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Thursday, April 02, 2009

Ask the Matriarch: supporting the ministry of the laity

Part 2 of last week’s question:

I will be moving into a solo pastorate call in the near future...first call.

Part 1 was about scheduling --- here is part 2 on pastoral care in the congregation and other helpful hints on solo pastoring:

Are there other tidbits of knowledge on how to navigate the daily tasks so that I do have time for myself. (See last week’s ATM for many helpful tips on scheduling).

I think the church is capable of functioning without the pastor at every event...and it should be that way. I also think as we move into newer ways of "being" that pastoral care is a congregational activity, not just a pastoral activity. I am searching for a new "name" to call this care.

What helpful tips do you have for solo pastor?

From Singing Owl:
In a church long ago and far away we had such a ministry. We called them The Care Team and what was provided was Tender Loving Care. They visited shut ins and hospitals, and they functioned in a variety of pastoral kinds of roles that involved TLC. It was understood, after lots of communication, that they would contact the pastor as necessary, but after a while (and it did take a while) people grew to like visits from the care team almost more than pastoral ones, perhaps because “care” visits to the hospital or nursing home or to grieving family members and so on is perceived as part of a pastor’s paid job description. I’m not sure, but perhaps some of what you are asking about here is the kind of thing that (nondenominational) Stephen Ministries resources help train people for. They can be found at Stephens Ministries

From Jan
I remember hearing a church staff member tell me that she would be devastated if she left and "things didn't fall apart." Yikes.

Ministry is not about us and our indispensability. In fact, good leadership means that we can step back and things don't fall apart. Remember Ephesians 4:11-13 (the only time the word "pastor" is found in NT) - our role is to equip others for ministry.

In my humble opinion, there will always be a need for professional clergy because there will always be new saints to equip. But our role is not to be the cornerstone in the Jenga tower, which causes a crash when we are pulled away. Our congregations will never reach more than about 150 - according to people who study such things - if we don't allow others to lead. This involves permission-giving after establishing healthy parameters, etc.

In terms of pastoral care, this is simply "being the church" with and for each other. It is the opposite of Biblical teaching for the pastor to be the only one who does this. And something that seems to make sense to our parishioners is this truth: the greatest moments in ministry I've experienced have been at death beds and in emergency rooms. I should not be the only one who gets to experience this intimacy with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

The tough part will be convincing your congregation of this.

From Rector in Hawai’i:
Pastoral care can be an almost completely lay function. Eucharistic visitors are one of the best inventions in the Episcopal Church. The challenge is to help parishioners see that they don't need someone with a collar to do all the visitations. Often, visiting a parishioner and taking along a Eucharistic Visitor opens the door to the visitee to be more open and comfortable to a lay pastoral caregiver. Meeting with the EVs on a monthly basis and having them report on their visits is a good way to stay on top of those who are homebound. A well-trained cadre of EVs can get to the point of writing almost-verbatims after visits and emailing them to the other EVs. That way, everyone knows the updated status of every visitee. Although the EVs' main responsibility is sharing the Eucharist, they also function as pastoral visitors when visitees don't want communion. The point is that everyone who is homebound -- short- or long-term -- continues to have an ongoing connection with the faith community. The other vehicle for pastoral care is a weekly mailing to all shut-ins that includes Sunday's service leaflet and the preacher's sermon.

From SeaShellSeller:
One of the best things I learned from a Senior Pastor is to start a card file on every member (secretary or volunteer can do this for you) with as much information as possible --- birthdates, anniversaries, recent pastoral needs, deaths in family, children and their birth dates if living at home. Every time there is a contact - add info to the card. Date - issues -- status. This is for your reference only and kept in your hands. Pastoral visitors should have ongoing "staff meetings" and training. When they have feedback from a visit - you note it on the card.

