Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions (Conclusion)


Restating (a 3rd time). I am a missionary in the Philippines and teach missions courses. However, I also administrate a pastoral care and counseling center, and serve as a registrar for a pastoral counseling certification board here. For me, reconciling these roles is important.

In my two previous posts, I brought up two issues. The first issue (should we think of pastoral care as “Christian?”) is pretty straightforward, I think. Yes it is Christian, even if some non-Christian traditions my follow similar patterns and call it “pastoral care.” The second issue (can pastoral care be used for non-Christians?) takes a bit more thought, but seems to have a fairly straightforward answer. Yes. Absolutely. The third, I believe is a bit more difficult… at least from an evangelical perspective.

3.  Pastoral Care generally does not involve evangelism. Often, practitioners are advised to not evangelize (especially if not asked regarding their faith). Is that a violation of Christ’s teaching?

Some forms of pastoral care do focus very strongly on evangelism. In these cases that intense focus makes one wonder whether they are really practicing pastoral care or a form of didactic evangelism. But in mainstream pastoral care, evangelism is discouraged. There are a few points that need to be made to deal with this issue.

A.  In some cases, it is good NOT to evangelize. In disaster response, it is best not to evangelize. When people have gone through a trauma, their minds are “scrambled.” As such, they are ill-prepared for the added stress of a major change in life direction and in allegiance. If one is looking to “add another notch” to one’s evangelism gun by getting disoriented people to mumble a prayer after you, then evangelism in disaster response makes a lot of sense. However, if one is looking to truly effect change… a better plan is needed. Additionally, cold call evangelism of hospital patients is unethical, since they are trapped in bed. It is like that church group in Texas a few years ago that invited kids to a “fun event” at a school gymnasium, chained the doors shut, and began ‘evangelizing.’ Some may respond, but it is likely others have become hardened against your message. Of course, answer questions about one’s faith with gentleness and respect (I Peter 3:15) should always be a good method.

B.  Missions sometimes gets excessively narrowed. For some, missions is about UPGs (unreached people groups), and evangelism, churchplanting, discipleship). This is pretty narrow, especially when discipleship is limited by some to refer to Bible literacy and training to repeat the process (a la the Matthew version of the Great Commission). For Jesus, missions appears to be much more holistic. He called people to follow Him (radical conversion) but He also healed, demonstrated compassion, and trained broadly in how one should live. Further, He seemed to take seriously the issue of timing.

If one stopped there, there would still be a gap between pastoral care and missions… although not a wide one. The problem is that pastoral care has tended to be a bit too Rogerian in its methodology. Rogerian counseling is client-centered, meaning that the counselor does not impose his or her way of thinking on the client. The assumption is that the truth already exists in the client– having tools to heal himself or herself, with the facilitation of the counselor. While it is good, in many ways, for pastoral care to be client-focused, in that it is focused on the needs of the client, not the desires of the counselor, pastoral care comes from a faith tradition and that needs to be relevant in the counseling encounter.

Seward Hiltner, a 20th century proponent of pastoral care, supported, in many ways, Carl Roger’s methodology. However, he noted that IF YOU DON’T GUIDE THE SHEEP, THEY WILL BE EATEN BY THE WOLVES. Without guidance, a counselor is not a pastoral counselor.

But if Pastoral Care has often been to “Rogerian,” Evangelism has often been to… “Logocentric”– if one wants to use a big term. That is, Evangelism seen only in terms of prophetic word, and only in terms of getting someone to “say the Sinner’s Prayer.” The Bible, however, uses the term Euangelizo much more broadly then simply the “good message.” But David Barrett in his book on “Evangelize! A Historical Look at the Concept” has shown that in the Bible, as well as in the Early Church, the concept had both breadth (holistic not just cognition), and depth (broadly disciplemaking, not just conversion).

Evangelism, then, is not the key tool of pastoral care. However, if one is focused not just on the felt-need of the client, but the real need of the client, evangelism (sharing the truth of Divine transformation) cannot be discounted. It takes a wise pastoral care provider to know what tools are appropriate at the right time to evoke effective growth in the client.

Summing up this third point, Pastoral Care is right not to be simply focused on the cycle of evangelism, church membership, and discipleship. That is the work of the larger church body. (Missions has also unproductively limited its role in a similar fashion.)  However, pastoral care as a movement has often tended to be too quick avoid guiding clients. Pastoral Care is supposed to be linked to a faith tradition. As such, it is important that God’s work of redemption is not ignored. It takes discernment and timing. This is very much in line with Jesus. With this modest adjustment, it seems as if Pastoral Care and Missions can (and should) work hand-in-hand.

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