What is pastoral care, and how do I get it?

Pastoral care is a funny old beast and, because it sometimes looks a bit like other things, it is often confused with them. But it’s not therapy, or life coaching, or social work, or conflict management, or even spiritual healing. Instead, pastoral care is about loving you and pointing you towards the Great Physician himself: Jesus Christ.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician,” said Jesus, “but the sick.” And so he was surrounded by people who were sick, suffering, wounded, rejected, or simply confused: the sort of people who are honest about their need and brave enough to seek healing. As one who points you towards the Great Physician, then, my role is to help create spaces where you can remove obstacles, acknowledge your need, and encounter him: for then the Holy Spirit will flow through you and do its healing work, moving you closer to the person God is calling you to be. But how does this happen?

The first and foremost opportunity for pastoral care is the worship service. Calvin imagined the church as a hospital, because it’s a place where people gather in the name and presence of Christ, acknowledge their struggles, and experience healing. This is why, as pastor, I curate this space, seeking to help you open up to one another and the person of Jesus Christ and the free flow of the Holy Spirit. I do this in many ways but, most obviously, through making space for attending to the Word, praying together, offering testimony, sharing communion, and hearing sermons which, I hope, help remove some of the misconceptions, fear and other obstacles which I see blocking many of you.

A second opportunity is in prayer, because when we pray we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit’s flow. Obviously we pray together during the worship service using structured forms, free prayer and song; but we also pray at other times: in small groups and Bible studies, and in conversation. Every time we meet is an opportunity for connection, prayer and healing, so don’t be afraid to use these times and pray for one another.

A third is when we read the Bible in community. Jesus promised to be present when groups gather to hear and wrestle with the Word: and so we know that when we do this, he will be among us. Like prayer, gathering around the Word together happens at the worship service; but it also happens in small groups and Bible studies, and in any other conversations which are attentive to the Word.

A fourth is when we eat together. The Last Supper was not a tightly boundaried religiously sanctioned formal ritual. Instead, like the meal on the road to Emmaus, it was a gathering of friends around a dinner table, with Jesus in their midst. And he promised that, whenever people gather in his name and break bread, share wine, and tell his story, he will be present: so every meal that we share is an opportunity to do these things and experience, at least for a moment, his healing presence.

Finally, as we worship, pray, read the Bible, and eat together, things come up. Perhaps you have a pressing question; perhaps you are in crisis and are not sure where God is; perhaps you are wondering about your next step in following Jesus. Perhaps you saw an image in prayer and want to talk it through; perhaps you want to learn more about prayer or other spiritual disciplines. When this happens, call me! Remember, I’m like your GP or your hairdresser. That is, I’m always happy to see you, but I don’t know when you need to see me. So if you have something you want to talk and pray through, let me know and we’ll make a time to chat.


Emailed to Sanctuary on 25 November 2020 © Sanctuary, 2020. Image credit: Philipp M. on Unsplash.

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