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Over the years, there have been shifts in the practices of the church.   At one time, the answer to the question was unambiguous.  Pastors gave pastoral care.  The Stephen Ministry was built out of this premise.   It was designed to extend the work of the pastor – not the elders or the lay people.  Lay people were trained to assist the pastor in providing care.   When the small group movement entered the CRC, it was more than a Bible study.  The small group was to be the primary care group for an individual or family in the bigger life of the church.  Alongside these were other ministries of care:  in our congregation we have Deacons, Elders, Meals from the Heart, and Caring Touch.   

When Wendy speaks about overlap, most congregations have plenty.  Indeed some overlap is necessary to provide adequate whole person care.  If we recognize that there are individual preferences and needs, it is not surprising that some would prefer one kind of experience in the life of the church while others prefer another avenue.  One shoe does not fit all.  We need a toolkit with many ways to reach members of the congregation and serve them. We need a toolkit that is big enough to handle diversity.   One question worth asking is simply this:  is our toolkit big enough to reach the members of the congregation? Of course just because we have a big enough toolkit doesn’t mean we have to use every tool with every person.  Just what is appropriate.   We need to develop the tools.  And we need wisdom to use them appropriately. 

This overlap will also happen in leadership.  How do we choose our leaders (elders or deacons)?  Not surprisingly, we prefer to choose those who have demonstrated a measure of involvement and skill.  One place where people learn what is needed is in the context of a small group.  This is also where people get to experience the faith and life of potential leaders.   I am not surprised at all that some become both an elder and small group leader.  There will inevitably be overlap.  Again it is well worth asking: how are we developing leadership in the congregation? If Small Groups are one of the key ministries, surely elders and deacons will be doing both some of the time.

Overlap can become a problem in two ways:

First, that overlapping leadership believes they must do everything all the time and so overextend themselves.   Part of maturity is the ability to prioritize our activities.  We may have a job list that is large.  But not everything has the same priority.   Here the question is: how do we prioritize our activities so that the ones that are most important (not necessarily most urgent) get done?  Many time management materials deal with this dilemma.  

Second, the overlap becomes a problem if the membership believes they need to experience everything all the time.   Not everyone needs to go to a small group and have a home visit.  It may be appropriate but not necessarily.  Not everyone needs to experience all the forms of care.   One might be enough.  We need to give the message that appropriate does not mean everything.  We ought not make people so busy in the internal life of the community that the call to engage the life of the neighborhood with the gospel will get lost. 

All this raises the next set of questions.  We need to ask what our primary goals are providing small groups, pastoral care, districts (care groups) and other means of touching the life of the congregation.   Most of the time we are somewhat foggy on the central purposes.   Or after a while what we intended has been forgotten and the activity has taken on a life of its own.  No thoughtful reorganization can take place without asking why we do what we do in the context of the mission of the church. 

Next week: leadership structures. 


Neil, I appreciate what you are saying here in a big way. Healthy pastoral care takes on a variety of modes and avenues in the church. And it certainly effects the way we develop leadership.

I wonder how churches will look at the role of small groups as they tend more toward being one of the primary avenues of building disciples. The small group then takes on much more than a caring roll, but also a missional role where groups study, share, care, pray and take on more intentional mission together.

What about pastoral care to the community around the church? Everything you mention, Neil, refers to those within the church family. As we seek to become more missional and reach out more to our communities we are going to be confronted with many more issues. Who is going to deal with these issues? The pastor, elders, care team, other? Do we respond in the same way to needs of community as we do with members of our church family? As churches, we have lots of expectations for our pastors. Does that include spending a lot of time dealing with community issues? Just some things to think about.


