Model for Pastoral Care by Elders?
September 27, 2021
Updated September 28, 2021
5 comments 819 views
I am the chair of the pastoral elders in a Southwest Ontario CRC.
For a variety of reasons, we are considering alternative models of delivering pastoral care in our congregation. We currently are operating with a pretty standard model in which our membership is divided into "Focus Groups" each under the care of a pastoral elder supported by a pastoral care worker and a deacon.
While this has worked more or less effectively, we are experiencing some challenges, among which we have a hard time finding people willing to take on the role of elder due in part to the work load and feeling of responsibility. I'm sure we are not the first church to face this one so am asking if there are other models out there or if there is a conversation about this in the CRCNA into which I could link.
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I would recommend trying to get in touch with the council at Willowdale CRC in North York. When I served there, there was a group of people who provided Pastoral Care that were separate from the Elders but often included current or former Elders. It's been a few years though, so the model may have changed since I was there.
At First CRC in Fremont, we recently restructured our Council and shifted pastoral care to a group of lay leaders. The Council is still responsible for pastoral care with one elder and one deacon specifically responsible for checking in with the Care Coordinators and also providing care themselves. As pastor, I am also responsible for pastoral care and visit people regularly. If you want to discuss more, my email is [email protected]
Thank you for reaching out. I appreciate you and your elders working to revitalize eldership in your church. My congregation is engaged in a similar process. We are using Jeramie Rinne's excellent, short, book on church elders, entitled, Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus. The book has helped us to realize that we may need to change both our elder's term limits and the process by which our congregation goes about selecting people to serve as elders.
For what it's worth, I would not recommend that your elders delegate away the pastoral care of the congregation (at least, not in its entirety) to the deacons or to a lay group. I believe that the Scriptures are sufficiently clear that pastoral care is the primary responsibility of the elders (see, Acts 20:28-31; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). An 'elder' who never engages in pastoral care is like a 'plumber' who doesn't works on pipes or an 'electrician' who never works with electricity.
Thanks to all of you who replied. We will be taking this up in our church and I will likely get back to at least some of you for follow up. Blessings. Leo
I would suggest that the place to start would be to sketch out what is required of elders by our Church Order—assuming that we are concerned about Church Order, and then what is wanted or expected of them by council and the congregation at large to be an effective community of faith. It is the old “form follows function” thing.
In many respects our Church Order tacitly assumes day long gone. By that I mean an ear when fewer people commuted, and era when the church was the center of life for most Christians and even for the community, an ear when there were far fewer activities available for both children and adults. So individuals were home more for pastoral visits and elders had more time to make them. For many these are, indeed, days gone by.
In the last congregation I pastored we had the usual districts but faced with a similar challenge we did a few things. First, we asked each member whether they would value a regular (at lest annual) visit from the pastor and an elder or whether they would opt for a “If we have a need, we will call” approach. The vast majority opted for the latter. So right away the number of expected/required visits were reduced.
We then prioritized. Those who still desired would have them. Those who were experiencing difficulties, loss, grief, etc. would be prioritized for a visit “immediately.” The second priority would be individuals who seemed to be drifting away from the faith or the church. Visitors and those seeking membership would be a third priority. I would suggest that this probably reduced the “obligation” by about 75%. The last thing that we did was to encourage each elder to have a district gathering over a meal once a year. Some would host this in their home, some at the church building. It would be a time of community building, sharing, encouragement, and prayer. The elders, as well as myself as pastor, would still make other visits, but this allowed us to focus on needs and relieve the pressure.
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