Thursday, April 7, 2011

Who Cares for the Pastor?

It is not uncommon for folks in the parish to complain that the Pastor was not "there for them" during this or that.  In fact, it seems a weekly occurrence that someone will sigh that this or that happened to them or within their family and the Pastor did not call or console them.  Once I had a family attack me because I did not know that their son had been in the hospital overnight -- they were sure that hospitals routinely informed the clergy of this and therefore I knew and deliberately did not come to visit.  They were shocked to find out it has been a couple of lifetimes since hospitals informed churches when their members entered.  With the HIPPA laws in effect today and the lack of priority given to religious identification of the patients, I have been at the hospital, knew that someone was in there, but could not find a room number. Oh, well, such is the life of the Pastor.

Several times in classes where new people join our congregation and as often as I can remember, I remind people that Pastors provide pastoral care but not the only care.  If somebody from the parish drops by a tuna casserole, calls on the phone to see how they are doing, and prays for them, they have not been without the care of the Church.  Pastors are not the exclusive agents through which this care is provided although they are uniquely situated to provide the pastoral care of the Word and Sacrament. Some congregations have made use of programs such as the Stephen Ministry to provide somewhat trained care givers to formally extend the care and concern of their fellow members of the Church.  Some congregations use their elders to do much the same thing in a less formal way.  It is not all a bad thing.  As long as the distinction between the Pastoral Care of the Word and Sacrament remains the domain of the Pastor we may expand the definition of care to include what Christians provide to their fellow Christians.

But who pastors the Pastor?  Or his family?  I well recall the loving care and kindness provided to us when the Episcopal priest where I was serving came to the hospital and did the "Churching of Women" when our first child was born.  It is not that my fellow Lutheran clergy were unkind or uncaring but they did not attend us in moments of great need.  This was compounded by the fact that I was nearly an hour away from my closest LCMS brother and served as Circuit Counselor during several of those urgent times of need.

I visited a Lutheran Pastor and his family once some years ago and found that they were facing very serious medical treatment but fairly far from home and were, indeed, alone.  I came though I barely knew them and yet they were ever so grateful for my presence as a Pastor in their hour of need.  I visited another retired Lutheran Pastor who admitted that even though he had faced several serious health issues during his active career, he could count on one hand the number of Lutheran Pastors who were there to sit, pray, and encourage him and his family in their need.  I visited another retired Lutheran Pastor who admitted that he had gone through the death of two spouses and personal health issues with nary a word or phone call from other Lutheran clergy to inquire, support, and console him with the Word of God.  When I gave him Holy Communion he broke down in tears because it was the first time ever a Lutheran Pastor had brought him the Sacrament.

There is not a little loneliness for those who serve as Lutheran Pastors.  Some of it is self-imposed, some due to geographic isolation, but much of it is due to the fact that Lutheran Pastors and their families often are on their own in time of trouble.  Sometimes they cannot share the circumstances of their need with the people of the parish and sometimes they choose not to -- but the net effect is that this isolation is felt on an even deeper level when the wound is there and not one comes to bring the counsel and comfort of God's Word or to bring to them the Sacrament of the Altar.  There are times when Pastors can address their own families with God's Word and care but for the most part it is impossible for Pastors to provide pastoral care to their own family members.  Ask almost any Lutheran Pastor's family and they will tell you that generally they are the only ones in the congregation without a Pastor.

It can be helpful when the parish leaders and elders are supportive, caring, and concerned and in most parishes this is indeed the case.  Yet this is not the care I am talking about.  Who brings the sacrament to the Pastor and his family when they need its comfort?  Who speaks to them the consoling Word of absolution and addresses them with the encouragement of God's Word?  Who is able to speak to them a word of warning when they wander from the path of faith?  While I do not diminish the care and concern of a good board of elders and other parish leaders, this is not the same as having a Pastor.  While it might be nice if the District President carried out this episcopal responsibility, the sad truth is that many DPs are geographically far removed and administratively unprepared for this pastoral role -- one that may require removing the typical district "CEO" hat in favor of the vestments of a Pastor.  I am not disparaging them or circuit counselors and yet I am not sure that these structures were even meant to function in the way that Pastors need or require when troubles, trials, sickness, and struggle overcome him and his family.  In one sense, it is often left to "Physician, heal thyself."

