Pastoral care (13): anything from boring to exciting

“Bah, was that ever a boring evening!” The Priest had announced his visit and blabbed on and on about nothing more than personal preferences. The verdict on that visit was devastating. Real pastoral interest looks quite different.

A cliché? Well, not quite, thankfully. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that a successful visit to fellow believers has different standards than simply recounting old holiday stories. These are more likely to be criticised and perceived as problematic than anything else.

The focus here is on communication about matters of faith. And the visit has other motives too: appreciation of the other person, acquiring knowledge through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and learning new things from biblical events that might be interesting for one's own life. A good pastoral visit is like a treasure hunt.

Understanding the role of the minister

On the one hand, ministers are obliged to reflect regularly on the quality of their pastoral care visits. After all, they have built up a reputation for themselves, for better or for worse. A minister who can listen well and who takes confidentiality seriously will learn more about the concerns of his fellow believers than others. The minister who is not a know-it-all, who does not always feel he has to come up with an—at times trivial—answer to everything, is seen as a good communicator. Mutual trust is the motto for a successful conversation about faith—and this needs to be earned.

Belief systems vary from person to person. This is a known truth. If the minister is only interested in “aligning” everyone, he is making a mistake. People do not relate their private views to just anyone, but only to certain select people. Here it is not the Church system or the minister’s authority that plays the primary role. The important thing is to have a reliable basis of trust. If the pastoral visit is perceived as a kind of trespass, it is definitely not perceived as a benefit, but a burden. The minister, who is ordained by the Apostle, assumes an understanding of his role: his intent is to be a trustworthy, responsible, and discreet servant of God.

Casting a new light on tried and true values

Of course, this coin also has another side: it is not always the minister who is guilty of breaking the trust. As different as people are, so too are their characters. One must also want to believe in the significance of the ordination! Not all members are aware of the importance of the ordination, what it does to the minister, and what effects are bound to it for pastoral care in general and for the individual believer in particular. Even though the significance of a ministry may have declined in society, that does not necessarily apply to the individual minister. One cannot hold everyone responsible for the mistakes of a few individuals.

There are many reasons to decline a pastoral visit. Such a visit might compete with a great variety of other offers, for example, leisure time, other interests, sports activities, or even simply exhaustion after a long day of work. The Church’s offer to provide evening pastoral visits is not without alternatives. It only requires some patience and open-mindedness to come to a mutually convenient date.

Many relationships between couples today also take the form of multi-denominational partnerships. The non-New Apostolic partner may not be interested in a visit from a New Apostolic minister, or might simply decline a visit. In such cases, the New Apostolic partner may well prefer to do without the visit in order to avoid a conflict within the relationship.

Weighing the advantages

What are the advantages of a pastoral visit in comparison to the other pastoral care possibilities? This is an interesting question, which if answered honestly, can lead to great benefit. It should be quite clear that a pastoral care meeting conducted in person and at eye level cannot be fully replaced through social networks, forums, blogs, by WhatsApp messages or an e-mail string, even though young people in particular are quite fond of such media. Contacts over social media are a nice complement to pastoral visits. The concrete and direct observation of statements and feelings, of moods and emotions, of gestures, facial expressions, as well as the present behaviour of one’s discussion partner allows for a much more accurate assessment of the latter, and thus also for the possibility of a more appropriate reaction on our own part. It is easier to distinguish between truth and falsehood, it is not as difficult to recognise authenticity as opposed to role behaviour, and the difference between appearance and reality is more clearly evident.

This is precisely what the social media system suffers from today: not everyone adheres to all the rules of the game for trustworthy communication. Even physical attentiveness when listening, the occasional verbal confirmation of what has been heard, and the familiar, affectionate glance at the person he is addressing indicate that the minister is fully dedicated to his discussion partner and that he truly cares about that person.

The case for the pastoral visit

From this it follows that the traditional pastoral care visit must remain a special offer of the Church in the future as well. It can be successful and beneficial when both sides trust each other, when the ministers are perceived as servants of God and the brothers and sisters in faith emerge as interested believers. The help of the Holy Spirit is assured to those who trust in Him.

The pastoral care visit cannot be compared to emergency medicine according to the motto: “If there is a problem, I will come!” When pastoral care is provided out of love, then it is always an offer of help and support in faith.

If members nevertheless consistently indicate that they are not interested in discussing their faith, their wishes are respected. Ultimately, everyone is independently and personally responsible for his or her own decisions and actions.

In our next article in this series on pastoral care visits, we will report on an encounter of a very special kind. The way Jesus Christ met up with His disciples on the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus is the mother of all pastoral care visits.

Photo: melita -

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Peter Johanning
Congregational life