Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Lay Pastoral Caregivers: Should Priests Delegate Pastoral Care Duties?

Looking back at a post aimed at pastors titled "How Pastoral Care Stunts The Growth Of Most Churches" by Carey Nieuwhof from November 16, 2015, makes me think of certain failures I have witnessed in the Episcopal organization, the most important of which is the failure for a parish church to grow in spite of a growth in the surrounding population. While the failed theology of the Episcopal organization is reason enough (I could never recommend this denomination to a new convert), one has to look at what local leadership is or is not doing to bring people to Christ. Raising up evangelists is one thing, another important part of a church ministry is the development of disciples from within who can take on some of the pastoral care needs of the church freeing the priest/minister/pastor to focus on growth. Episcopalians are not alone in this failure. Nieuwhof in the process of promoting his book, thinks failure to delegate pastoral care is a major factor holding churches back,

"The Barna group reports the average Protestant church size in America as 89 adults. 60% of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. Only 2% have over 1000 adults attending..."
"If pastors could figure out how to better tackle the issue of pastoral care, I’m convinced many more churches would grow..."
"When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding and funeral and make regular house calls, attend every meeting, and lead every bible study or group, he or she becomes incapable of doing almost anything else..."
"Message preparation falls to the side, and providing organizational leadership for the future is almost out of the question..."
"Caring for 30 people personally is possible. Caring for 230 is not. Many pastors burn out trying.
The pastoral care model most seminaries teach and most congregations embrace creates false and unsustainable expectations..."
It’s ironic. They very thing you’re great at (pastoral care) eventually causes your exit when you can no longer keep up."
For many years I worked 24/7, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. Getting called out at all hours of the night and then being expected to perform at a 100% level the next day is tough, and while most younger people can keep that up for a few years, I know how that can lead to burn out especially if you are over 40. People in that situation should realize that something has to be done in order to bring in associates or the church will never be able to grow. With the average Episcopal Sunday attendance running around 58, most parishes can barely afford a full-time priest who just cannot do it all (although many think they can). A small church usually believes that their options are to either dig deep into their pockets and bring in a church growing assistant priest/minister/pastor, or a perhaps a deacon who can take over the pastoral care duties while the existing leadership focuses on growth. Those church-growers who want to serve as an assistant are few and far between, and deacons are the Bishop's men/women and not always consistently available.

Nieuwhof figured that changes were needed in his ministry and looked to lead instead of continue as a pastor to a pastoral size church.
"The goal of Christian leadership is to lead, not to be liked.
If a church is going to grow, congregations have to let go of the expectation that their pastor will be available for every medical emergency, every twist and turn in their lives, every family celebration and every crisis.
That’s a tough sell for many congregations, but if a church is going to grow, it has to happen..."
The average pew sitter expects his or her pastor to be there whenever they experience a change in their status, and that is unrealistic. Even Moses, Jesus, and the Apostles delegated authority to others,
"So how do you deal with this?  Have the courage to shift care to the congregation.
The best answer I know of for pastoral care in a larger church is to teach people to care for each other in groups.
Groups based care isn’t just practical. It’s biblical.
It’s thoroughly biblical: going back to Exodus 18, when Jethro confronted Moses about doing everything himself.
Even Jesus adopted the model of group care, moving his large group of hundreds of  disciples into groups of seventy, twelve, three, and then one."
The idea of creating lay pastoral caregivers is nothing new, but in my experience with the Episcopal organization and the Community of Hope lay chaplain training program, well trained, licensed lay chaplains have been underutilized by their rectors, rectors who continued to shoulder most of the load to the neglect of putting more effort into church growth. Those rectors or their parishioners were guilty of not "letting go" of the old model, not accepting that,
 "98% of pastoral care is having someone who cares. It doesn’t have to be the pastor.
2% of the time you’ll have situations where the need of a member exceeds the ability of the group to help..." 
While we were successful at a local level of creating pastoral care teams which were great at organizing meals and snacks for funerals, the rector continued to handle most of the pastoral care and the best our church could do was to slow the decline.

Unfortunately for the Episcopal denomination, it appears that most people going into seminary are drawn to ministry because they have a personality profile that matches someone who is best suited for pastoral care rather than true Christian leadership, and when "called" to be a full-time rector will have a great deal of difficulty delegating that role to lowly pew sitters. That same personality type will condemn the rector to a career of frustration as they are forced into the role of "leader".

So, the answer to the question, "Should Priests Delegate Pastoral Care Duties" is "Yes", but priests should maintain a supervisory role and train and select their lay pastoral team carefully.    

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:37 PM

    I would commend to you Kennon L. Callahan's "Visiting in an Age of Mission"

    The Pastor cannot do everything, and shouldn't be hired as a babysitter or a nurse. If that is the case the Church should say what they want, and that is hospice care, and admit they are ready to die.

    It is a short book, so I will let you read it, but two things I will point out.

    1. Having a visiting team creates compassion and community, the two things a church needs to thrive.
    2. Visiting needs to occur with both members and non-members in a balanced fashion.