While this need may be exacerbated by distance where Lutherans are few or far between, I have heard from many who live in Lutherland that they often face the same loneliness and isolation.  Just a thought that perhaps we assume too much in this regard and as Lutheran Pastors need to be more deliberate in making sure that those who bear the responsibility for the Pastoral Office are not left to tend their wounds or the wounds of their families all by themselves... Who pastors the Pastor and his family is a question worthy of an ongoing discussion.


Rev. Allen Bergstrazer said...

Yes, I've experienced much the same in the decade or so in the ministry. The one family who often receives the least amount of pastoral care in a congregation is the pastor and his family. I've learned the hard way that there are times when the only thing I can be or should be is the husband to my wife and the father to to my children. I am blessed that I have brothers in my circuit to whom I and my family may go for pastoral care and to simply listen to our concerns and pray with us. I would also say our District President (Russ Sommerfeld) and the District Staff are good at making sure we have pastoral care and that other concerns are addressed.
I also think that in general there is an assumption that because it is a pastor who is sick he will have more collars in his sick room than an AKC dog show, and so no one goes. Often the elders or the laity in the congregations don't know or aren't aware of whom they should contact in the circuit or district should their Pastor fall ill (I've even encountered a few associate pastor's who didn't know either). Lack of pastoral care is most aggegious for retired pastor's who often fall off the radar, especially if they retire in one district and move to another.
This is an excellent subject that should be brought up at staff meetings, elder's meetings and Winkels, as well as with our families. Ask your wife who they would like to have near during an emergency, make sure they have the contacts for the circuit and district. Don't leave your congregation in the dark either.

Anonymous said...

Having served 11 years as a Circuit
Counselor in the LCMS, I believe the
monthly Winkel/Circuit meeting is the
best way for pastors to minister to
pastors. Our meetings always begin
with a Worship/Holy Communion Service
and this creates fellowship with
another in Word and Sacrament.

After the exegetical study and
practical study we go around the
table and encourage each pastor to
voice any personal concerns he
might have. These might be parish
related or family related.

We also have organized once a
month circuit socials in which we
take turns meeting in our homes
with our wives. This is also a
big help for our fellowship.

oselcmomence said...

Anonymous said...

The only ones more careless and vicious toward a pastor than his own congregation members are other pastors.

Anonymous said...

Anon #2

I do not agree with your assessment
and feel you may have other concerns
that need to be addressed. If a
pastor receives no love in his own
parish, then he probably is not
loving his own member and gaining
trust and respect from them.

Anonymous said...

I appreciated many of the challenges mentioned in this article which pastors and their spouse and children face. If I may, there is a wonderful new organization within the LCMS, namely, "Doxology"( hosts a series of seminars for pastors, their wives, and lay leaders which address many of the challenges you've mentioned in your article. Given your mention of both the limitations of higher officials due to their many responsibilities and/or the way the synod has been structured, these challenged often due go unaddressed and untreated. So the Doxology program has become a wonderful program which has helped to fill the void with regard to addressing such areas of concern. As one who is a graduate of the program, I would highly recommend that pastors, their wives, and lay leaders check out their website to learn all that they have to offer which benefits not merely the pastors and their wives and children, but also benefits the laypeople as well.

Janis Williams said...

Third anonymus down the list: "I do not agree with your assessment and feel you may have other concerns
that need to be addressed."

Is it wise to go by your feelings about a person you do not know, and then to diagnose that person's problems?

A pastor may be dearly loved by his congregation yet have trials in his life which have nothing to do with how well or how poorly he loves his sheep.

If you are the same anonymus of former posts, once again, you have totally missed the point.

Anonymous said...

Amen & Thank You

LCMS-Concordia L.T.S. said...

Short answer: God, Apostles and Brothers
Addition: Pastors should have the above needs met in their relationship with God. Brotherly support is also available and it is up to the Pastor to have transparency in his life to his congregation.

Anonymous said...

And what of the pastor's family? Are they also to be transparent to the congregation? I think you are missing the point of what Pastor Peters said. Pastors are often those with few choices to turn to for pastoral care and that is even more true of their families. This is a fact and not an opinion. Ask me, a PK, now almost grown up.

Lee said...

Just a thought: Just because we have the freedom to post anonymously does not mean that we should.

Anonymous said...

why does it have to be just brotherly? Also what about spiritual diction or mental health tx.