I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the theology and practice of pastoral care in a missional church, and how that is different from pastoral care in traditional churches. And I’ve come up with at least a few questions if not fully formed answers. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Missional theology and praxis calls for contextual, incarnational engagement with the community. How does “the care of souls” fit into the Missio Dei, the “sending of God,” and our part in it?
  • Why is pastoral care largely ignored in the ongoing conversations about the transformation of the church?
  • Given the social structures of rural society and the aging populations of small town and rural America, shouldn’t “the care of souls” be a part of our intentional ministry, and not just an afterthought during times of crisis?
  • Considering the rampant poverty, increased alcohol and drug abuse problems, lower educational levels and other social issues affecting rural areas, shouldn’t our care of people also include care for the community, and the transformation of communal issues?

I also propose there’s a new way to look at pastoral care and social action, which is not a term I like, but I can’t think of another more descriptive.

The typical pastoral care model is a dyad of both the spiritual and psychological care of a person or family. The typical “social gospel” model (or social action model) is a dyad of spiritual and sociological engagement with a community, or group in a community.

I am proposing a new model that is a synthesis of both pastoral care and social gospel – a triad of the spiritual, psychological and sociological concerns addressed by both individual and communal approaches to care.

In the Bible, salvation is often seen as coming to a people, not just individuals. Certainly, the salvation of Israel was not thought of as future, but as a present reality that God could, and often did, provide.

This does not diminish the importance and necessity of a personal response to Jesus’ call to “come and follow me” but rather it broadens that call to include the salvation of social systems and communities.

I believe that “the care of souls” is going to burst into our theological imaginations in new and exciting ways. Some of those will be that care will be more relational and less educational, more contextual and less general.

The “care of souls” will also fill the gaps in the social fabric of rural communities that have lost much of their social framework to chain stores, increased mobility and the loss of public spaces. I am convinced that we need to see our communities not just as potential additions to our membership roles, but also as “sheep without a shepherd.”

Creating networks of caring, training spiritual directors, offering healing solutions to intractable social problems – these are some of the new ways in which pastoral care in the missional church finds new expression. One of the primary tasks of churches is to make meaning out of life’s stages and events. By viewing our communities – and the individuals and families within them – as in need of Christian care, I believe we change the tone and effect of what we are doing.

Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Va. He blogs at Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor.

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