Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Pastoral Care Done by the Laity; Lay Work Done by the Pastor

Unless you have been living under a log, you have undoubtedly heard of the Stephen Ministry training and program and there are many others designed to equip lay people to provide pastoral care to people in need.  There are many churches in which clergy occupy staff leadership roles but the care of members is largely handled through smaller groups in which one or more lay folks act as shepherds of their small groups.  This is nothing new here in that regard.  What is new is that with the push toward larger congregations with but few clergy on staff, it seems designed so that these Pastors have little to do with the daily lives of the people in the pew.  Walk into any hospital and you will find a host of lay folks doing the "visiting" that in the past would have been done by Pastors.  Check the schedules and you will find self-help groups to provide pastoral care of those going through grief and loss, divorce and recovery, addiction and recovery. 

In the worship service, you find the same thing.  The role of the Pastor has, in many places, been limited to preaching the sermon and, if sacramental, presiding at the Lord's Table.  A host of lay folks fill in the rest of the roles (from reading lessons to chanting to leading the various parts of the liturgy or service).  In fact, for those who practice contemporary worship (hate that moniker), one of the most important roles in worship is the song leader and praise band leader -- nearly always a well trained but lay position.

Interestingly, the roles ordinarily filled by lay folks are being done by the clergy.  In many congregations, the Pastor functions as a CEO who handles the administrative affairs of the congregation, oversees all the staff of the parish (including support staff including maintenance, custodial, etc.), and boards have been replaced with a board of directors (largely dominated by church staff) who handle policy.  In many other congregations, the Senior Pastor refers to the chief vision caster who decides and determines the will of God for who that congregation will be (core values) , how its ministry will be carried out, and what staff will be used to achieve the goals that support its mission statement.  The Pastors of some congregations have exchanged roles -- leaving the spiritual care of the people to lay folks and handling the administrative responsibility themselves.

I actually remember a time when the Pastor came to a quarterly voters meeting, did the devotion, and gave his report... and then went home.  The rest of the meeting was handled by the lay folk (dealing with property, maintenance, budget and finance, etc.).  Now I am not advocating such a clean division but I wonder why it is that the spiritual care of members (what we used to call seelsorger) is being carried out more and more by lay folks and the ordinary structural and administrative care of the parish is being carried out by Pastors.  I am not speaking here only in generalities but specifically in the LCMS.  Certainly elements of the Pastoral Leadership Initiative (PLI) and Transforming Congregations Network (TCN) move in this direction.  Both advocate (either for short term or permanent structure) the bypassing of the ordinary structure of our congregation with their service board structure and church council and the use of a smaller policy board in which the Pastor is not only accountable but also its primary leader.

I often find myself handling administrative affairs (business affairs) of the congregation that I wish others were there to handle but most lay folks are not there day in and day out and so emergencies often fall on my lap (from preschool toilets that are broken to burned out ballasts in the fluorescent fixtures to HVAC units that are not doing their jobs).  But I find the idea that Pastors cede the spiritual care of their people to others in favor of keeping these duties a disturbing trend, indeed.  Pastors are less priests than business managers and the people are often left without the real pastoral care that their Pastors are supposed to do (from private confession and absolution to the counsel of God's Word to the teaching of the faith and the admonishing of the fallen away).

I for one do not believe this is a healthy trend.  I do not think that this is what our people want, either.  I think that most folks want their Pastors to be the primary sources for the spiritual care of their souls -- assisting by lay people, certainly, but not replaced by it.  Secondly, I feel that lay people are given the false impression that pastoral care is what they must provide to their brothers and sisters in the parish when what they really need is to provide the family care for one another.  It is not pastoral care alone to notice when someone is not there on Sunday morning or to inquire about what is happening in their lives or to be attentive to the signs of difficulty in individuals or families in the parish.  This is what family members do for one another.  It seems that lay people are being taught to provide pastoral care in part because the ordinary family care that ought to be happening within the family which is the congregation is not happening.

I maintain that we do not need to substitute lay people for Pastors in providing pastoral care, that Pastors do not need to take over administrative leadership to the exclusion of the pastoral care of the souls under their charge, and that people in the pew do have personal, spiritual and family responsibilities to their brothers and sisters in those pews (not "pastoral" care but personal care of those within the same family of faith that is the church).

Would not the church be healthier if Pastors primary concerns were providing the pastoral care of the Word and Sacrament to their people, if lay people accepted the implications of and the responsibilities incumbent upon their common life together within the family of God, and if we stopped exchanging roles and confusing terminology?


