Pastoral care (04): first me, then my neighbour

Strength lies in calm—this is something mankind has always known. Every now and then, even ministers need a deliberate rest and an open ear.

“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).

The words of Jesus make it clear that pastoral care has many facets. However, they also suggest that in the long term, pastoral care can only be provided by those who have something to give—and who are not weak, sick, or behind bars themselves.

To provide care—not only to their neighbour, but also for their own soul—that is a task incumbent on every minister. Age-old advice that is still current today.

Distance yourself.“And He [Jesus] said to them: Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place.’” (Mark 6: 31). – After a period of special exertion, His tired and exhausted helpers were to rest and relax in a quiet place. In order to preserve our own physical and mental strength on an ongoing basis, it is important to retreat for a moment, to not be in the thick of things for a time. After all, none of us one are to strain ourselves to the point of excess, work at a level where we are just barely functioning, or even burn out owing to an incorrectly perceived sense of responsibility, only to end up incapable of doing anything more.

Make a conscious point of resting. “And He [Jesus] said to them: ...and rest a while” (from Mark 6: 31). – Between all the work and activity, we also need to take a little break from time to time in order to renew our strength. This does not mean that we should take a day-long pause from important tasks, but a conscious and deliberate rest phase before and after pastoral care is important for the minister. Both he and others will benefit from this. Jesus calls His disciples to this important state of internal balance.

Get some perspective. “Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand” (2 Corinthians 1:24). This applies to all who provide pastoral care, whether they bear a ministry or not, whether they are young or old, whether they are male or female. Pastoral care accompanies us in the most diverse situations of life, pastoral care leads to God, and pastoral care also relates to practical help in life (Catechism of the New Apostolic Church 12.4). But pastoral care does not dominate, demand, or control. It is the task of the minister to arrive at this perspective again and again.

Let yourself be heard: If more is required of the minister than he can give, or if he has already given more than he had in the first place, then it is important for the minister to likewise take advantage of the offer of pastoral care. He is only human, and he too has the need to be heard. While ministers certainly have the task of listening, they likewise feel the need to have someone listen to them at times.

Apostle Paul issued a special warning to ministers: they were not only to look after their neighbour, only to be consumed by the effort in the process. At the time he expressly instructed: “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock” (Acts 20: 28). Only when a minister takes care of himself, is at peace with himself, and constantly maintains his own physical and mental strength, can he provide powerful and loving care to his neighbour.

“Love your neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19: 18)—the commandment does not end after the third word!

Photo: ArtmannWitte -

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Oliver Rütten
Social commitment, Congregational life