The Right Medicine: Ten Principles for Pastoral Care

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Here is one final quote from Scott Mantesch’s book Calvin’s Company of Pastors. As I have said before this book is a must read for pastors, elders, or men in seminary. It is pastoral theology disguised as history. While we do not live in 1550 the principles of ministry do not change.

Simon Goulart was among the first wave of pastors in Geneva following Calvin’s death. He ministered from 1566 to 1628. Calvin died in 1564. He was best known for his two-volume work Christian Discourses. In this work he uses a conversational style of writing to guide his congregation through trials and sufferings. He also gives pastors guidance on how to care for those who are suffering. Here are Goulart’s ten principles for pastoral care with some notes by me in brackets.  Continue reading

Lessons from Geneva: The Priority of Pastoral Care

Shepherd 2Here is the final lesson Scott Manetsch learned from his study of pastors in Geneva during the years of 1536-1609. The first was pastoring is hard work. The second was the need for pastors to learn from and be accountable to other pastors. The third was the centrality of the Bible.

Finally, this book has demonstrated the high priority Calvin, Beza, Goulart, and their colleagues placed on the ministry of pastoral care. For the reformers, the ministry of the Word involved more than the public exposition of Scripture; it also entailed the application of the divine message to people on every stage of life, from cradle to grave. Christian ministry needed to be Word-centered and people-centered. Geneva’s pastors fulfilled their calling when they baptized infants, taught children their catechism, welcomed young adults to Lord’s Table, conducted household visitations, comforted the sick, and consoled people preparing to die. At the same time, in weekly Consistory meetings, the ministers and elders confronted men and women suspected of moral failure or wrong belief, applying the “medicine” of church discipline in the hopes of achieving repentance, healed relationships, Christian understanding, and spiritual growth. Though dimensions of Calvin’s program of pastoral supervision and discipline strike our modern sensibilities as heavy-handed and unduly intrusive, the ministers’ sustained commitment to the spiritual well-being of adults and children in their parishes seems on the whole quite admirable. Indeed, in our modern world where men and women so often struggle with spiritual dislocation, fractured relationships, and deep-seated loneliness, Calvin’s vision for pastoral oversight that includes gospel proclamation and intense relational ministry appears relevant and important.

One of the great fissures between our fathers in the faith and us is that of pastoral visitation. Our fathers considered it the duties of pastors and elders to visit their parishioners. Today it is a rare pastor who regularly visits his people. Why is this the case? Here are a few reasons in no particular order.

  1. Pastors are busy with a lot of administrative duties, programs, etc. The private ministry of the Word is not a priority in practice, even if it is in theory.  It is pushed out by other things, which are less important.
  2. People do not want to be bothered. They view their lives as private matters where pastors have little say.
  3. Churches have become larger with little one to one action from the leadership. Most one to one interaction comes in small groups, which are not a good substitute for pastoral care.
  4. People are busy in the evenings when pastoral visitation often takes place.
  5. Church-hopping and the constant mobility of American people make it hard to develop long term relationships with members of a church.
  6. The rise of counseling and psychology. It is interesting that when tragedy strikes a community it is often counselors and psychologists are called in and pastors are not. There is a place to outsource certain types of counseling situations, but too many pastors pass their people off to the professionals.

There are probably other reasons as well. Our culture is far removed from the Reformation age. Yet pastors have a duty to care the flock of God, which includes meeting with them, praying with them, checking on their spiritual health, answering their questions, etc.  As Manetsch notes our age is particularly disconnected and lonely. Thus pastoral care takes on heightened importance at a time where the church, her members, and society at large work against it. Pastors and elders must be deliberate about their task of caring for the congregation.

In a future post I will describe how I do pastoral care. In the meantime, if you are looking for some good books on pastoral care, here are a few. If you know of other books put them in the comments.

