No attempts at an explanation, no cheap comfort

Pastoral care is complex and individual. Sometimes it is a single prayer, but often it is a special and close relationship, and continued support. In a meeting of ministers, Chief Apostle Schneider talked about his conception of pastoral care.

In the 60,000 congregations of the New Apostolic Church around the world there are 260,000 ministers, of which more than 110,000 are Deacons and 110,000 Priests. They are involved in pastoral care and are responsible for the nine million members around the world. On average, every Priest looks after 80 members. That sounds heavenly, because pastoral care calls for closeness between the Priest and the care-seeker.

But what is pastoral care exactly and what does it look like in practice?

Pastoral care does not explain sorrow

“One of the cornerstones of pastoral care is of course to help those who are experiencing tests and difficulties. That does not mean, however, that we have to find an explanation for the misfortune that has struck the members,” Chief Apostle Jean-Luc Schneider said. “Often there are just no explanations why this brother or this sister are affected by adversity and others not.” He mentioned an example: “If we were to say: this sister has died because she was needed in the beyond, then someone could ask: why is she needed and another sister not?” If one reflects on this a little deeper, one will realize how little sense such an attempt at an explanation makes. “It is cheap comfort,” the Chief Apostle said, hoping to provoke some serious thought. “We are not here to give explanations. We are here to support the members.”

Pastoral care is not a moralizing lecture

“The best example for pastoral care is the Good Samaritan,” the Chief said. “He did not lecture the man who had fallen among the thieves. He did not tell him, ‘If you had stayed in Jerusalem, this would not have happened!’” The Good Samaritan simply helped him. In fact, he proved to be quite persistent. He even saw to it that the man was cared for as long as he needed it. The Chief Apostle stressed: “This is what makes pastoral care so important: helping the members when needed and being there for them always.”

Pastoral care means listening, encouraging, praying

“The accounts of Jesus’ conduct allow us to understand the significance of pastoral care. Without regard for the person, He turned to sinners and allowed them to feel His love. He listened, helped, comforted, counselled, admonished, strengthened, prayed, and taught.” This is how the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church sums it up in a nutshell in a chapter dedicated to pastoral care (Catechism 12.4).

Already two thousand years ago Apostle Paul wrote: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all” (1 Corinthians 12: 4−7). Being close to the neighbour and helping him, these are the important characteristics of true pastoral counselling. Pastoral care is primarily done by ministers in the congregations. The ministers must not act on account of their own faculties, but follow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

The minister is an example for the congregation. The following applies to him: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2: 3). His commission goes beyond fostering fellowship; he is to provide soul care. This is how it is described in the Vision and Mission statements of the New Apostolic Church.

Pastoral care is something for the whole congregation

But … and this is where it gets interesting for every single Christian. Pastoral care is a matter that falls upon the whole congregation. “Pastoral care is also the task of the entire congregation. This also relates to practical help in life. Here the words apply: ‘... for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me’ (Matthew 25: 35−36), it says in chapter 12.4 of the Catechism.

Pastoral care is complex and individual. It is a matter of the heart. And pastoral care is a matter of trust. There are many care-givers in the congregation—with a ministry and without one.

Photo: Oliver Rütten

Article info


Oliver Rütten
Priest, prayer, Structure, Congregational life