Here is a familiar question: How can pastors afford to spend much of their time counseling when they have sermons to prepare, visits to make, and a million other things to do? A common refrain from a pastor sounds like this: “I can meet with someone once, but I do not have time to meet regularly with people for ongoing counseling.”
It’s true. Say “counseling” to a group of pastors and some of them will run because they think you are going to add ten hours to a week that is already pushing physical limits. So, no added hours. Honest. Here are two ways to grow your face-to-face ministry of the Word that shouldn’t overburden your schedule.
Ten-minute pastoral care
The pastor I observed the longest was Jack Miller at New Life Presbyterian Church (Glenside, PA). He was beloved and highly respected by the congregation for his pastoral care. When I knew him, he was mentoring leaders but essentially did no longer-term counseling. So how did he do pastoral care for people in the church? He would spend an average of ten minutes with someone, usually after the Sunday service or on the phone. It would look something like this: he would spend six to seven minutes carefully listening, one minute offering encouragement, and two minutes praying. As a recipient of this care, I can testify that it was, indeed, the best of pastoral care and counsel.
One reason this worked is that Jack was a seasoned pastor and could quickly identify important matters that those who are less experienced might miss, but it was the praying, right then and there, that was most important.
Ten-minute equipping the saints
Most pastors realize that there are more spiritually needy people in an average sized church than one person can possibly care for, so most pastors do not attempt to handle the entire ministry themselves. The prominent way to meet those needs is to mobilize the body of Christ to care for each other (Eph. 4:12).
There are dozens of ways to do this, but one that won’t add extra time is to use Jack Miller’s approach with an added twist. When you are talking to someone who has a particular burden, stop at the six-minute mark and invite the nearest person in the room to come over and pray with you. Give that new person a thirty-second summary, which will also be a step toward biblically framing the matter, and then both of you pray for the burdened person. The new person has just been discipled in how to pray for someone, which is the heart of pastoral care. He or she will be more likely to do that with the next person who needs help. Rather than just saying, “I’ll pray for you,” he or she will pray right then and there and have a better sense of how to do it.
The goal is not to reduce pastoral care to blog-sized pieces. There will always be a few people in the church with whom you walk more closely over a longer period of time. The goal is to redeem as many pastoral conversations as possible and to mobilize more of the church to take part.