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The Safety Net - A Case Study in the Exercise of Pastoral Care

By Paul Beasley-Murray.

The following is an example of how one church exercises pastoral care in such as way as to ensure that, as far as possible, no-one can miss the safety net. Although Paul’s congregation is larger than most, we include the article because we believe that there are lessons here which can be applied to any size of congregation in any denomination.

The Task

As minister of a large town centre church, I am responsible for caring for some 300 people who have committed themselves to membership of our church, together with many others who are part of our worshipping congregation or who are associated with the many midweek activities which are an expression of the mission and ministry of our church. In such a context pastoral care inevitably has to be shared if it is to be effective.

Underlying Assumptions

In a recent article for our church magazine I described how we seek to exercise pastoral care. In the hope that it might be of interest to other church leaders, that article is reproduced below. However, before doing so, perhaps it might be helpful if I were to spell out some underlying assumptions:

1. Our current ministerial team is made up of three fulltime ministers: for in addition to myself as senior minister we have an associate minister (who has particular responsibility for the over-55s) and a youth minister (who has particular responsibility for the under25s).

2. Along with other taskoriented teams, we have a small pastoral team, which is responsible for overseeing the work of pastoral care in the church. This team is made up of six church members, each of whom is responsible for a particular ‘area’ of the town. Each ‘area’ is subdivided into four or five caregroups, each of which is led by one or two individuals (often a couple) and who in turn are accountable to the member of the pastoral team who is responsible for their area. The pastoral team is led by one of the deacons. My Associate Minister and I meet with the pastoral team at their sixweekly meetings.

3. To help us know what is going on in the church we have adopted the use of 6x4 ‘yellow cards’ which are inserted into the front cover of our hymnbooks, and which are also always available at the door of the church. On one side of the card is space for visitors to make themselves known; the other side is for regular worshippers to use. At every service mention is made of these cards and everybody is invited to fill them in and return them to one of the ministers. Currently we are experimenting with the following format:

Side One

Side Two

The Magazine Article (with additional explanatory notes in italic brackets)

Pastoral care is exercised in our church by:

1. Every Member

* Encouraging, praying and caring for one another (Every time we welcome new members we promise to ‘love, encourage, pray for and care for’ the people concerned)

* giving information on yellow cards (We cannot overstress the importance of these cards - they form the agenda for much of the pastoral work of the church)

* contacting pastoral team leader and/or ministers (We can only care if we know!)

2. Formal/informal networks

* organisations caring for their members (e.g. the Brigades, Thursday Fellowship and friends caring for one another - sometimes we forget that friends can also be representatives of the church too)

* passing on information from the ‘grapevine’ to pastoral team/ministers (please don’t assume that we know because you know - fill in a yellow card)

3. Care group leaders (everyone known to us by name is linked to a care group)

* praying for those in their care (prayer is an expression of care)

* visiting and listening (ideally everybody in the church should receive at least one visit a year)

* communicating with pastoral team leaders (often informally)

* meeting together regularly for training, planning and sharing (this month we will be focussing on practical guidelines for caring for the elderly)

4. Pastoral team members

* overseeing and coordinating pastoral care

* meeting regularly for prayer and sharing of information (every six weeks or so)

* visiting people in their areas

* maintaining contact with care group leaders

* organising ‘newcomers’ events

* welcoming newcomers to services and introducing them to members able to offer hospitality (fill in a yellow card if you can help)

* organising occasional social activities for their areas (e.g. at Christmas)

* bringing recommendations for the revision of the church roll (this is normally an annual agenda item for the May church meeting)

5. The pastoral team leader

* liasing with the senior minister

* encouraging pastoral team members

* appointing visitors to those requesting membership

* keeping the church roll up to date

* together with the senior minister updating the church handbook

* knowing the names of all who worship with us, ensuring that people are followed up when they are absent for more than two weeks

* encouraging people in their spiritual journey (pastoral care is not just about helping the hurting)

* hospital visiting

* liasing with social services (this can be important when someone needs specialised, professional help)

* ‘trouble shooting’ when necessary (helping to overcome the inevitable misunderstandings which arise from time to time)

6. The ministers

* supporting leaders

* counselling people in time of ‘crisis’ (those who need longterm counselling are always referred on to professional agencies)

* visiting the hospitalised

* encouraging personal growth of members through visiting

* building bridges and sharing faith with nonChristians through visiting

* following up newcomers by letter and visit (every newcomer who signs a yellow card receives a note from the Senior Minister)

* being available in the ‘pastoral centre’ (that is one reason why the ministers work from an office in the church building)

* exercising pastoral care through preaching and worship (our preaching and leading of worship is often deeply influenced by our pastoral work during the week)

* preparing for and following up weddings, funerals, dedications and baptisms

* general visiting (there is no better way of getting to know one another than seeing people in their home)

* caring for older people (this is the Associate Minister’s particular responsibility)

* caring for younger people (this is the Youth Minister’s particular responsibility)

In conclusion

Inevitably the above system is fallible, because it involves people, and so from time to time people fall through the net. Nonetheless an amazing amount of pastoral caring does go on in our church. I am grateful for the many people who in quiet and unobtrusive ways express love and concern to others. As ministers we are privileged to have so many willing to share the task of pastoral care.

The Revd Dr Paul BeasleyMurray is Senior Minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford and Chairman of the Ministry Today Board of Management.

Paul Beasley-Murray

Senior Minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford<br>and Chair of Ministry Today

Ministry Today

You are reading The Safety Net - A Case Study in the Exercise of Pastoral Care by Paul Beasley-Murray, part of Issue 24 of Ministry Today, published in February 2002.

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