It seems like today all you need to do is tack on the word “missional” to something to make it more appealing to churches. The word missional itself seems to have lost its influence on what makes a mission minded church a mission minded church. Yet when considering pastoral care, a mission minded church should take mind of missional pastoral care.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are a sent people. Missiologist David Bosch famously said that as the Father sent the Son and as the Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit, so we, the church are sent. Or more succinctly, Jesus says in John 20:21 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” God is a missionary God who desires to redeem and restore all things.
So what does this have to do with pastoral care? And what makes it missional?
Pastoral care is first and foremost the care of a person’s soul. As followers of Jesus, we are in Christ and He dwells in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. In pastoral care, our one job is to minister soul to soul with the other person. A divine conversation happens when we speak the word of the love of God the Father, of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit into the lives of others. In doing so, we are able to get to a deeper level of pastoral care and deeper into the lives of parishioners.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong. Empathy is needed. The social sciences are needed. An understanding of self awareness and active listening is needed. But those are just to scratch the surface to get beyond the façade and to truly interact with the soul.
Pastoral care has tended to be limited to just the congregation, just to the people who attend the church. And for the most part, this can be good. Yet pastoral care is to the community of believers. When one is a mission minded church, pastoral care can fall to the way side because it may be seen as the old standard. Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim in their book The Permanent Revolution, view the role of pastor to be outdated and overused. This couldn't be further from the truth. Pastoral care, especially missional pastoral care, is essential to the missional ecclesiology of the church today.
But what does this mean for pastors?
As pastors, we are representatives of God, of Jesus Christ, to the people whom we minister to and with. When we just focus on the individual, we loose sight of the whole. We minister not only to those who sit in the pews, but those who are on the bus benches. We are pastors of the parish, the place where the shadow of our steeples fall. If we share in the ministry of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, then we also share in His mission. We are fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit to move forward to speak to the souls of people, parishioners and non-members alike. Our pastoral role is to be the ever-present presence of the Great High Priest and first Apostle of Jesus as declared in Hebrews 3:1. This means we are sent. We are sent ones who pastor, shepherd, speak to the souls of many.
If we but rely on empathy alone, if we rely on merely the social sciences to get us through pastoral care, then we can face burnout, depression, and other bad situations. Yet when we are willing to be missional in our pastoral care, we join in the mission of Jesus Christ, and we know that we are in Christ and He is in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Missional pastoral care is care for the soul—ours and theirs. It is one soul speaking to another, one beggar showing another beggar where to find the Bread of Life.
When we engage in missional pastoral care, we join in the ministry of Christ as being the first Apostle and in His priestly ministry. It isn’t about us, but about what God is doing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Missional pastoral care moves us forward in living out making disciples through speaking to and caring for the soul of others.