Pastoral care means caring for people in difficult circumstances. It’s critical that the minister carry himself with humility. Without humility, we may speak the truth – but if we speak without love, we risk reducing our ministry to nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). When we speak hard truths, we must speak with firmness and a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1). Our love, sincerity, and integrity must be unquestioned. Full of sympathy, we speak as one sinner to another, a fellow struggler on the arduous path of Christian discipleship. Then, by God’s grace, the bonds of affection established during consistent pastoral care may sustain severely tested relationships.
The following post is part of our ‘The Work of the PCA Elder’ series. For the first post in the series, please click here.
Pastoral care is an act of love. God’s minister provides pastoral care because he loves the Word of God, and he loves God’s people. His care brings the ministry of the Word to wherever his flock is found, whether gathered before his pulpit on the Lord’s Day or in his study during the week: homes, hospitals, cemeteries, and prisons become places of the Lord’s mercy and grace. This requires that the man of God be available to his people – ready to go to them, and willing to care for them. It is the God-breathed Word that comforts the mourner, encourages the struggler, directs the confused, and rebukes the careless. The caring pastor trains his congregation in righteousness.
Biblical pastoral care does not exist apart from the ministry of the Word, and the Word must be ministered wherever the Lord opens for the pastor a door of opportunity.
Theodore Beza (1519-1605) understood that the caring pastor is out and among his flock:
It is not only necessary that [a pastor] have a general knowledge of his flock, but he must also know and call each of his sheep by name, both in public and in their homes, both night and day. Pastors must run after lost sheep, bandaging up the one with a broken leg, strengthening the one that is sick… In sum, the pastor must consider his sheep more dear to him than his own life, following the example of the Good Shepherd.
As we care for God’s people, five words come to mind: prayer, planning, accountability, mentoring, and tone.
Pastoral care is a spiritual work. Just as the pastor would never enter the pulpit without praying for his own clear proclamation of the Word and his congregation’s reception of it, neither should he conduct his pastoral care apart from prayer. Prayer before entering a home or hospital, prayer with those visited, and prayer for continued blessings after his departure.
People regularly share matters with pastors that need his earnest prayer. I carry a pocket notebook. When someone shares a concern or prayer request, I write it down. My memory is not trustworthy. When I get back to my study, I enter a follow-up time to my calendar.
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By Andrew J. Miller — 2 months ago
Written by Andrew J. Miller |
Thursday, December 28, 2023
We rely on the Spirit to apply to us all the blessings of Jesus. Jesus accomplishes redemption and the Spirit applies it to us. Christ’s death purchased life, and that life is manifested in us by the power of the Spirit, who is a person, who will do what He wills, not just a power like “the force” from Star Wars. We can do nothing apart from the Holy Spirit, applying to us the blessings won by Christ.
One astonishing yet unappreciated truth of Christianity is that salvation in Jesus Christ contains not just future heavenly life but also present transformation by the Spirit. God changes the believer to be more like Himself.
It’s a good thing, too, because day after day we bring misery on ourselves by our sin. Taking a page from our first parents, we shift the blame for the problems of our world. Like Adam blaming God and Eve in Genesis 3:12, we point the finger and try to exonerate ourselves. We blame our circumstances for our unhappiness. While certainly the problems posed by circumstances and others are significant and not to be downplayed, the Bible reminds us that our sin is the greatest contributor to our own misery. Poor politicians or policies, severe poverty, bad health, an unhealthy marriage—these are all true difficulties that should be addressed as appropriate. Yet, as 17th century persecuted Scottish minister Robert Fleming wrote, “In the worst of times, there is still more cause to complain of an evil heart than of an evil world.” Or as Martin Luther said, “I am more afraid of my own heart than of the pope and all his cardinals. I have within me the great pope, self.”
The Bible confirms this: we can’t blame others (James 4:1-4), or God himself—he tells his people of his generosity and desire to bless: “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it. But My people would not heed My voice, And Israel would have none of Me” (Psalm 81:10-11).
This means that sanctification—God putting our sin to death and making us love what he loves—is of tremendous benefit to us! As our gracious Triune God sanctifies us little by little, we treasure him above all, and are less troubled by our circumstances. “A man that has God for his portion is [unequalled]…he is the rarest and the happiest man in the world…Nothing can make that man miserable that has God for his portion…” As we grow in sanctification, we grow in joy and peace. Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 90 asks and answers: “What is the rising-to-life of the new self?
