Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Church Work

In the context of a local church, there are two major responsibilities that most pastors have to assume. One is church administration. The other is pastoral care. Some pastors enjoy both, even relish the work, while some prefer one over the other and some dislike both. Those of us who are clergy type are trained to carry out these efforts. But if Jesus’ people are really just a circle of friends and if we are trying to break the clergy/laity dichotomy, then why not spread these responsibilities around. Lay people can learn how to do both. In some churches this is already happening.

In the most distinct way, church administration involves the pastor as a kind of CEO, head of a multi-staff arrangement, and the occupant of the desk where the buck stops. Someone has to be in charge, or so we think. But the emerging idea is that of a consensus arrangement where a lot of church leadership is done by a body elected by the congregation. Yes, the pastor may still need to write correspondence, see that the office is well organized and functioning, be sure that deadlines are met and meetings accomplish what they should. But lay folk can do a lot of this. The arrangement in my faith community is that of a church cabinet, composed of the chairs of various boards. They deal with business matters of the church and present them to the congregation for approval. Other churches have sessions or some organized arrangement that helps facilitate business matters. If laity can carry more of this load, it frees the pastor (and other associates) to spend time on other responsibilities, i.e. study, sermon preparation, and the other major responsibility; namely, pastoral care.

Pastoral Care involves hospital visitation, in-home and shut-in visits, nursing home visits, counseling, listening, encouraging, grief ministry and the general overall shepherding of the congregation. In ancient times it was referred to as the care of souls. Most pastors are trained for such and most congregations seem to expect it. The joke is that some pastors are just that; “great pastors”, but they can’t preach worth a lick. For others, the reverse is true. It is difficult, especially in larger congregations, for one or two people to cover all that may be needed in the care of souls.

Why should not more and more church members be involved in this kind of care? They can be trained for such and this could be an educational component in the church itself. Let those who know train those who would learn. If it is best to go in teams, then let folk go two by two as Jesus instructed his own disciples.

Many churches follow an effective schedule of providing meals following a hospitalization or a death. I see this as a vital and important service. But there could be more.

I received a call one evening about someone who had just died in the hospital. I dropped what I was doing and sped quickly to the site. When I arrived, I found two women who had beaten me there. They were standing in the room with family members or outside in the hallway. They both knew the family and their quick presence brought a sense of comfort that I, with my pastoral training, could probably not have brought. They were there not because they were expected or because they were “paid” to do such, but because they cared and wanted to somehow flesh out that concern. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

Administration and care do not have to have the professional title “Pastoral” in descriptive form in order for it to be effective. People, with their own set of gifts, can bring a touch to ministry situations that can be lasting.

Something I read one time about “Love one another” and “bear one another’s burdens.” No reference at all to it having to be done by the preacher.

1 comment:

  1. I recently read John Updike’s last book, Endpoint which is collection of poems on a variety of subjects including his battle with cancer. The last line of the poem Endpoint was particularly meaningful for me. “The tongue reposes in papyrus pleas, Surely ---magnificent that surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, my life forever.” When I read you comments above, I was reminded how we can be, through God’s grace, the extension of goodness and mercy when we respond with to those in grief, in sorrow and in need. Thank you for the challenge.