Pastoral care (02): real concern and care
Caring for others only works if you focus on the essentials. Here is a how-to-guide from the Master Himself. Jesus Christ has set an example for us: His pastoral care in seven approaches.
People have many cares and concerns. They worry about having enough food, a place to live, a job, security, and peace in the world. Every year comprehensive statistics are published on the fears that shape our lives. Jesus Christ was already aware of these concerns, as He was aware of people’s quest for their livelihood. His counsel was: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6: 33). It is not difficult to see that He worried about the soul; in all things His focus was on eternal life.
Pastoral care is a lifelong task that forges identity
The need and mission of pastoral care is to be concerned about the right things. The Son of God was an excellent example of this. Nobody understood better than He how to turn to His neighbour, to perceive his distress, and to accompany and strengthen him. For Him it was not something temporary that He felt in His heart, but a lifelong mission—up to the cross and beyond. He Himself made this very clear: “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19: 10) and: “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept” (John 17: 12).
Pastoral care is versatile in scope, but it is always based on love
Jesus Christ explained how we can have the right concerns and how to help our neighbour in these concerns, and He put them into practice:
- Pastoral care turns to others. No one is excluded, everyone is esteemed and appreciated, and every soul is worth caring for. The conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4), Jesus’ visit to the home of the despised tax-collector Zacchaeus (Luke 19), and the meal with Levi and his many disagreeable colleagues (Mark 2: 13–17) make very clear that Jesus defied convention. He was neither interested in social standing, the opinion of those around him, nor His own benefit—His concern was the condition of His neighbour.
- Pastoral creates peace. “Peace be with you!” Jesus Christ began or ended His pastoral gatherings with a greeting of peace. The beginning of some of these conversations upset his interlocutors (for example, when Christ appeared to the disciples after His resurrection, Luke 24: 36–43), some calls to action may have left the addressees feeling helpless (for example, when Jesus commissioned His disciples, John 20: 19–23). But Jesus did not want people to feel insecure, but give them peace and security in all situations.
- Pastoral care teaches the will of God. Pastoral care puts essential things first. The emphasis is on God’s love and His will. Pastoral care is credible, truthful, and always—and in many ways—intensive. To Pilate Jesus merely said: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18: 36); those who were seeking the truth, like Nicodemus, He approached with theological explanations (John 3); and the scribes He countered in a focused and clear manner by confronting them with their own law (Matthew 23: 23).
- Pastoral care supports the neighbour. The distress of the neighbour is the distress of the pastor. Jesus perceived, suffered with the person, and changed the circumstances. He raised the dead young man from the dead and gave him back to his mother so that she would be cared for (Luke 7: 11–15); He forgave the sins of the paralytic who was brought to Him and then healed him (Matthew 9: 2–7); and in His discourse on the Last Judgement Jesus makes clear that His disciples are to see and do something about their neighbour’s misery (Matthew 25: 31–40). For anything they do, they for Jesus Christ Himself. And that shows that pastoral care is more than a mere “You can do it!”
- Pastoral care draws attention to the power of prayer. Jesus often reaffirmed the power of dialogue with God. He taught those who were closest to Him how to pray (Matthew 6: 5–13) and encouraged them to have confidence in their prayers (Luke 11: 9–13; 18: 1–8). Pastoral care is not about demonstrating one’s own superiority and strength, but about reinforcing your neighbour’s strength.
- Pastoral care encourages. Strengthening, comforting, edifying—this is the heart of pastoral care. Jesus Christ’s aim was not to shame or punish or judge. He drew attention to sin, admonished the sinner, and let her go unpunished (John 8: 2–11). Pastoral care does not judge. On the contrary, pastoral care edifies and lends new courage.
- Pastoral care does not exercise control. Pastoral care does not pressure or badger the neighbour, neither physically nor morally. It explains and supports, but it does not make demands, does not pressure, nor does it exercise control. After telling the rich young man what he should do Jesus withdrew, leaving the young man to make his decision (Matthew 19: 16–26). In view of his failed pastoral mission in Jerusalem, Jesus quietly lamented outside the city, without however demanding that the people obey or follow Him (Matthew 23: 37–39).
Real concern and care, this is what Jesus exemplified. Not just once but throughout His life. It was His life’s work, His identity. He really cared about others, and He cared about them in the right way.
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