One thing I have noticed about people who promote church growth ideology, and the pastors who who “lead” churches by its principles:
They really don’t like pastoral care.
And yet, they still want to be called pastors.
Take the eight-point list on why churches don’t grow by Carey Nieuwhof that we referenced yesterday. The first and last entries are both specifically directed at pastors who make pastoral care a priority. He says churches won’t grow because:
- the pastor is the primary caregiver, and
- the pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody.
This is his portrait of a pastor who makes pastoral care a priority. Such a minister thinks he has to do it all, and he thinks that way because his main concern is pleasing people, not leading them. Listen to his words:
When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding, funeral and make regular house calls, he or she becomes incapable of doing other things. That model just doesn’t scale. If you’re good at it, you’ll grow the church to 200 people and then disappoint people when you can’t get to every event any more. Or you’ll just burn out. It creates false expectations and so many people get hurt in the process.
. . . Many pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature. Go see a counselor. Get on your knees. Do whatever you need to do to get over the fear of disappointing people. Courageous leadership is like courageous parenting. Don’t do what your kids want you to do; do what you believe is best for them in the end. Eventually, many of them will thank you. And the rest? Honestly, they’ll probably go to another church that isn’t reaching many people either.
While he may have a valid point or two hiding in there (stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason), Nieuwhof’s words represent a typical disdainful attitude toward pastoral care. You get the idea that, to “leaders” who see it as their mission to “grow” churches, pastoral care is a necessary evil, one that shouldn’t tie up the “leader’s” time and energy. You’re too important for that. Pass it on to someone else. Organize it away. You are the visionary, the builder, the preacher (“vision-caster”). You can’t afford to take time with the sheep. You are a rancher, not a shepherd. You’ve got to set yourself up high, away from the mud and the shit and the bleating, where you can keep an eye on the big picture and direct your underlings to do the real work of ministry.
In case this isn’t explicit enough in Carey Nieuwhof’s list, he has followed up with an entire article called “How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches,” where he writes, “The pastoral care model of church leadership simply doesn’t scale.”
But it’s not enough for him to simply recognize a potential organizational barrier that might be handled in a number of different ways. He has to make clear his distaste for pastoral care:
Many pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature. Wanting to not disappoint people fuels conflict within leaders: people want you to care for them, and you hate to disappoint them.
In some respect, pastoral care establishes classic co-dependency. The congregation relies on the pastor for all of its care needs, and the pastor relies on the congregation to provide their sense of worth and fulfilment: the pastor needs to be needed.
As a hospice chaplain, I work with many who are Roman Catholic. We have about 130 parishes and missions in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, with a Catholic population of nearly 225,000. That’s an average of about 1700 people per parish, though of course some are very small and others quite large. I work with a handful of those parishes on the south and east sides of the city, along with a few downtown and others in suburban areas. Many are thriving, well attended, with schools and a variety of ministries and outreach projects.
Here’s my point: As a chaplain I have never — not once — been unable to get hold of a priest from one of those parishes when I’ve had a pastoral care need. And I have never — not once — had a priest fail to respond and make a personal visit to the home or hospital or nursing home, usually the same day or night, but always within 24 hours or when the family needed him.
A robust embrace of pastoral care by the pastor has not hampered these Catholic parishes or kept them from growing and furthering their mission. Indeed, those churches would never stand for the kind of neglect I see in evangelical churches all the time. The priests I know have a profound commitment to caring for the people in their parishes based on a theology of pastoral ministry that has stood the test of time.
And here is an important point: the Catholic church has found ways of organizing the life and ministries of the community with that in the center, not as a peripheral extra or necessary evil. Nor do the priests do it all. There are pastoral care ministers, deacons, eucharistic ministers that take communion each week to the homebound, care groups, and so on. The priests lead by giving faithful pastoral care, and they also equip others for caring ministry.
On the other hand, I have a number of comments about Carey Nieuwhof and his approach.
- His “theology” of pastoral ministry is not theologically or biblically rooted at all but based on corporate organizational wisdom.
- Even though organizational wisdom can be a valuable tool for churches, it must remain subservient to theology and not overtake it, otherwise a “church” is no longer a church and its leaders are no longer “pastors.”
- I agree with him that is right and necessary to think in terms of building strong organizations and lasting institutions. Indeed, I think we often fail to appreciate the importance of this. But the evangelical model of having the “Senior Pastor” or “Executive Pastor” be the leader (i.e. CEO) and at the same time be viewed as an actual working “pastor” is untenable.
I have come to appreciate the difference by my work in healthcare over the past 10-11 years. There is management (the business side) and there are clinicians (the patient-care side). I am a clinician and that is where my priorities lie. I value those who keep our business sustainable (however much I might grumble at their decisions) because without the context they provide, I cannot do my job. But my job is not theirs, and they don’t try to tell me how to do mine. I’m not “the face” of the organization — I don’t address the entire network to tell them what we’re doing and my face is not on the commercials we use to reach out to the community. We work in partnership. The CEO and leaders and administrators try to make sure we have a sound and growing company that is following our vision and values. My job is to live out that vision and those values on street level: to meet face to face with patients and care for them along with others who do the same with different specialities.
Pastors are not and were not meant to be executives or “leaders” in the business sense. Those in the church who do have such gifts of administration should be valued and churches should organize themselves so they can help build sound organizations and lasting institutions. But they are not “pastors.” They are not “in ministry” in the same way as the one who gives you word and sacrament, who visits you at home and in the hospital, and who helps you mark the major events of your life with sacramental blessing.
People who call themselves pastors and yet disdain pastoral care or think it should be passed on to others as the primary caregivers are not pastors in any true sense of the word. Being a pastor means being a person who provides pastoral care.
Pastoral care is not a problem. Pastoral care lies at the heart of what the church is all about.
When I’m dying, please call a priest.