them, and them to you. It changes things. There are great rewards.
Let me say on connecting with people, yes, the home is one piece. Another is lunches in people’s workplace. I made it a practice of trying to go out a couple times a week to see people in their workplace. I love doing that. I love to see people’s worlds. They see my world all the time. A lot of times, if people are not sure what to do with this, I will call and say, “Matthew, I would like to come have lunch with you. I would like to not go to a restaurant, I would actually like to brown bag it and come to your office.” It would be, “Have I done something wrong?” They wonder what your agenda is. A lot of times people will say, “Why did you come?” When I say, “I have no agenda, I want to get to know what you do.” For the most part then, “Come, let me introduce you to my coworkers.”
When I was a pastor in Holland, many of my parishioners were expats who worked in corporations, who did some of the most fascinating work in the world. Boeing representatives, ?_____(27:54.3) airports, overseeing their use of planes and maintenance. I would meet with him and he would take me into the caverns of a 747 that they were checking for maintenance. I would ask him his challenges, what he faces. So when I preached, he knew that I knew what he was facing. It is a great reward.
So whether it is in the workplace, in the home, sometimes at an event where maybe someone is performing. I can’t tell you what that means to people. You took time to watch my race? You came out and saw me dance? Wow. Yes, I just wanted to see your world. You have to tell me, what went into that? How does one become someone who dances like that? Now they know you care. So when you get up to say, “I want to talk about an issue here of this text” they know you understand.
I am sharing with you these rewards, but believe me, I think increasingly today we find a lot of excuses of business. I just don’t have time, it can feel interruptive. But we have to do it.
V. Risks That Come with Connecting
What are the risks? Can it be risky? Yes, it has risks.
A. It can interrupt other necessary demands
It can interrupt our demands. We have a lot of things on our schedule. It takes time. You can’t just carve out 10 minutes. There is the drive. There is the time. There are these risks. It might take us away from our computers.
B. It can be unnerving
It can be unnerving. Sometimes be prepared for the fact that that pleasant conversation turned really hard. I remember, I visited a German scientist in my church in The Netherlands. God just really put him on my heart and somehow I had this compulsion, it was like God said, “You need to go show grace to this man.” It was not an audible voice, but you have a sense from God, I have to do this. I went, I couldn’t find his village. I thought, God, I gave it a great effort. The Holy Spirit was saying, “No, that is not good enough.” So I drove until I found his place, I knocked on the door. I said to the man, “I just wanted to make sure everything is right between us. Somehow I just sense I need to see you.” He was very warm and friendly, then he said, “Actually you have kind of ruined our church.” And for a half-hour he went on. He is this big German man, Martin, I remember. Actually the gist of it was, he got so worked up, at one point he said, “You have made the church so EFFECTIVE.” He was more from the charismatic that loved more of a free flow and didn’t like some of the order and things we brought. For a half-hour he really laid into me. Then he warmly got up and said, “Pastor, it was nice to see you.” I remember, I got in my car and went, What was that? You know what? It was where I was supposed to be. You just never know.
I remember one time visiting a couple, they were really financially in a very difficult place, couldn’t afford glasses for their daughter. I said, “I brought some glasses as a gift from the church for your daughter.” Somehow he had built up over time this deep anger with life, with God, with the church. He exploded, ripped me up one side and down, so much so that I remember I couldn’t go back to church. I had to go to my back yard and compose myself. So there are risks. You never know what you are going to find on the other side. However, it is better that it happens there and probably not in the foyer. Sometimes you will be blindsided by mean tempers or explosive conflicts. You might see a side of people you wish you didn’t see.
C. It can turn into wasted time
The other risk is, it can turn into wasted time. By wasted time, what I mean is, it ends up really talking about nothing. I think sometimes pastors will say, “Today is visitation. I am going fishing with Al for the day.” Not that fishing is a waste of time and not that spending time with Al is like that, but sometimes we can justify a lot of doing nothing. It is like sometimes people could fairly say, “I would like a job where I just hung out with people and chit-chatted and get paid for it.” There has to be intentionality.
VI. We Need to Recover Face-to-Face Interaction
This is pastoral care and I think it is something today we need to recover. What we need to recover is face-to-face. Let’s remember, Jesus was incarnate. You know what “incarnate” means. He came in the flesh. Flesh-to-flesh which again our culture is getting us away from.. We don’t even take the time to call, we text, we have disincarnated ourselves. I think actually today is a day to recover and then our ministries will be much more credible.
A. Should lay leaders visit the homes of people in their groups?
Question: I have a question. I’m not a pastor, but I am involved in ministry as far as a leadership position. In your original model you were talking about some models, the pastor is up front and everybody else is kind of lay and not really active. I guess my question, as a leader, should we take on that same kind of role with our smaller groups, to be intentional and visit?