From Razor City Rector:
I think the only way to have time for yourself is to put it on your calendar. From my perspective a solo clergy operation offers lots of flexibility. I think it works well to actually put on a calendar and let people know when you won't be available, except for crises or pastoral emergencies. I have always worked at home on Thursday mornings where it is quiet, no interruptions. I began by totally screening any calls and now no one ever calls then, unless it is dire. It is my time for study and writing. For many years, I lifted weights three times per week. I left the office for an hour or so and returned. It was on my calendar and I refused to make appointments during that time. You have to decide your priorities (and personal time, health promotion) is all part of that.

As much as one is tempted to think that the pastor is not needed at every event (something I totally agree with); a lot depends on the size of the congregation at which events you really don't have to attend. Pastoral sized churches have high expectations for the pastor to "give blessing" by their mere presence.

How about "congregational care" for a name for this ministry? Sometimes taking someone else along on a pastoral call authenticates their ministry with an individual at a later time. For example when calling on someone at the hospital, I have asked the lay person with me to offer a prayer, to read a scripture, rather than do everything myself. Then on subsequent visits, their ministry was more readily accepted.


  1. I am the kind of person who loses cards and slips of paper, so the idea of index cards would not work for me. But there are good databases (which can also be used for bookkeeping!) that can keep track of the information for you. The worst part is the data entry at the front end... but then as you maintain it, the database becomes a very VERY helpful tool. Even a small church will benefit because you will never forget a birthday. :) There's plenty of companies - just google "church database" and you'll find them.

    As far as having others help you - there is a need to 'deputize' them - make it official so that others know that they aren't just bailing out the pastor, but are called to do this kind of work. Stephen Ministry is intensive, but excellent. Another layer above that would be people who like to make phone calls (sick, shut-in, new babies, visitors).

    Just my nickel's worth..

  2. We have some great deacons at my church who are wonderful about visits and care and such. More often than not, they know about care needs before I do.
    However, thanks to the "need to be needed" of some former pastors, (even 20-30 years ago!) there are several people in the church who don't feel they are being cared for if the pastor herself doesn't come knocking immediately. (And 'immediately' varies from person to person, and sometime I don't even find out 'immediately,' which makes it rough.) A few folks got really ruffled when I sent deacons in my place to visit them in the hospital during my pregnancy. The session had to make a very public announcement that I would not come for a visit if someone had a contagious or undiagnosed illness, for the safety of my own and the baby's health--and some people still got ticked off! If anyone has some good ideas about how to "retrain" these folks way of thinking, I'd LOVE to hear them!
    As for keeping notes and such, I just use the contact files from Outlook. It has a spot for notes where I fill in kids and their B-days, other info I might need, etc., plus it keeps phone, email, address, work #s, etc.

  3. Our parish -- which is so small and remote that I understand pastors used to joke about not getting in trouble with the bishop, lest they get sent here -- has been blessed with strong lay leadership. They're the people who held the place together during a very fallow time in the church's history. So my pastor is genuinely grateful for the help he gets from committees, the council and our team of commissioned lay ministers. He's the dean of our area organizing group within the synod, and when pastors come to him feeling overwhelmed by responsibility, he describes how things get done at our place and tells them that they need to get lay leaders on board to do some of the heavy lifting...period.

    I'm not sure how I'd advise readers whose congregation isn't ready to buy into the idea of "the ministry of the laity" -- who think that Pastor has to do everything. I agree that publicly commissioning lay leaders; I'd also add that it's important to provide ongoing, easily findable contact information to the congregation to help these leaders become go-to resources for issues that don't need the pastor's direct involvement. I'd also point out that, in our congregation, both retirees and persons with various skills who are between jobs provide us with a great deal of assistance, whether in terms of secretarial help, grounds work or whatever.

    Right now we are getting ready to create a "time and talent" database to further identify our members willing and able to help if need be in targeted, situational ways.

