Recently I had the chance to observe the pastoral care provided by a non-denominational church in my area. The situation was brutal and filled with grief, so certainly pastoral care was warranted. In came the preacher’s wife (one of their “ministers”) because the main pastor was in a meeting. She met with the folks who were affected and talked to them for about two minutes. They did not pray. She did not read from a Bible. She ended the conversation by telling them to “text her with how things are going”.
This is a far cry from Christian care for the soul. No means of grace. Not even a prayer. Not even time spent to show concern. I have often wondered how the big “flash in the pan” non-denominational churches will deal with real life situations involving death and suffering. I got to see it – they don’t deal with it. No big screen, “relevant” sermon series, or rock band can prepare one for faithfully undergoing the inevitable horror that comes from this life. There is just not enough “upper” to bring up those folks who are in the pit.
Lutherans have a long tradition of pastoral care. Pastors are known for making visits both regularly and in emergency cases. They show care by both by “showing up” but even more by “showing up with Jesus”. They bring Christ to the situation. Baptism, Absolution, the Word, the Supper all become tools of pastoral care, ways in which the person is cared for. Prayer based upon the Scriptures begs God to be present. Psalms speak to all conditions of life in this fallen world. These things take time, and pastors bring them to souls in distress. That is pastoral care.
My point is this is that this is a feather in the cap of Lutherans. I understand that many other Christian pastors provide spiritual care (and often ably so), but my point is that this is a great thing among Lutherans. And being a great point, it should come to mind in terms of evangelism. Often the most earnest efforts at becoming more “evangelistic” or “missional” as some now say it begin with a premise that what we have is not good enough and must change. I would argue in many cases this is simply untrue and violates the 8th Commandment in relation to the congregation’s reputation. Instead, an approach to evangelism of speaking well of the congregation is proper and good. Pastoral care is one of those areas I believe that can be very helpful. Folks can speak up about how the congregation cared for them, how the pastor visited and spent time, sharing the Word with them. Works of service from congregation members also can quickly become something note-worthy when talking about the congregation to outsiders. This of course sets folks up to want to be a part of something like the congregation that cares for them. An invitation to church is always appropriate as it is there that the Lord does miraculous things through His means of grace. Help the outsider see and remark “those Lutherans, how well they care for one another” or “those Lutheran pastors sure do care for their people”.
In this way, a true gem of the Lutheran church is used in a godly way to encourage others to be a part of something that actually cares for them. Face it, all of the flash in the pan stuff is creating a sea of wounded and half-eaten souls that are sick to death of the shallows and so weary of the constant need to be happy and “up”. These folks need to be cared for as souls long abused by merchants of death and its teachings. So speak up about good pastoral care centered in God’s Word and focused squarely on the human body and soul.