Many of us can recall a time when a minister visited us at a crucial point in our lives. Perhaps we were in the hospital, or perhaps had just lost a loved one, but in a moment of need, a pastor was there to comfort us and pray with us.
When a pastor makes such a visit in a time of need, it is called “pastoral care.” The main difference between a pastoral care visit and just a visit from a friend is that a pastoral care visit includes spiritual aspects. A mere “friendly” visit may involve discussion about family, or the weather, or who won the ball game. A pastoral care visit may discuss those kinds of things, but will also include scripture reading and prayer and/or other encouraging spiritual aspects.
Many pastors who are fully-funded take time each day to make rounds to the hospital or to the homes of church members to provide pastoral care. Pastors who are bivocational, which means they work a job in addition to serving the church, have much less time to devote to pastoral care. This does not mean that bivocational pastors care less than fully-funded pastors, it is simply a reality of the amount of time bivocational pastors have available due to their other jobs. When a church has a bivocational pastor, it is vital that lay people assume some of the responsibilities for pastoral care; otherwise this important ministry may be unintentionally neglected.
Lay people may feel intimidated about providing pastoral care to their fellow church members. But pastoral care is not as complicated as it may seem. Lay people can be trained to offer pastoral care effectively. In order to make effective pastoral care visits, lay people should follow these simple tips:
1. Focus on the person being visited, not our own stories or history of similar situations.
2. Keep the visit short. The visit should be a maximum of ten minutes unless it is a life threatening situation or the person clearly does not want you to leave.
3. Read a short scripture that is appropriate to the situation. Consider purchasing a Minister’s Manual or the Bible Promise Book that has appropriate scriptures organized in categories for easy use.
4. Ask if there is anything the person needs done. It is important to follow up on this need. If the person asks for something that is not feasible, it is better to tell them so and ask if there is anything else that can be done instead. Otherwise it might create a false sense of hope, which can cause greater problems later.
5. Close the visit with a short prayer for the person and the situation.
Adapted from the book, Developing Leadership Teams in the Bivocational Church. The book contains six easy to use lessons to teach lay people to work as a team with their pastor. Though the book is designed specifically for bivocational pastors, many fully-funded pastors are finding it equally helpful for training their lay people.