Normally when I pick up a book on pastoral care and shepherding/counseling, it starts right into the list of how-tos and what-to-dos. But Dave does it different. Dave starts by calling us as pastors and those who care for the hurting to look at our own souls. The reality is that as Christians, our hearts hurt differently. They don't hurt less, they hurt differently, and hurt more. They hurt more because when we are surrounded by grief we see the ripple effects of pain and loss. And we as leaders bring our own heart pains into the ministry we bear to others.
I noticed this sitting in an ICU room last year with a family who was in the horrible position to have to say goodbye to their father. It flashed me back to a similar ICU room holding my mom's cold hand just after Christmas. And while it helped me to empathize with the family, it flooded back my own pain.
That's why it matters that we nourish our own souls from the Word, in prayer, in fellowship, and by not only reading the Bible like a study exercise but to meditate on it, soak it in, and let it permeate our hearts. If we are to care for others, we must ensure that our souls are well cared for.
I won't give away all from the book, I want to encourage you to pick up a copy of it yourself. But I do want to highlight a few things from it:
1. The ministry of presence is very real - More often than not, the best thing we can do in our care for the hurting is to just be there. We don't have to say anything. We don't have to offer up some pep talk or encouragement. Sometimes we just have to sit there. It's easy for us to talk, it's harder for us to sit. But sometimes sitting is what we must do. Sometimes we must cry, sometimes we must listen to the wails or screams of grief and not reply.
2. If we love, we'll serve - Filed under the list of things I didn't learn in seminary was a few months ago feeding an elderly man in our church breakfast in his hospital room. He couldn't see his food because of his blindness, his mind was slipping, and no one was there. And I loved him. So I served him. If we want to prove that we love those we're around, we'll serve them. We'll serve them like Jesus served His disciples.
3. We'll point people to Hope - One of the worst things we can do with someone grieving or hurting is give them a false hope. Those false hopes can include "Sleep it off and you'll be better in the morning," or "God's going to fix this because you love Him," or any other well-meaning but misplaced phrase. Instead, the Hope we point people to in the midst of their pain is the true Hope, the Risen Christ. Our bodies may never be healed, our broken hearts may never be mended... until Jesus makes all things new again.
4. We pursue the hurting - I believe the two ways we help the hurting are we give a soft place to land and we lovingly pursue. Furman talks about how his wife's church cared for her during her single years after an accident. It reminded me of the dear friends and church I was part of when I went through agonizing loss. The phone calls, the cards, the lunch trips and coffee appointments. Looking back, I saw they never gave up on me. I hope we as pastors and our churches do the same for the hurting in our midst.
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.