We are at present using the term "congregational care" more than "pastoral care" the latter being what the pastors do, the former what the ministry of the congregation toward its own internal community is.  (We perhaps will add "community care" to this at some point.)  Our reason for the distinction is that being a larger church (500+ active members) using "pastoral care" continued to communicate that the job of caring for the congregation is the pastors' jobs.  Given all the "one another" passages in the Bible, it made more sense to us to emphasize the ministry of the congregation to each other.  We restructured, going from 18 elders to 7, with 4 district elders each working with 4 congregational visitors, 2 care givers, and 2 deacons.  Our focus for our year and a half start up/transition time was "connecting": how are people connected or not connected with the Body of Christ?  With that in view, the teams work to prioritize the ministry work.  The pastors are then focused on specific situations (crisis, marriage preparations, death and dying, membership issues, newcomers welcome, elder leadership development, etc).  Though this change has been very much welcomed by most, some are grieving the loss of the pastors being immediately available for every family event (birthdays, anniversaries, just having tea), and that it is not the pastor who is representing Christ and His Church to them as much as it is brothers and sisters in Christ.  Yes some who bemoan the good old days, claim that "pastoral care" does not take place anymore (until they enter a crisis and then they experience it).  By that they mean that the pastor doesn't come by on a regular basis just to chat as they once did (whether that ever happened or not).  As senior pastor I get to hear the comments that the pastor doesn't care about the church or that the elders aren't doing their jobs.  But that is just the reality of change, people grieve what they feel they have lost in the change.  However, this shift in our context was vitally necessary as the truth about the old model (every household gets a visit from an elder each year) was that it was not only never completed, but its actual effectiveness as a tool for oversight and discipleship was nothing near what people liked to believe it was.  We just decided as leadership to be more open and honest with each other about it.  And this new structure we are hoping will help more in the congregation recognize their calling to care for one another, not only in the congregation but also with anyone that the Lord puts them in connection with.  Our elders and deacons really like our new structure.  Our district team meetings spend more time on prayerfully planning for the next month or two of ministry rather than simply reporting on visit being done.  Reports of work done is relayed to the district elder as it happens so that by the time a meeting is held for a team, they already have the progress reports of what has been done and do not need to spend time reporting on visits or support given except as it bears on what they are to do next.  It has also allowed us to have a small Council (only the chair of deacons is on Council) that gets to know and trust each other well and our level of openness and depth of discussion has greatly increased. I really enjoy our Council meetings and feel part of a team in the ministry work we do of oversight and care of the congregation.  If anyone is interested in more detail on what we are doing (at the moment) feel free to contact me directly.

Colin Vander Ploeg [email protected]

Thanks Ken for your openness about your situation and that you bring this to bear on this discussion.  In the congregation where I serve, our restructuring has not yet specifically dealt with this reality.  Right now we have a small variety of people who may or may not be visiting with a person in your situation.  Usually the better known the peson is the more interaction with them in maintained.  Part of the challenge for us here is to make meaningful connection with the Body of Christ to not be just focused on Sunday morning worship time.  We have a few members who also are not able to attend morning worship for a variety of reasons.  One man in his 30's who suffers from anxiety and depression is unable to be in large compact crowds such as our after church coffee time.  It has been decades since he has attended a worship service here.  He has a small bible study group which he leads on a regular basis.  However this does not connect him with us really.  In a sense he has found his congregation elsewhere.  The present ways that we do "church" have mostly to do with worshipping together and volunteering in programs run by the church.  The change I believe needs to happen is that the core of doing "church" together needs to be more missional, in other words, more geared to serving others in our communities, whether on line or in person, in prayer and in action.  If our focus was not so much on ourselves when we gather and more on the calling we have in Christ in our specific contexts, could we perhaps find better pockets of fellowship that have more room for the variety present in the Body regardless of their presence on Sunday mornings.  If our focus would grow in that direction, then the call to serve envelops all, rather than just what formal structures can accomodate for a congregation.  My question would not be, whom in the church can you get connected to, but what connections has the Lord given you right now in your context, whatever that is?  It is sort of the move from leaving your neighbors to go to church, to being the church with your neighbors.  Now that being said, how can the congregation support, train, walk with, be a part of, learn from someone who is engaged in being salt and light who is unable to attend the regular worship time because of physical, mental or emotional condition?  Perhaps worship needs to be happening more often in our homes with others engaged in their contexts as well. 

We here are not at this point by any means, though there are persons engaging in their contexts as Christ's emabassadors.  We struggle still to care for persons who because of their situations lose connections with the larger Body gathered here. 

I don't of course know your specific situation or your condition that you live with.  My encouragement to you would be to return to visiting your pastor occasionally.  It might be a visit that the Lord is calling you to do for your pastor rather than something that you do for yourself.  I have often encouraged people to invite their congregational care person to come rather than wait for them to call.  When people do that, the care giver is blessed by the intentionality of wanting to share together.  Have you ever requested a pastor or elder come with a few people and celebrate communion together in a context that works for you?  Does your congregation have an disability awareness advocate?  This could be a good challenge toward greater inclusion that could result in some adaptations to Sunday morning that would make room for a person in similar condition to yours.  My guess would be that you are not the only one in your context who feels disconnected from the Body.  Could you be one who seeks out others with similar struggles and together with your church leadership, learn some new things about how to be a place for all to worship our Lord.


My appologies if anything I am writing is insensitive to your situation.  It is not my intention as I do not really know what you are dealing with.  If you would like more direct communication, feel free to email me directly if that would be of help in anyway. [email protected]

The Lord by His Spirit lead you into something new.

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