The Questions of Pastoral Care

pastoral careThe folks over at Comment Magazine have posted the first half of a conversation between James K. A. Smith (You Are What You Love) and Tim Keller (recently of Redeemer Presbyterian Church).   A great conversation about the church and the reality of contemporary pastoral care ensues, particularly in the tricky reality of pastoral care.

When asked about growing healthier congregations, Keller says:

One challenge is pastoral care, primarily because of transience. There is an indication—though it’s hard to prove—that, say, thirty years ago, the average member probably came to church four out of five weeks or five out of six weeks. Now it’s like one out of two. People are travelling more; their attention is divided. Also costs are such that it’s very expensive to have a full-time staff. Frankly, it’s seductive to have a larger church with fewer pastors where people are basically consumers. They’re not really being watched or cared for. There’s pastoral triage, which means that when your life’s falling apart the good churches will be there. They’ll be at the hospital, they’ll be at the funeral parlour, they’ll be in the counselling office. They can do triage. But when it comes to the ordinary kind of positive, proactive pastoral care and intervention where you are actually examining people, only in a nice way—How are you doing? Where are you going? How much do you know about the Christianity? Where could you grow?—that’s just not happening at all.

A few years ago, I was serving on a pastor search committee.  As the youngest member of the group, I knew that I wouldn’t be searching for a pastor for myself.  I would only have real contact with my pastor if my life or health fell apart, which is really heartbreaking for someone who holds the pastoral office in high esteem.  But that’s the way it is in many churches, which Keller seems to affirm here.

I like what Keller says about his denomination’s approach to exhortation:

My denomination actually does talk about general and specific discipline. “General” discipline is exhortation and oversight. “Specific” discipline is where you actually have an offense and there’s a dispute and now the elders have to figure it out. Some people think only that’s discipline, but actually exhortation is discipline as well.

I do not envy pastors their busy lives.  And a pulpit-only approach makes getting to know parishioners almost impossible.  That’s one reason why the classroom can be such a great place: regular contact with individuals over time.

I look forward to the rest of the conversation between Smith and Keller.  You can check out the first half here.

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