  4. Focusing on other gifts and ministries of lay people might be an easier way to start out. A clergy friend of mine told me how when he was in his first job, the boiler broke, and he was about to volunteer to go fix it... and his senior said "You don't do boilers." If you hav to build up the idea of equipping the laity over time, it may be easier to start with things that people won't be so suprsied with: like administration, building, fianances, and education. Those things can take up an awful lot of time too, and once you've build a sense of calling people to ministry based on their gifts, caring ministries just seem logical.

  5. I ditto much that has been said. It doesn't just need to be pastoral care, and I like the term congregational care or care of members (although at that point you can debate whether we only care for members or others or whatever - - fill in whatever word works for you).

    So, agreeing as everyone said that caring is part of being the church, I want to put out a word of caution about using this definition of church with folks who don't have it yet. There are people for whom a visit from the pastor is very important. When I started ministry I "knew" I needed to change them of their misunderstanding. Ha!

    The reality is, whether it is part of our understanding of who we are or not, having a pastor visit means something to some people (often it's a generation of folks, but sometimes it's outside of that older generation), and substituting a lay person for the pastor just doesn't cut it. I have been stubborn on this and have just recently been realizing the need to change my thinking.

    For me it comes back to something I wrestled with even in seminary - - "claiming my pastoral authority/identity" was what someone called it then. I don't like that term so much, but I get the meaning of it.

    We represent the church. We are not THE CHURCH in totality, but as pastors we represent the church, and that means we need to be careful that we show up when the church needs to show up.

    As others have said, this doesn't mean we should be the only ones who show up or be the ones to show up to the detriment of other areas of ministry, but I firmly believe more and more every day that one of our most important functions is to be there. I believe it, now I need to do it.

    Again, I am also a BIG advocate for lay caring ministries and teams. The deacons at my church do a GREAT job at visiting and getting info to me about who needs special visits, etc.

    Also, I believe others who have posted also see great importance in pastoral visits. I just wanted to make sure the importance of both is lifted up (as one who has flopped miserably on the "pastoral" side of pastoral care).

  6. Lots of great stuff here in text and comments!

    One caveat: for the sake of confidentiality, those "almost verbatims" or any other personal information shared in a visit should only be shared with the pastor or at most one other layperson who alternates with or fills in for the lay minister for that visitee....The whole lay team does not need to know this info and having it spread so freely is contrary to the dignity of those visited and the relationship of trust developed with the visitor.

  7. Keep your ear to the ground early on to find out who is already doing pastoral care. In my current church, we have a few people who do this that everyone knows about, and two whose ministry is much less known but who are just as important. In both cases, these are people who already unofficially have been lifted up by the congregation as leaders. The latter two are hugely helpful to me in identifying needs and prioritizing some of my visits but wouldn't want to be commissioned in any formal way; the other few have been publicly identified as Lay Eucharistic Visitors. When I visit or call someone myself, I always try to refer to the visits and calls of these other people...acknowledging the "legitimacy" (in their minds) of those visitors.

  8. Aside from the visitation issue, which has been well-covered here, I want to highlight what one of the matriarchs said: make time for what's important to you. Set that time aside in the calendar and do not schedule appointments during that time (emergencies are another issue). This applies to exercise, a clergy group, time with family or a date with your spouse. And these should be regularly scheduled events. Don't just try to fit them in. That doesn't work--make time for them (she says, from hard-earned experience).
    And congratulations on a first solo parish. May it be a blessing to both you and the church!

  9. I'm sorry to be so late to this but there is another program I've heard about called Befrienders, which involves training but is slightly less intensive than Stephen Ministry. Stephen Ministry is excellent, like mini CPE (for those who have that), and trains a lay person for an on-going one to one relationship with someone in health/grief etc concerns. But what about just regular pastoral and hospital calls. We train communion ministers, but still find that some people feel slighted. We try to organize it so that there is still an occasional pastoral contact. I'm not trying to "dis" sick people, but in this elderly congregation, it gets challenging to see everyone.


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