Dr. Johnson: I think if I am tracking with what you are asking, I don’t mean in any way to convey that visitation is just a pastor’s prerogative or responsibility. Actually this should be something he models and then encourages teams of people to do, particularly people who are gifted in doing that well. While saying that, I do not think therefore it is something that is delegated so that you don’t have to do it. I think it has to be both a team effort, a broader effort.
Shut-ins for example are going to need a lot more care than what a pastor can give. I would say at the same time, it would be unwise to say, “I have teams who see the shut-ins, so I don’t need to do that.” They need their pastor. Secondly, a pastor needs them because sometimes he needs to hear their hearts and the world they live in.
I remember an older woman who was very active. In fact, she was in her 80s and she sky-dived. She was one of these who wanted to live forever at full speed. But the day came she couldn’t do it anymore. I remember going to the care center where she was. I remember, she said to me, “Pastor, I really don’t have any worth anymore.” She needed a pastor to seek value and worth into her life. It helped me, again driving back, as almost all my visitation did, to go back to the church and go, “I think I need to change what I was going to say” or “I need to open my eyes, I wonder how many other people feel that way, who come every Sunday.”
I don’t know if I’m answering. It is again, part of moving from passivity to activity, to say to people, “There are a lot of people that need you.” I think it does require some training because the things I have just talked about need to be carefully thought through because people can, for example, stay too long. You really have to watch. You can say, “This conversation is going really great. It just seems like they are eating up this time together.” I would often say, “I’m coming for 15 minutes.” Even though it was gong really great, I would try to cut it off because people, even though you might read it as they are so glad to have you, I would rather them say, “I wish we could spend more time,” as opposed to, “I thought that guy would never leave.”
When I retired from pastoral ministry I told the church, “I want to be the first one to know, not the last to know.” You don’t want to extend your welcome.
Question: My question was more as a leader in the church, even though I’m not a pastor, would it benefit if I took on some of these, making sure that I have connection with my students.
Dr. Johnson: I think for all of the reasons that it enhances my ministry, I think it enhances yours. I think if you have a leadership role and there are people you are mentoring, shepherding or caring for, I think any way you can see them in their world, again will really enhance your credibility, your voice into their lives. It will make you more effective because you know the world they live in and what they face.
B. Importance of valuing people as individuals
Question: It seems like it would be important to be really intentional about making that time where you really care about individual people that you are visiting, because it seems like it could get to a point where you want to do it to make sure that things in the church are going smoothly or to have a good reputation with people, or things like that. By making it really about caring for people and going beyond the surface questions, going beyond the social conversation, that not only communicates to them that you care about them, but also that is a way that they can respond to their neighbors and people at work, to really care about who is in their sphere of influence in a way that is more than just a social conversation or what is convenient.
Dr. Johnson: Visitation is multifaceted. There are a number of things that are going on. You want to come and show care. You want to learn about their lives. You want to build your relationship with them. You also are coming as a representative of the church, again, so it is more than you. So when you step in, you are the church. Maybe you do also have a bit of an agenda. Maybe you are talking about moving the church and you have some major resistors. It is only getting behind closed doors you can say, “Tell me what is really going on.” Where people might say, “I’m really afraid.” What I’m trying to say is, I think there should be a lot of intentions, if you will, and though it’s okay to say I want to build a relationship with Martha, but I also want to know why Martha is feeling like she is feeling.
I had this guy, Wayne. I have a lot of Wayne stories from my first church. If I could say this, Wayne was a pain in the butt. My first Sunday I preached, he got up halfway through the sermon and said, “I can’t hear the man” and he stormed out. He would come in sometimes and say, “You get your fanny out there and turn on the thermostat, it is too cold in here.” I thought, What? We need to get rid of this guy, I need to go to my elders. Then one day I went over to see Wayne. Do you think he opened the door and said, “What the heck are you here for?” He opened the door and said, “Pastor, it is so great to see you.” I came in. He said, “I was a photographer before I retired, can I show you my pictures?” He was like my grandfather, we had the greatest time. It is not that it automatically changed when I went back to church.
It was something almost like Wayne had a turf issue. I was the 13th pastor and I was a little bit on Wayne’s turf. I thought, I have to see Wayne often, and I would come over and we had great visits. I think in an offhanded way he gave me one of my better compliments. I went to see him as I had resigned to go to Holland. He looked at me and he said, “Well, Pastor, I hated you when you came and now I hate you that you are leaving.” I could never win with Wayne, but at least we got there.
You come with lots of reasons, but part of being strategic and intentional is also to say, Who are the people I really need to see, maybe I don’t want to see, maybe I’m scared to see, but I really need to see? Sometimes that is where the best things happen.