The Failure of Pastoral Care
In my rebuke against most churches, one thing seems increasingly common: an utter lack of genuine pastoral involvement in broken lives.
Let’s peel back the layers here. On the one hand, Scripture assumes a church stands to replace the lost legacy of tribal cohesion. There was a time when your neighbor was your close relative, someone acquainted with the details of your life simply because you wouldn’t dare be aloof to your blood kin. You couldn’t hide anything anyway. So they would be gently nosy when things weren’t going right. There was no formal rules for this, and it depended heavily on the loving shepherd care of the family elders. Your pain is my pain, so let’s at least talk about it. Maybe we can’t fix the problem, but you aren’t alone in this world.
Second, we live in a far different time and place, and in Christ we are seeking to reclaim what has been lost from those ancient tribal times. Not in all the details, but in the caring involvement, the closeness and openness we find sacred before the Lord. We rightly bristle at outsiders horning in on family business. It’s a sin for third parties to be curious; it reflects the fallen nature, the Lust of the Eyes. Good people mind their own business, and their business lies in their own kin. The fundamental flaw to all of Western history is no one has any business involving themselves in the details of your daily life if they aren’t related by blood or covenant. Any government which does not respect that is not valid, an abomination to God. Thus, as you can well discern, no Western government is valid in God’s eyes. But we are stuck with them, and we must strive against sin by holding forth holiness.
That holiness is pulling together into the spiritual bond of kinship which is actually the real thing behind the symbolism of ancient tribal life. Your Christian brothers and sisters are closer than your literal siblings. By whatever means one organizes a church body, it must include that deep personal involvement. That we are talking about people who start out as strangers means we hold this image up as our goal, the mark of holiness. We teach it as good and right and necessary to following Christ; we fight the common Western cultural bias for aloof friendliness. Aloof is good among strangers; it is evil inside the church.
But when the church is so deeply wedded to the Post-Modern Western Secularism of this day, you can’t do what Christ demands of His followers. When church is merely a gathering place for entertainment and happy emotions, folks who happen to share some smattering of ideas and religious practice, but nothing of the pastoral care atmosphere, it simply isn’t a church as the term was used by Jesus. If no one on the church staff is trained and equipped to deal with suicidal tendencies, sexual dysfunction in marriages, families under attack from the darkest demonic forces and people whose souls are broken under the strain of an evil world, then your church is badly damaged and a threat to the gospel message.
It’s one thing when people who come from this secular world, in all its sub-cultural variations, and don’t easily trust others. That’s just holy cynicism. But when the church staff does nothing to build that trust, and offers only a shallow and dismissive program, a one-size-fits-all franchise approach, they aren’t worthy of their roles. These days it does take a bit of training to overcome the secular worldly habits, but if the church organizes to become just another business franchise, that church is actually the enemy of Christ. It’s not a portal to redemption, though God in His grace may well work His redemption in spite of such failure.
The measure of success is not the number of people showing up, the size and depth of the budget, nor any of those things humans in this world use to define success. The measure of success is the redemption, however limited, of people’s broken lives because the power of God is coming, not in spite of your staff and organization, but built into the staff and organization. If no one on staff is ready to face the likes of incestuous rape in blended families, then that staff has no business leading anyone anywhere. That garbage happens in real life, and the hidden horrors of sin people wallow in is the real target, and healing such disasters is the real measure of success.
Granted, a truly determined love will work even when a good education and professional training is not available. In my experience, the vast majority of people can figure out what God requires of them once you scrape away the standard collection of lies this world tells. Too many churches build a curriculum of “holiness” which amounts to a select slice of what they already have. Simply offering the best of middle class cultural morality is not holiness. The church staff need an education which emphasizes the stark departure from such, into spiritual depth which relies on the hand of God. Miracles abound in that kind of work.
We don’t need personal reformation, but transformation.