  • Pastoral Care by Gregory the Great
  • Concerning the True Care of Souls by Martin Bucer
  • Taking Heed to the Flock by Peter De Jong
  • Counsel Your Flock by Paul Tautges
  • Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition by Andrew Purves
  • Reformed Pastor by Richard Baxter
  • All Three of Eugene Peterson’s books on pastoring

 

Lessons from Geneva: Pastoring is Hard Work

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At the conclusion of Scott Manetsch’s excellent book Calvin’s Company of Pastors he lists four lessons we can learn from his study of the pastors in Geneva from 1536-1609.  Each of these four lessons is worthy of careful meditation by those seeking to enter the ministry or those already there. Here is the first lesson.

First, this study of the Company of Pastors has shown that the vocation of Christian ministry is a difficult one. As we have seen, Geneva’s pastors faced heavy workloads and encountered many hardships in their pastoral careers, including financial deprivation, incessant public criticism, congregational apathy, and sometimes even physical danger. Far more than “agents of the state” Calvin and his colleagues served as biblical interpreters, spiritual counselors, social prophets, and moral watchdogs that regularly challenged popular beliefs and social conventions, and sometimes thundered against Geneva’s political authorities. The ministers occupied a crucial, yet awkward, position in early modern society as they sought to translate gospel truths into a vernacular that provided hope, meaning, and forgiveness to men and women who sometimes struggled to believe- and frequently struggled to behave themselves. Too often the ministers’ moral indignation and spiritual blind spots only increased the difficulties they encountered in applying Scripture to the needs of their parishioners. Pastoral effectiveness in Geneva required courage, a clear sense of vocation, thick skin, a generous dose of humility, and solid Christian faith. Pastoral virtues like these are still required of Christian workers today even if their congregational contexts are centuries removed from Calvin’s.

When I entered ministry this was not my perspective. As a young man I saw many free hours perusing my books with coffee. I saw sermons that soared to heights unknown.  I do read a lot and of course preach, but the ministry is difficult work, filled with anxious moments, mistakes, weariness of body and soul, disappointment, and hardships. Of course, there are joys as well. But I knew that. I expected the mountain tops. But I did not know how deep, dark, and cold the valleys could be. I should have of course.  It was prophesied of Christ that he would be ” rejected by men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Can I follow Christ and preach Christ and expect ease and comfort? Paul told Timothy:

Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. 2 Timothy 2:3-6

Can I be a soldier and yet live in luxury? Can I be a hard working farmer without long nights and tired muscles? One of the most important lessons young pastors need to learn and seminary students need to be told is that the ministry when it is done right is bone-wearying work. It always has been and always will be.

The Glory & Goodness of Clerical Marriage

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Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. 1Timothy 4:1-3

A quote from Scott Manetsch on one of the most enduring legacies of the Protestant Reformation:

Few theological convictions of the sixteenth-century Protestant reformers had greater impact on the structure of early modern European society than that regarding the goodness of clerical marriage. The pastor’s household as an institution was birthed in the 1520s and 1530s, as evangelical church leaders in Germany and Switzerland began to defy canon law and Catholic tradition by renouncing vows of celibacy and taking wives. In their sermons and published writings, but also in their own marriages, reformers like Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Luther, and (somewhat later) John Calvin challenged the medieval church’s teaching that the celibate, contemplative life was superior to the active life of marriage and family. The magisterial reformers argued that the medieval church’s requirement of clerical celibacy was a human invention that tyrannized the consciences of priests and distorted the Bible’s teaching on the value and proper function of marriage. As Calvin saw it, marriage was a “good and holy ordinance” which God had created and offered to men and women from all walks of life for the purpose of procreating children, restraining fornication, and promoting love between husband and wife. Guillaume Farel concurred, crying out in his Summary and Brief Declaration (c. 1529): “O holy estate of marriage, you who are sullied and dishonored [by the priests]. O brutal world, devoid of all sense and understanding, do you not have eyes? Are you so blind that you grope about at noontime as if you were in utter darkness? Do you think that in our day this holy estate should be prohibited, that it is sin to fulfill the commandment of God?” The construction of clerical marriage brought with it a new identity and new responsibilities for the Protestant minister: his spiritual calling as a “shepherd of souls”  now extended beyond the parish church to his family and household, where he served as husband, father, son-in-law, and paterfamilias. It was expected that the pastor’s household, including his wife and children, should serve as an example to the surrounding community, a model of Christian piety and domestic tranquility for neighbors to emulate. Susan Karant-Nunn has rightly observed, “The home of the pastor and his wife became a symbol of active spirituality second only to the church itself.” Although the magisterial reformers did not mandate marriage for young ministerial candidates, they did anticipate that the majority of evangelical ministers would marry, raise children, and participate in the life of the local community.

