The last few days have been some of the most wonderful of my life.
On Ash Wednesday, my wife and I welcomed our first child, Noah David, into the world. After more than nine months of preparation, excitement, and, yes, a little stress, our son is here in our arms. It is a great joy to have him here. I can’t wait to see all that life has in store for him, and how he will bless others through his love and care.
My wife is doing great. I attribute much of that to the great care she received at Central Baptist. From her doctor, to her nurses, to even the housekeeper and cooks, Abbi was well cared for and loved. It took away a lot of my stress from what had been a stressful few weeks.
Watching Abbi’s care team at work got me thinking about how their care was symbolic of great pastoral care. How they cared for my wife, and my family, I believe offers lessons for pastors on how we can care for our communities more effectively. What follows are five lessons of pastoral care I learned while observing maternity ward nurses care for my wife and baby for three days.
1. Be informed of the situation ahead of time. Every doctor and nurse who cared for my wife was always knowledgeable about her situation and needs. That helped to provide great care in some crucial moments. As pastors, we do ourselves and the person in need a great service if we take the time to be informed about their situation. It doesn’t take a lot of time to be informed. A quick Internet search is all that is needed to look up a medical situation and what it means for a person. Having this information allows us to enter a situation with a good base and helps us to provide deep and meaningful care.
2. Don’t overstay your welcome. One of the things that I admired most about Abbi’s care team was their efficiency. They came in, did what needed to be done, and then left. Seldom did I feel that someone overstayed their welcome. That is a good message for pastoral care. A good pastoral visit is one where the pastor effectively uses both their time and the time of the person they are visiting. Of course, this is going to vary based on the situation. For the most part, a pastor would be wise to keep longer pastoral visits to a minimum.
3. Don’t do too much in one visit. Each nurse that cared for Abbi stuck to their assignment. Some provided medicine, others checked vital statistics, and others simply provided moral support during tough moments. No matter what reason brought a nurse to Abbi’s room one thing was consistent: They never strayed from their purpose. They didn’t try to do too much. Pastors get themselves into a jam when they attempt to do too much. For instance, when we visit a key leader in the hospital and start to bring up an upcoming administrative meeting. An effective pastoral visit sticks to the purpose of caring for the person and praying with those present. Anything more and the pastor is doing to do too much.
4. Never make a visit about you. We were blessed to get to know some great doctors and nurses during Abbi’s pregnancy. In some cases, we got to know a little bit about them and they got to know about us. Even as this took place, one of the things I admired about Abbi’s care team is that they never made it about themselves. It was always about caring for Abbi and Noah. Any knowledge we gained about their lives and families was in the context of care. The care team was not the “star.” This is important for pastors. We have a tendency to make ourselves the “center of attention.” This takes away from our ability to care for the person. We have to remind ourselves that it is not about us, but about sharing God’s love in the moment with a person in need. Everything else takes a back seat to that purpose.
5. Be prompt in arriving. Whenever Abbi requested assistance from a nurse, it wasn’t long before someone arrived. That is a great example of care. It doesn’t mean you drop everything and run into a situation, but you get there in a decent amount of time and provide care that is needed. When pastors find out about a situation, we are on the clock, so to speak, for providing care. We don’t have to be there immediately, but we need to be there soon, either through a personal visit, a call, or some other way of touching base. The longer we wait to provide pastoral care the less effective our care becomes.
There are examples of pastoral care all around us. I just happened to notice them while watching an amazing collection of doctors and nurses provide care to two of the most important people in my life. I am very thankful and blessed by them and for what they showed me about how to be a better pastor.