The day I became a pastor I was not prepared for the unspoken expectations of parishioners. I was a youth pastor at a church for five years before becoming their senior pastor for another three. Even though I knew the congregation, I figured it wise to talk to as many people as possible to get a sense for where we were and what they expected from me. In our introductions, round-table conversations, and casual conversations with people in the church, there was one theme that kept emerging. They wanted, more than anything else, for their pastor to visit shut-ins and those who were sick and in the hospital. They said, almost in unison, “We want you to visit shut-ins. Our last pastor wouldn’t visit anyone.”
There’s something beautiful about visiting shut-ins and those in nursing homes or hospitals. Not that you wish for anyone to find themselves in similar situations, but meeting people in such a vulnerable place is a means of grace for me. It’s a call of Jesus; it’s what separates the sheep from the goats in Matthew 25. It is a great ministry, and even though I’m not usually very good at it, it has brought significant meaning to my ministry. It’s one of the things I do that makes me most feel like a pastor.
All the same, I have to admit, working in a church that only cares about visitation or pastoral care, can be rather discouraging. Pastoral care is important, but it’s not the entire mission of God.
To adjust to this, I have at times, swung to the far other end of the spectrum. I tend to prioritize outreach over pastoral care. This has been especially true in launching a new church.
Launching a new church is hard work, that requires an intense focus on outreach, evangelism, and meeting new people. It’s exhausting, disorientating, and wears you down in ways I find it hard to explain.
Launching a new church and providing pastoral care at the rate at which it was needed at my first church, is impossible. There is not enough emotional energy—at least for me.
Thankfully, with a younger congregation, there’s less of a need. I do not know anyone in our church who is currently in a nursing home. But just because the need is less, doesn’t mean it’s not there. We have had many people end up in hospitals or going through difficult life events. We have tried, as best as we can, to be there as their pastor, but if I am honest, I have failed more than I’d like to admit.
In part, our church plant model doesn’t require us to be there. We believe in small groups, and we believe small groups are called to provide this kind of pastoral care to each other. That’s the model, but it does very little for those yet to get connected to small groups, or for those whose situation is greater than a small group to bear on their own.
The need is there, but the time or energy hasn’t always been at the rate I would want. Until recently. We’re in the process of hiring some new staff, shifting our roles, and so after two years of working on this new church, I sense I will finally have emotional capacity for the kind of pastoral care I want to give. This has got me thinking about the last two years and the role that pastoral care has had in our church. And that’s when I had a revelation.
Over the last two years, pastoral care at Central City Church has been more than evident, but not what you expect. Pastoral care in a church plant isn’t always the pastor caring for the people, but the people caring for the pastor.
Every avenue of my life has been impacted by launching a new church. It’s weakened our marriage, broken my confidence, and uncovered layers of insecurity and fear. Friends, it’s been a difficult two years. But we have chosen to be vulnerable and honest about this brokenness with our new church (for we don’t want to be a part of a church that isn’t the kind of community where vulnerability isn’t welcome). So in ways that are appropriate (not usually from up front), we have shared our brokenness with each other and our church has rallied around us, prayed for us, cared for us. And when we do this, a theme has emerged. Just as steady and consistent as the theme from my first church. More than anything else, our community cares about us—more than the vision, more than our numbers, more than being impressive, or successful. More than anything else, this new church has chosen to love each other, including us. And so when faced with a hard decision or tricky issue, they say, almost in unison: “We just want to make sure you two are doing well.”
I was thinking about pastoral care in our church, and we’ve experienced a lot of it from our congregation. I don’t know if it’s anything we’ve done—maybe we just got lucky—but our church cares so much about the vision, mission, and impact of our church that they insist on making sure their pastors are healthy. We certainly don’t deserve this kind of pastoral care, which is why we are all the more grateful for it.
We talk a lot about sustainability in church plants. I’m not sure how anyone can have sustainability without a congregation who loves us as sacrificially as ours.
Thanks you Central City Church for caring for us so well. I hope to return the favor.