By Justin E. Estrada — 1 year ago
Written by Justin E. Estrada |
Monday, January 16, 2023
Representatives from “every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9), will open the door so that Jesus might come in to them and eat with them, and they with Him (Revelation 3:20), anticipating that final meal of covenantal peace at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6–8), when Jesus will usher in the new heavens and the new earth, void of brokenness, curse, and want, full of shalom, forevermore.
It was a blustery English day, and—a little late, a lot wet—I hurried into my professor’s office for my Hebrew tutorial. Embarrassed, I offered a cordial but rushed Hebrew greeting, “Shalom.” He watched quietly as I took out materials for our lesson, and then responded: “Justin, shalom is more than a simple hello; it declares the health of our relationship. Draw out the vowels, give the word weight, because we have peace, and that’s no small thing.” It was a kind method of restoration and instruction: we could proceed in peace—he even offered tea and biscuits.
In a world racked with strife, it may seem obvious to declare peace “no small thing”; but the biblical understanding of peace—the word shalom in Hebrew, translated into Greek as eirn—involves much more than the absence of conflict. Shalom expresses wholeness, blessing, and completeness, exemplified by the perfection of God’s creation and the unimpaired, harmonious relationships of God with His creatures and His creatures among themselves. God speaks shalom into existence (Isa. 45:7), and the entirety of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, chronicles His intention to restore it to fallen humanity, that the word issued from His mouth—shalom—might not return to Him empty but accomplish His purpose of peace, blessing, and wholeness.
In the beginning, the God of shalom, perfect in wholeness, blessing, and completeness among His three persons, creates all things in six days, all very good. Creation resembles its Creator, and He invites it to share in His peace—particularly man, whom He makes in His image. He gives Adam a helpmate to complete him, a garden with every good thing to eat, and a purpose to multiply and take dominion of creation so that he might be whole. It is a state of shalom, and you can almost hear the jubilant greetings of “peace be with you” as the Lord descends from His cosmic throne to walk in peace with Adam and Eve through the garden.
Unexpectedly, a frightening scene transpires one day: God’s arrival in the garden for fellowship goes ungreeted. Shalom has been broken through man’s transgression. Adam now fears nakedness as incompleteness; he accuses his wife of harming him rather than making him whole; and he finds the fruit a curse rather than a blessing. Adam and Eve flee and hide, trembling at the expectation of judgment rather than peace (Gen. 3:8–11).
In the face of this misery, God speaks remarkable words of shalom to them. Little wonder that Paul describes the peace of God as passing all understanding (Phil. 4:7); in the midst of judgment against rebellion, God comforts His children with the promise of peace through One who would crush the head of the lying, murderous serpent (Gen. 3:14–15). Man’s sin has turned them away, their fallen condition corrupting harmony into hostility—vividly represented in the exile—but God is determined to bless them through this Seed of the woman and to restore to Himself a remnant—vividly represented by the sacrifice that produces garments to cover nakedness.
God’s pronouncements at the sudden shattering of shalom portend a slow, costly restoration—but nothing will overturn His irenic purposes. Fallen humanity undermines creation’s harmony, but God intervenes (against all reasonable expectation), and His judgments carry forward His program of peace. The flood cleanses a world ailing under a decaying moral order (Gen. 6–9), and the scattering from the Tower of Babel reignites the creation mandate (Gen. 11:1–9). In an aimless world, God plucks up a displaced wanderer, Abraham—bereft of family and home—and gifts him with wholeness: divine fellowship and a son to his barren wife. This restoration of shalom in Abraham is not an end in itself, but an illustration and a means by which God will restore shalom to all the nations through his offspring—the Seed of the woman who will descend from the great nation of Abraham’s descendants (see Gen. 12:1–3; Gal. 3:15–18).
This great nation, Israel, emerges only after a long travail in virtual death in Egypt, for like father Abraham, they will serve as an example and means toward shalom. Their slavery results from the unwholesome curse, their deliverance from God’s power: through Israel all nations will know this. On eagles’ wings He brings them to Mount Sinai, formalizing with them a covenantal relationship of and unto peace, expressed by an invitation for the representatives of Israel to “see” Him and feast with Him without fear (Ex. 24:9–11). He sets a blessed precedent rehearsed regularly in Israel through the peace offering—a sacrifice and feast of covenantal solidarity (Lev. 3:1–17)—as well as through the Aaronic congregational benediction of shalom (Num. 6:24–26).