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation marriage is under attack again though from a different enemy. Fornication, adultery, abortion, sodomy, rampant divorce, purposely fruitless marriages, love of money, love of freedom, love of pleasure, pornography, feminism, and sexual molestation, have all taken a toll on the church’s witness about the goodness of marriage.  We like to blame the world, but in the end the church’s refusal to deal with sexual sin in the pews and the pulpit has been one the greatest factors in the disintegration of marriage in America and Europe. Who is to blame for the carnage? The church. Who leads the church? Her ministers. How can we once again recover the glory of marriage? Ministers should be men and marry, raise children, and participate in the life of the local community. Also ministers should teach, shepherd, counsel, and model sexual faithfulness and the goodness of marriage, as well as correct, rebuke, and if necessary excommunicate those who are sexually immoral. Just like in the 1500s if we want another reformation of marriage it will occur through the faithful teaching and lives of ministers.

Worship or Evangelism?

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One of the key shifts in worship over the last 75 years has been the move to make worship services primarily about evangelism. For most of church history worship was an offering to God by Christians and a place where the faithful were taught by God through the Word, prayer, and fellowship. It was about Christians and getting those Christians to grow. Evangelism was something different. Evangelism was telling the lost the good news that Christ came, died, rose again, and ascended into heaven to save us from our sins. Evangelism aimed at the non-believer. Worship aimed at God and the believer. With the advent of tent meetings, the seeker sensitive movement, church as therapy, and other aspects of the church growth movement worship services became more and more evangelistic.  Continue reading

Signs of Sexual Rot: Diminished Masculinity & Femininity

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If you are looking for a book that will help you counsel someone with sexual problems or work through your own sexual problems then I would recommend Dr. Harry Schaumburg’s Undefiled.   Dr. Schaumburg at the time of this book (2009) had counseled almost 1,500 couples and has been counseling over thirty years with eighteen years devoted exclusively to sexual issues.  In one of the early chapters of the book he discusses how prevalent sexual sin is in the church.  He says that some research puts the number of church members watching porn at 50%. One mission organization told him that 80% of their applicants voluntarily indicated a problem with porn. One seminary professor said we no longer ask, are you using porn. But rather how bad is it? Dr. Schaumburg closes with this statement, “This rot in the church must be addressed or the devastation will be incalculable.” He then gives nine indicators of the problem. I will quote the first here and give the other eight in an subsequent post. Why quote the first one in full? It gets at one of the roots of our sexual malaise: rejection of created ordered and a failure to rejoice that men are men and women are women. Here are the two paragraphs under that indicator.  Continue reading

Genuine Submission

Here is a wonderful quote from Stephen Clark’s book Man and Woman in Christ: 

Christians are often tempted by a selective submission [to God’s Word]. Some scriptural teaching is very attractive to them, and they find in themselves an admiration and a willingness to submit to it. Modern Christians usually  find it easier to be enthusiastic about Christian teaching on God’s fatherhood [you can tell this was written in the 80’s] or about love of others. Some scriptural teaching, however, contradicts their desires. Some may even repulse them. To be sure, often the difficulty is genuine uncertainty about how to respond to some part of scripture. Often a person may know that the scripture is saying something on a given subject, but can be uncertain how to understand or apply what is said. Despite some uncertainties, for most Christians there remains much scriptural teaching that is sufficiently clear, or could become sufficiently clear with more investigation, but which they find themselves unwilling to submit to. The genuineness of submission is tested precisely at these points. They prove their submission is genuine, and not a mere pretense, when they submit to the Lord in something which is personally difficult and which may lose them the respect of the world around him. (Emphasis mine)