Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Pastoral Care Done by the Laity; Lay Work Done by the Pastor
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?