On the whole, God’s covenantal people fail to live under and testify to His program of shalom. He instructs them with His peacemaking characteristics through the Mosaic law, and the sacrificial system illuminates His plan to overcome death, but the Old Testament church time and again shatters shalom by preferring fellowship with false gods and peace with the enemies of God (see Num. 25:1–2). Even David, inheritor of God’s covenantal promises, flees from God into the arms of sin (2 Sam. 11), and his son Solomon—whose name means “peace”—leads all Israel in apostasy and establishes a pattern of sin that ultimately provokes God’s judgment against His people. As the crescendo of sin rises to mute God’s warnings against this Edenesque cycle of destruction, the false prophets preach “ ‘peace,’ when there is no peace” (Ezek. 13:10), and God again sends His people—first Israel, then Judah—into exilic judgment.
By this point, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that even at the exilic breaking of shalom, God speaks words of comfort. Israel has broken shalom and misled the nations, raising the question, When will the Messiah, the Seed of the woman, come and finally establish true shalom? When will the Prince of shalom usher in a new covenant era (Isa. 9), instituting a permanent realm of peace (Isa. 11)? When will God’s people “seek peace and pursue it” (Ps. 34:14) and all the nations come together in this glorious place of rest (Isa. 11:10)?
All spheres of creation give answer to this question at the birth of the incarnated Son of God, Jesus. Zechariah declares that He will “guide our feet into the way of peace”; the angels extol His arrival as “peace among those with whom [God] is pleased!” (Luke 1:79; 2:14). Expectations of the Seed of the woman are not disappointed: what a kingdom of shalom! Jesus addresses physical and spiritual malady alike, proclaiming “liberty to the captives . . . blind . . . [and] oppressed” (Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18). Perhaps nothing identifies Jesus as Prince of Peace more than when He establishes His new covenant of peace with representatives of the New Testament church—the Apostles. He offers food and drink in everlasting fellowship, the bread and wine representing His very body and blood, the means by which His words will take effect: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). At the crucifixion, God speaks shalom in its final utterance, for Jesus “was pierced for our transgressions; . . . upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). This pouring out of God’s wrath against sin becomes another flood of cleansing: a river of shalom pouring out from Jesus’ side, the atoning blood of the cross reconciling those for whom He died to their Father in heaven, restoring to them wholeness, completeness, and blessing (see Isa. 66:12; Col. 1:20).
Thoughts on the Church’s True Nature and Mission: A Partial Rejoinder to Larry Ball’s Challenge to the Spirituality of the ChurchBy Tom Hervey — 9 months ago
The church has a definite purpose to accomplish, which her Lord has provided her with the authority, gifts, and power to achieve. It is her business to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded. This will often result in great social, economic, and political consequences, yet the church’s purpose is not to seek socio-political reform as such, but to reconcile men to God so that, being in the right relation to him, they may in turn stand in the right relation to their fellow men.
What is called ‘the spirituality of the church’ seems to be rather unfashionable at present. In its most recent consideration we find longtime PCA minister Larry Ball inveighing against what he regards as its weaknesses. He says:
The term “spirituality of the church” has become one of those phrases that often stops all further conversation about the relationship between church and state. Few Christians ever question the meaning of the phrase. It assumes that the church should remain silent about all political matters. Although the expression does not appear in any of our confessional standards, it has become a doctrine of Presbyterianism as sacrosanct as any one of the five points of Calvinism. No one is allowed to challenge it without being labeled with a pejorative term.
I fear, as a supporter of the truth which this purports to challenge, that I shall contradict nearly everything above. I shall question the meaning of the phrase spirituality of the church. I shall deny that the concept requires silence about all political matters. I shall dissent from the suggestion that it is as sacrosanct as the doctrines of grace, and shall ponder its church-state implications. Above all, I shall forgo labeling Larry Ball pejoratively for challenging it.