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

These roles have been switched and lain upon the altar of "growth". The language and assumptions we have heard is that growth will only come if we follow sound business models, have dynamic leadership -- all the things one hears in the business world. If one hears and accepts that "leadership" is what is needed, one is going simply assume that this "leadership" should be done by the highest paid person in the place. Hence, normally, the head pastor.

Would the Church be healthier if we were not confused? If you look at Church health with a business model - I don't know. If you consider the Church in terms of its members, the individual members would be much healthier. . . but the current trend isn't to worry about the health of the individual but rather the profitability. . um, I mean growth of the Church('s balance sheet).

Matt Carver (Matthaeus Glyptes) said...

Sounds like you need to hire a sexton. Now, how to work that exhortation into the sermons… :)

Lee said...

Once again, you have hit the nail right on the head. This trend seems to be fueled by skewed expectations by the laity about what pastors should be doing and pastoral vanity about what pastors shouldn't be even though we really, really, really wanna.

ErnestO said...

Yes I have always viewed LCMS pastors as the protectors of the faith and sound doctrine.

I wonder to what degree do pastors sometimes use the business relationships they have developed with others to protect themselves and their role rather than to be a ‘Seelsorger’ (German, soul healer) for others?

Philip Hoppe said...

I just got back from my farmer member's house. Funny, he didn't want me to run his combine. Maybe there is something to learn in reverse.

Pr. Chris Hinkle said...

I have had very good experience working with trained Stephen Ministers because I could pass on long term "counseling". Very little of such counseling is spiritual care. A large part of it is simply being there for someone who needs a sounding board during tough times. It is especially important that women in such situations work with another woman so that transference issues can be minimized.

Anonymous said...

Pr. Meandering, you are absolutely right. I was expecting something too, you came so close, I was waiting for it, waiting for it...then you ended. I thought you were going to include the misunderstanding of Eph. 4:12, that the laity are to do be "equipped" and do the "work" of the ministry.

Someone should write a book on how misapplied words today are used compare to their use in Scripture, like: "fellowship" "ministry" "mission." Of course, Scripture speaks of only 1 ministry, the Word and Sacrament. Now, many involved church volunteers, paid non-ordained church workers talk about 'their ministry'.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mr. Hoppe; there is no other profession which allows a lay person to stand in.

Lee said...

While I completely agree that "empowering the laity" is being generally misapplied, I do think the connection between "profession" and Word and Sacrament ministry are not fair comparisons.

A professional, like a doctor, has specific training that is critical to his role. His power and authority to heal people comes from this knowledge, skill and training and cannot simply be exercised by someone "playing" doctor.

The office of pastor, however, gains its authority not from how skilled, trained and knowledgeable the pastor is, but from the office itself instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church.

If a faithless idiot somehow usurps the pastoral office (no comments please) and proclaims to a repentant sinner that in Christ his sins are forgiven, then the force of the words is the same no matter how hollow or unworthily spoken.

I know I am influenced by my former law enforcement career, but I see pastoral ministry much more like that of a police officer than that of a skilled professional because all the training in the world does not make one a police officer; rather, it is the authority of the office that belongs to the state and ultimately every citizen.

This does not mean that we should not a have well regulated, educated and trained police force, but that their authority does not come from that training.

And, ultimately, when the police are not around but the law needs to be enforced, "laity" can step in with the full authority of the law through police auxiliary officers or even a simple citizen acting in an emergency. Their actions have the full weight of law as that of any officer, even if they are not as well trained or many not normally do such work, because their actions are done within the authority of the office even if not officially holding that office.

Therefore, I do think there are cases when Word and sacrament ministry can and should be exercised by the laity, but only with good order or in an emergency.

Pastor Peters said...

It was not my intent to say that lay could never provide pastoral care but that the primary providers are seen no longer as the Pastors but the lay folks... Pastors have always been assisted by lay folks in some of these duties, carefully defined within parameters, formally and informally, but it is a modern phenomenon that lay folks are the first tier providers of Pastoral Care...

Anonymous said...

I am an ignoramus and this may be tangential, but it seems to me appropriate for pastors mentor primarily fathers to teach care for their own families' day to day spiritual needs like prayer, devotions, Bible reading etc., rather than having lay folks care for the extraordinary spiritual needs of other unrelated lay folks. Physical needs and general companionship, even in times of great difficulty, obviously lay folks are generally willing and able to do out their love and concern for fellow members.