In every church congregation across the nation, there are hurting people. They have needs. People are going through challenging circumstances like divorce, financial woes, marital conflict, the death of a loved one, or depression. This world is a difficult place in which to live, and people from all walks of life find it trying to manage their problems on their own. In their times of struggle, people tend to turn to the church as a way to find help, relief, and answers for the troubling questions they face. Even non-Christians sometimes turn to the church for counsel as they seek something reliable, permanent, and beyond their own ability to comprehend.
Many churches today have a staff member in charge of Pastoral Care. This pastor may be a trained counselor and an ordained minister. They are the “go-to person” when people with needs seek assistance. However, all leaders within a church, whether a staff member or a lay leader, should be ready to offer Pastoral Care whenever someone seeks our help. Being available in someone’s time of need is an important ministry that can bring someone back from the brink of despair and offer them the hope that only Jesus can bring when they feel there is no other way forward.
1) A listening ear.
Perhaps the most important role of someone offering Pastoral Care is that of being a listening ear or a sounding board for those who are struggling. These people may feel there is no one they can talk to, no one who will hear what they’re saying, no one who will sit with them in their sadness and be available for them to express all their needs. Being able to listen to these folks without offering advice or trying to fix their problems will be a great ministry to them as they sort through all that they are feeling and seek a positive way forward for the future.
When playing the role of a listener, don’t be afraid to allow for long periods of silence. Many people have to process their feelings mentally before they can express them verbally. Granting them the time to think can many times be more helpful than jumping in quickly with your analysis of the situation or advice for how to feel better.
2) Maintain a “no judgment zone.”
Many people are hesitant to seek help during times of trouble because they are afraid that they will be judged and labeled in negative ways by others. Gossip is a cruel reality of our culture, especially within the church, and combined with a history of legalism, those who are facing difficulties worry about what others will think.
It is our job as church leaders to create a completely safe atmosphere in which struggling people feel welcomed, embraced, and loved, no matter how serious the problems they are battling. Knowing that they will be loved and accepted despite fighting demons and extreme challenges that overwhelm them offers them an opportunity to find peace and restore joy to their lives. Committing to confidentiality with those seeking help also brings a sense of security and allows people the freedom to share openly, even though they may be feeling ashamed of all the trauma life has thrown their way.
3) Be a source of encouragement.
Perhaps the main goal of Pastoral Care is, in pointing people to Jesus, to offer emotional and spiritual support and encouragement to them in their time of need. It is not the job of someone offering Pastoral Care to fix the problems people are facing. In fact, trying to offer solutions may be more discouraging to people who are simply looking for a shoulder to cry on. Sure, we can offer them a fresh perspective and let them know that they are not alone, but both of these should be done in a spirit of reassurance, reminding them that they are loved and that despite all that they are facing, they are God’s chosen child, that God is in control, and that their church family is there to help them in their time of need.
Feelings of isolation and loneliness can overwhelm those confronting all the complications of life. As church leaders we can be perhaps the only source of encouragement people have and therefore our job is an important one. Be there for them, and it will make a huge difference in their ability to cope in the short term and thrive a long way down the road to meet their needs.
4) Provide resources.
Not all church leaders providing Pastoral Care are trained counselors or degreed therapists. Although we can offer encouragement and support, sometimes there are people who need professional medical treatment. Our job as church leaders then is to have a cache of recommended experts who can be called on to help in the most serious of situations.
Sometimes, this referral to professionals will also include paying for their services. Many people in times of serious emotional trouble also struggle financially. Offering to cover the cost of getting help is many times the impetus that frees struggling people to seek and accept professional help. Other types of resources include referrals to food banks, educational help, connecting with a mentor, financial assistance, gift certificates for meals, second-hand clothing, and a myriad of other practical ways that we as church leaders can help those in need.
A person who is hurting needs help. We can be that source of help in so many ways. Be available. Extend love and grace. Together we can be Jesus to someone in need and bring a lasting change that will give them hope for a better tomorrow.