Ball first inveighs against interpreting the term in light of “Greek dualism” that “assumes that the spiritual is the higher good and that the physical is the source of evil.” That would be mistaken, but I am not aware that anyone does such a thing. The spirituality of the church does not refer to the church’s essence, as such, nor posit that other institutions like the state have a lower essence. Its corollary is not ‘the physicality of the state.’ A solely spiritual, non-corporeal essence can only be asserted of the church triumphant in heaven. The church militant on earth is a physical, visible institution that does indeed have physical concerns that fall under its purview, not least in its charitable and diaconal affairs.
He then inveighs against the church’s spirituality if it “means that the church must not speak to political issues because we live in a pluralistic society, and we must not impose our views on others.” This is a large topic, full consideration of which is not possible here. He is correct that the church should not refrain from truth-telling merely for fear of offending infidels. If we keep silent we may rest assured that others will not. However, there is scriptural warrant for not giving needless offense (Acts 15:19-22) and for not taking the side of any political faction (1 Cor. 1:10-16; 3:3-4; see footnote). The spirituality of the church does not mean keeping quiet to avoid offending per se, but it does mean refraining from behavior that does not directly fall under her duty of making disciples. The question in any case of proposed church action is whether it is a part of that duty, and if it is not then she ought to refrain from it.
Third, he says that the concept is sound if it “means that there are two realms ordained by God and they must remain separate.” This is close to what is properly in view in the ‘spirituality of the church.’ The state and the church are both ordained by God (Matt. 22:21), the former to rule in civil and the latter in spiritual affairs. There is some overlap in their respective concerns, however, which makes it somewhat unhelpful to speak of two realms that “must remain separate.” In addition, there are other authorities established by God (especially the parental/familial) that have their place in human affairs.
While the church does not have any business administering the affairs of the state or family, and vice versa, the church is nonetheless still subject to the state’s authority. She must comply with fire codes, abuse reporting requirements, etc., and her officers are as liable to criminal prosecution and civil liability as other citizens. In addition, there are matters which fall under the jurisdiction of both church and state. An abuser would incur the church’s censure and the state’s indictment, for example, and there are many matters that receive the ban of both church and state in their respective capacities as ministerial/declarative and force-wielding authorities (say, polygamy). It would perhaps be better to say that there are different aspects of life in this world that are governed by these various authorities in their different ways.
Now I assert the following. First, the term ‘spirituality of the church’ is not the best available. Its weakness is that ‘spirituality’ has several meanings, and that it is not obvious which of these is in view. Spirituality/spiritual can mean having a spiritual essence; being guided by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13, 15); dealing with the invisible realm that includes angels (Eph. 6:12); or can refer to the part of man that animates his body.
Many of the proponents of what is called the spirituality of the church do not use that exact term: it does not appear in Thornwell, who gave the doctrine in “its most classic form” (in Sean Lucas’ phrase), nor in Stuart Robinson’s The Church of God As An Essential Element of the Gospel that David Coffin – probably our most learned minister on this topic – regards as the masterpiece on the doctrine. Dabney refers to the concept as “the church’s spiritual independence” in discussing a minister who suffered on its account. Elsewhere C.R. Vaughn called it “the non-secular character of the church.” The exact phrase “spirituality of the church” first appears, as near as I can tell (but I am no authority here), in Henry Van Dyke Sr.’s speech objecting to the General Assembly’s actions regarding the United States’ war aims in 1864. (And inconveniently for the scholars who like to imagine that the concept was dreamed up by southerners to justify slavery, he happened to be a minister in Brooklyn.) It occurs only twice in that speech, which is called “The Spirituality and Independence of the Church.”
What term is preferable then? The truth in view does arise from the church’s concern with spiritual affairs and its powers of government and teaching being spiritual in nature. Yet it also arises from the church’s independence viz., other authorities, as well as from its role as an ambassador of Christ that represents his claims to the world (which also implies its independence and otherness). For my part, I do not think the concept requires a single term, nor that it is always advantageous to summarize all that it entails with a single phrase. It is an inferred doctrine, in many respects, that arises from various aspects of the church’s nature, role, and relations, and in many cases, it is best discussed at length.
Second, the concept does not preclude all political involvement. The church reserves the right to treat those things that would infringe upon her independence, such as laws restricting her freedom of speech or ability to assemble. Vaughn speaks of the church having “political duties,” says “these duties when done involve no breach whatever on its true spiritual sphere,” and objects to the northern church’s “political deliverances” because they were excessive and “entirely transcended the duty of the church” (emphasis mine).
