Sermons and bulletins are a must every week, but in the midst of tasks with deadlines, it is easy to skimp on pastoral care. Our members already take good care of each other. They send cards (which you probably signed), visit, take meals, and take turns driving one another to appointments. So, why does it matter if the pastor visits?
For one thing, many of your members are related to one another either by blood, marriage, or adoption (formal or informal). Kin care is just different from pastoral care. They don’t represent God’s care in quite the same way because their relationship to one another is first an earthly relationship.
Secondly, their relationship with you represents their relationship with God. You are their spiritual guide; their earthly shepherd who represents the Good Shepherd. Right or wrong, if you don’t care for them, they may wonder how much God cares for them.
Finally, scripture tells us to care. 1 Peter 5:2 reads, ” Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.” In several other passages, all disciples are told to love and care for one another. Here, specifically those who have been given responsibility over God’s flock are to care and set an example of what it means to love one another as God loves; sacrificailly.
We do sacrifice a lot for our congregations, but do we make the right kinds of sacrifices? 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 remind us that in all of the tasks of ministry, if we do not demonstrate the love of God, all our work is meaningless. It is imperative that your congregation recognizes the love of God through your relationship with them.
Now I recognize that many rural pastors have other Monday through Friday jobs, live quite a distance from some or all of their parishioners, hospitals, and care centers, and have families of our own to care for. Between all of this, and the other weekly tasks of ministry, there doesn’t seem to be much time left. With drive time, a trip to the hospital could take a whole day that you just don’t have to spare for one visit.
Your congregation knows your unique circumstances and understands. However, we still need to do what we can.You don’t have to show up on someone’s door step or at the hospital, though this is often preferred when possible. There are several other ways you can let your members know you care, and ultimately that God cares for them specifically. Here are a few ideas.
You might take some time over your lunch hour at your other job to make one phone call each week, especially if you know someone is having surgery or is in the midst of a difficult situation. You could take a few moments one evening each week to pray for someone on your prayer list and sign a card, send an email, or send a text to let them know you’re praying for them.
I received a text a couple of weeks ago requesting prayer. I simply replied, “Absolutely! Peace be with you!” (and of course prayed) When this person met my husband later they were so appreciative of that simple response and spoke about me as if I had done something truly amazing. It took less than 30 seconds of my time, and I was shocked at the impact it had made.
Another habit I’ve formed is to write a brief, specific prayer in responding to prayer request emails. It takes about as long as any other kind of response might. Several recipients have said that prayer meant so much to them. They kept it with them and prayed it several times themselves as they prepared for surgery or waited for a loved one to recover from surgery.
How might it impact your congregation if you made one simple change in routine that let at least one member each week know you care and you’re praying for them? What simple step will you try?