As I noted before, I am involved in missions in the Philippines. I teach missions, but I also am the administrator of a pastoral care and counseling center, and I am the registrar for a pastoral counseling certification organization. The goals of missions and pastoral care are often quite different so I have wrestled with this a bit. The first post noted the question on whether pastoral care is, in fact Christian. Pastoral care often utilizes “non-Christian” methodologies. Additionally, some people who are not Christians describe themselves as pastoral care providers. To me this was fairly easy to resolve. The next two are a bit tougher.
Resolution #2. Can one actually do pastoral care for non-Christians? Some argue that pastoral care is meaningless unless the other person is already a Christian. I have, in fact, heard this one quite a bit.
It is built on a theological presumption that one’s spiritual journey starts from Salvation, continues through Sanctification, until ultimate Glorification. It takes a strong view of the Fall and Redemption. A different perspective takes a higher view of Creation. We are all created in the image of God and have some ability to respond to God’s call to change. As such the pastoral care roles of healing, sustaining, guiding, and reconciling are applicable when dealing with non-Christians.
This is ultimately a conflict of theological perspectives, both of which can find its Bible references. However, in missionary practice, the second viewpoint seems to be evident.
1. Non-Christians do change. The lack of personal redemption and the Spirit of God in their lives certainly limits their ability for meaningful change, but that does not imply that all change is impossible. Jesus healed the body of many before He healed their hearts.
2. Salvation is a process, even if Conversion is an event. As noted elsewhere with the Engel Scale and Gray Matrix, discipleship is a process that may start from a position of ignorance about and/or hostility with God, and continues towards steps of changes of attitude and understanding, through conversion towards growing as believer and follower of Christ. Since the process starts well before conversion, it seems foolish to presume that ministering to an unbeliever is useless.
3. Many many many people go through a process of growth outside of what is commonly accepted in Evangelical churches. The Evangelical presumption is that an individual goes through three steps: Salvation/Conversion, Joining a Faith Community, Discipleship. But for many (and even more for those from collectivist cultures) things often go in a different way. They start with joining a faith community, going through discipleship, and then at some point undergo conversion. This reality means that pastoral care occurs for such people prior to conversion.
4. Related to the above points, many nonbelievers are ready for pastoral care before they are ready for conversion. They need to see change before willing to commit. Some people are willing to do a leap of faith prior to knowing where they will land, but most people need a taste of possibilities first.
I feel that pastoral care is applicable for unbelievers, and this is quite consistent with missions principles.
<The last question will be in the final post of this series.>