For Practitioners and Pastors Alike
Believe it or not, I look forward to my routine physical checkup each year. This may sound odd to you because most doctors’ visits are in response to something wrong. (This is why most of our medical memories are connected with sick feelings.) However, routine checkups are different. More often than not, everything is clear, and I’m sent home with an encouraging visit summary. Although the few times my doctor has detected something wrong with a routine checkup, he has been able to catch it early enough that we could deal with it before it got worse.
The way physicians care for their patients has many similarities with how pastors care for their church members. In times of need, Christians turn to their pastors. And while I do not take for granted the privilege to care for people in their most crucial moments, many times I find myself thinking, I wish I knew about this sooner. How many pastoral crises would be avoidable if approached more proactively than reactively?
Proactive or Reactive?
More often than not, pastoral care is a pastor responding to a problem. When catastrophe strikes, pastors should respond in a timely, pastoral manner. This could look like counseling couples who have already decided to get a divorce, comforting grieving widows, or praying for parents whose children have left the church. While we must seek to respond to emergencies and trials with sound, biblical wisdom, our care should not only be responsive or reactive in nature. Pastors should intentionally seek to provide proactive care for their people. A more intentional approach to care for each person proactively will not only lend itself to a deeper relationship, but it also can help prevent further dilemmas that require reactive care.
To help elaborate on proactive member care and offer a few examples, here are six proactive practices that can help you better care for your members:
1. Pray for them
During your devotional time, have your member roll next to your Bible and pray for a few members each day. As you pray your way through the list of your church’s members, shoot them a text to let them know that you are praying for them. Ask if there’s anything specific you can pray for.
Not only will this grow your heart for your people, but interceding for your people before God in prayer is the greatest way you can care for your members.
2. Give people your full attention
Sunday mornings are busy times for pastors. And while they are the most important “work day” for us and we have lots on our minds, it’s important to not accomplish tasks at the detriment of overlooking our people. This was especially hard for me in the first few years of our church plant. When I blew by someone with a hurried, “Good morning!” on my way to make sure the slides were ready for worship, I was no different than Martha in Luke 10. Being fully present is a necessity for pastors. Keeping my phone off the table at lunch meetings or going out of my way to hug the widows on Sunday morning has helped me show others how valuable they are.
People are not obstacles we navigate in our ministry; they are our ministry.
3. Initiate and invite
While not everyone will ask to meet with you, people love personal invitations, especially from their pastor. If you haven’t spent time with a member in a while, invite them over for dinner or take them out to lunch. If you want to enter their world, find a common interest you can share together (movies, sports, hiking, etc.), visit them at work, or attend their kids’ athletic events. When I invite people to coffee, I tell them, “I have no agenda other than to catch up.” (Maybe it’s a “get to know you” meeting instead, depending on if I already know them or not.)
Not only will this build relational equity with each member, but many times, you will be tremendously encouraged by these conversations.
4. Value communication
Most pastors don’t enjoy emails, but on the other end of every email or voicemail is a person. So, respond in a timely manner. To ignore emails is to ignore people. Beyond replying to messages, find out the best way to communicate to your people. This will look different in each church. Try to write regular emails to your church. If you have a great devotional thought, send a quick video to your members. Put each member’s birthday on your calendar and send them a short, hand-written note to wish them a happy birthday. Use a wedding anniversary to encourage the couple’s marriage. Use social media to encourage your church members. When you’re in the car driving across town, call someone. Text messages and voice memos don’t take long to send, but they provide another touch point to express your love for your people.
The more you communicate, the better. Conversely, people will not assume you are mindful of them if you under-communicate.
5. Follow up
If someone shares a prayer request or tells you about a job interview, a vacation, an illness, a doctor’s appointment, a job interview, a hard conversation, a family issue, a birthday, an anniversary, any big event, or even mundane events, write it down and set yourself a reminder to follow up.
As pastors, we think about our people all the time. Find simple acts to express that you think and care about them.
6. Connect them with others
Church members need and desire close friendships, and even if you are a great friend to many members, they will thrive by investing in friendships with more than just the pastor. As you get to know each of your members better, you will see people with personal commonalities or complimentary giftings, and you can help connect people in a way that could create lifelong friendships.
Not only will connecting your people bring each of your members into the lives of each other, but it will provide greater care for each member.
For the Benefit of All
The more proactively I care for my members, the more everyone benefits.
1. Each church member
In knowing my church members better, I know how to better care for and apply God’s Word to them. And as I care for them better, not only do they know I care, but they are also being built up into Christ.
God has blessed my church with godly, encouraging, wise, insightful members who care for me in the most amazing ways. Spending time with my brothers and sisters in a non-crisis context is truly life-giving to me as a pastor.
3. The whole church
Modeling and teaching how to love one another is instructive and infectious. And as each member catches on and begins to build each other up into Christ as Ephesians 4 pictures, the entire body is strengthened.
Published January 15, 2024