Third, the doctrine is largely useless as a defense against ‘social justice’ in the church if taken in isolation. For on the conception of our would-be reformers, all matters are moral and have spiritual significance: for them politics is the highest expression of piety, for they believe that the prophetic injunctions to seek justice entail their version of justice, rather than the particular requirements of God’s law (Isa. 8:20). To be useful the doctrine has to be abetted by polemics that show the social activists’ aims and notions are incorrect. It is insufficient to simply say the church is a spiritual/redemptive institution, for they believe social justice is of the essence of redemption and pure spirituality. The concept must not proceed alone, then, but in company with other arguments and teachings about the nature of justice, salvation, individual responsibility before God, etc.
Fourth, the doctrine assumes the separation of church and state, but is not strictly synonymous with it. Saying that church and state are separate does not necessarily say anything about the proper nature and function of each, nor discuss their proper relations in those matters in which both have a part (e.g., morality). Even established churches have the duty of not meddling in most affairs of state, hence Van Dyke quotes the Anglican Toplady criticizing the divines of his church for bumbling by involvement in politics.
Fifth, the doctrine is meant to defend the church from being co-opted by politicians and the state, to the neglect of its concern with redemptive affairs. Those people who are infamous for their expediency and lack of scruples, for whom even plain honesty and simplicity of speech are too much to ask, would not hesitate to use the holy church of God for mere political advantage, thus making it worldly, profaning its message, and turning its focus from heaven to earth. In such an unholy alliance of the spiritual and the political the church would be reduced to a propaganda arm to a certain wing of their constituents, but would receive little of spiritual significance in return.
Sixth, the concept is somewhat embattled in that its greatest opponent, the revolutionary spirit, wishes to subsume everything under itself and has, as such, brought practically all matters into controversy. We live in an age in which everything is political because there is a great body of men in this country who wish for everything to be subjected to the control of the state down to the most minute particulars. It is a matter of political controversy to assert there are only two sexes. It is a matter of politics to spank one’s own offspring. It is a matter of politics for the church to exist or operate at all; and that arises, not because she has transgressed the distinction between the civil and the ecclesiastical, but because her enemies have done so. She may expect to be accused of indefensible meddling where she does not belong as a matter of course, for her very existence is hateful to many. Yet that does not mean that she should regard the matter of civil/ecclesiastical distinctions as a moot point and throw herself wholly into the arms of the enemies of her enemies. She has a proper mission of spiritual redemption even where she is the target of political opposition.
Now I have been writing inductively, as it were, discussing various facets of this important concept without giving a clear definition of it. In sum, what is in view is that the church has a definite purpose to accomplish, which her Lord has provided her with the authority (2 Cor. 10:8; 13:10), gifts (Eph. 4:7-16), and power (Acts 1:8) to achieve. It is her business to make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). This will often result in great social (Acts 17:6; 19:19), economic (Acts 19:25-28), and political consequences, yet the church’s purpose is not to seek socio-political reform as such (Jn. 18:36), but to reconcile men to God so that, being in the right relation to him, they may in turn stand in the right relation to their fellow men (Matt. 22:37-40; Jn. 13:34-35; Gal. 5:13-14; 1 Tim. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:13-25; 1 Jn. 4:4-20). The corollary of this is that activities which are not directly involved in this mission are excluded from the proper realm of church action. This includes all questions of a purely political or social character, and many others (educational, philanthropic, artistic, etc.) besides. For the church to give itself to such affairs is to transgress the proper bounds of its task and to risk being weighed down with the affairs of this life (Lk. 21:34) to the neglect of fulfilling its appointed task.
Tom Hervey is a member of Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Five Forks (Simpsonville), SC. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not of necessity reflect those of his church or its leadership or other members. He welcomes comments at the email address provided with his name.
 The real dualistic conception is between the kingdom of Christ and that of Satan.
 If intra-ecclesiastical factions are forbidden, as the passages from 1 Corinthians here suggest, how much more alliances between believers and unbelievers in questions of temporal politics (comp. 2 Cor. 6:14-16) in which believers themselves might be divided (comp. 1 Cor. 6:1-8)!