Pastoral Care or Discipleship

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are working hard among you, those who are guiding you in the Lord and confronting you in order to help you change. 1Th 5:12

A modern German translation puts this verse as follows:

Brothers and sisters, we ask you to recognize those to whom the Lord has given responsibility over your church, the ones that are without seizing working amongst you and give you pastoral care and counsel.

(In German we even came up with a new word: Seelsorge. Soul care – care for your soul. But also “soul worry”.)

Let’s look at the implications of this translation. What does it say that the responsibilities of the leaders of a church are? To work hard without seizing in the church and to take care of our souls.

I think this translation springs from the prevalent view of church today in western society. The pastor as the never tired worker that is to treat our wounds, heal our souls. In Swiss German we have a word for this “Päschele”. It is derived from pasha. To treat somebody like a pasha.

This leads to the definition of Seelsorge, of soul care: to care for somebodies soul is an ongoing, long lasting  process of analysis and healing wounds of ones soul, usually meaning emotions.

How much different the translation given above from the Complete Jewish Bible.

I first notice that it does not talk about those having been given responsibilities for the church. It is too easy to de-individualize church, to see it as an organization or a building or just a crowd. This is about you and me. God has given people to guide you. (Yes, to guide you, not rule over you.)

About the part “those who are working hard among you”: another German translation puts it like this: “those who plod and toil among you”. Even this becomes personal: am I the reason for their toiling? And how can I change that?

Another difference: confronting you to help you change. In Greek: to put or plant something in your mind. In German: to straighten you out.

Immediately I think of our task to change our thinking.

Pastoral care, counseling, cure of souls – it is even called “pastoral duty”, defining the office of the pastor rather unidimensional – today often is nothing but fighting symptoms. Our emotional wounds often result from wrong thinking patterns, wrong understanding. Wrong expectations lead to disappointment. Wrong thinking patterns birth destructive behavior that lead to fatal wounds. By the way – we often forget that our mind is part of our soul.

Does it help to treat the wounds, the outcome, the symptoms? Absolutely. But as long as we do not change the thinking patterns this results in mainly one thing: dependency. Pastoral care becomes a perpetual motion machine. Ever new wounds have to be treated anew, to be cared for afresh.

How many years did Jesus treat Mary of Madgala’s past and burdens? How long did Jesus need to heal Peter from the blow he took betraying him? In any of the Gospels do we read of repetitive pastoral counseling sessions, but of the healing and restoring impact of forgiving and the word spoken in authority – sozo, complete restoration and deliverance of body, soul, and spirit – and ongoing teaching and training. Discipling. A change of thinking. “Brain wash” instead of counseling. Setting straight.

To go for pastoral care is easy – once you come past your pride, man. Everybody loves to be cared for, to be the centre of the universe. But that is childish. A sign of an immature christian. This is an important, but short time. We grow!

Another model:

Church as a family. Functioning relationships, taking care of each other – with encouragement, comfort, building up. Build up one another, even one another’s faith. And fathers, an apostolic team, gifted by God to straighten you out if necessary.

Make disciples.

For Jesus has given to the church:

  • apostles to instill vision and direction, to give focus to our thinking and therefore doing
  • prophets to encourage and admonish in the Lord
  • evangelists to teach us to share our hope, and thus live out of hope
  • pastors to instill a culture of honor and mutual support
  • teachers to help us change our thinking

Fathers with hearts turned towards their sons.

Sons with hearts turned towards their fathers.

When we decide to turn our hearts towards out fathers that God gave us – or as our verse puts it: to respect those who are working hard among us, those who are guiding us in the Lord and confronting us in order to help us change – it suddenly is possible to fight the cause instead of the symptoms. To be healed and set free. To see that I am healed and totally free, I just do not believe it quite yet. Because our thinker is slow to catch on. And that slowness causes my soul to be hurt over and over again – through our behavior patterns. Blame your thinker! But do not stop there. Change it.

Teachable people sit with the wise to become wise.

This is church: a family, a wonderful surrounding, where I can learn, make my mistakes, but am cared for. Where I am loved just as I am, but loved so much that nobody wants me to stay where I am. A place of growth. A gathering of great sons with an urge to grow.

Most important ingredient? The willingness to change. A teachable heart.

I know this is a controversial article. What are your thoughts?