Rev. Saju Joseph Director India Bible College and Seminary Kumbanad
Holistic healing of persons is the main purpose of pastoral ministry. Pastoral care and counseling is the ministry of the church, not just the duty of the ordained only. The church is called to care for persons in need. What do faith communities and their leaders offer those who need physical, psychological, and spiritual healing is the question in discussion here. What is the role of pastoral counseling in the church’s ministry of pastoral care is to be understood well.
There are churches and pastors who encourage their members to seek medical treatment for physical illness while providing visitation and intercessory prayer. Pastors and elders are less likely to refer members to counselors, treatment centers, and programs for psychosocial/spiritual problems such as depression, marital discord, parenting difficulties, post-traumatic stress, and addictions. Mental health care is sometimes viewed with suspicion as being individualistic, based on a secular belief system not in keeping with the gospel. While such concerns may occasionally be justified, this essay focuses on the role of pastoral care and counseling as a healing resource for the church, fully compatible with the life of faith. The church’s traditional response to the need for healing, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual, has focused on the redemptive power of the gospel, specific practices of pastoral care, spiritual direction, and “the cure of souls.”
A pastoral counselor’s practice of psychotherapy is theologically grounded, informed by psychological theory, and tempered through supervised clinical experience. Pastoral counselors hold the values of their faith tradition to be normative for their work. This is in contrast to a secular model of counseling that may view self-actualization and personal fulfillment as the highest goals of health, disregarding at times the necessary relational claims that family and community covenants place on individual lives. Like marriage and family therapists, pastoral counselors give attention to relational responsibilities – love of neighbor, love for self – as essential to human wholeness. But pastoral counselors also have a uniquely theological emphasis: they interpret life narratives in the context of God’s love and justice as revealed through scripture and the practices of faith communities. Pastoral counselors recognize the existential relevance for all persons.
Health is more than physical wellbeing; it includes integrity, right relationship with self, others, and God. Healing is the redemptive work of God through grace and by people of faith as co-creators of shalom, peace founded on justice and relational harmony. The pastor’s skill in pastoral care, her or his role as guide through the joys and sorrows of life, is a foundational dimension of ministry. The successful pastor needs to be an effective “people person” – good at listening and communicating, a dynamic leader, an able administrator, a community organizer, a volunteer coordinator, and a development officer. Gifts as an inspired preacher and teacher, a scholar of scripture, Christian tradition and theology are essential. To undergird all of these pastoral functions, the effective minister needs time apart to maintain his or her own disciplines of prayer, study, spiritual, psychological and spiritual renewal, including periodic retreats, continuing education events, and such basics of self care as adequate sleep, exercise, play, relaxation, and good nutrition.
A Biblical Definition of ‘Wholeness’ is the state of being perfectly well in body, soul (mind, will and emotions) and spirit. Complete sanctification and restoration. God’s original design for man before sin entered the world and now attainable only when one’s body is in heaven after the second coming of Jesus. This wholeness is unattainable while a person is alive on earth. The aim of pastoral ministry is to prepare or equip the redeemed with the qualifications for attaining this state.
Relationship with God is the spiritual dimension in a person. Bible very clearly states that by believing in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross one can begin that relationship. But through the nurturing in Church life one needs to strengthen that relationship. Pastoral care and counseling plays a very vital role in this process of heading towards spiritual wholeness in one’s life.
Holistic Healing is needed for all people who belong to various life stages, from children to the aged. Pastor and the church are very enthusiastic to minister to the children, adolescents and adults relatively in a better way then they minister to the aged and weak, because they are very promising and beneficial to to the church in different ways. But generally the weak, the aged, bed-ridden and the terminally ill are not productive and contributes nothing as such to the pastor or the church. This discrimination is to be terminated and equal opportunities and care have to be provided for all the age groups in the church.
The main areas where all healing required are spiritual, psychological, physical and social. A pastor and the church have a lot to do in nurturing growth and healing in all these spheres of one’s life.
Pastoral Care for Spiritual Growth and wholeness
The Bible pictures spiritual growth as a way of increasing beauty and purity in the lives of God’s children. The object of the Christian’s life is no longer himself, but the Lord Jesus Christ! Therefore, the beauty in the life of a Christian is not his own beauty, but the image of his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Bible speaks about the “putting off” of the old self and the “putting on” of the new person. For example, we read in Colossians 3:1-17 a beautiful description of spiritual growth. The image of God, our Creator, becomes more visible in us. Beautiful virtues like honesty, genuine love, forgiveness, kindness and speaking the truth will grow. It is as though you meet Christ Himself when you meet a Christian. Through pastoral care and church life one a person must grow spiritually or towards spiritual healing and wholeness. The regular fellowships, prayer, preaching and pastoral visits help growth in this aspect.
Pastoral Care for Psychological Growth and wholeness
The purpose of pastoral care is for the general growth of all believers. All in the church need pastoral care. But there are some who have psychological blocks who need special attention of the church and the pastor. They need counseling. Some are addicted and need to be set free, and some are troubled with trauma and post-traumatic stress. Some are walking wounded. Counseling and psychotherapies can be used by expert pastoral counselors for the growth in the psychological realm of persons. Regular personality development classes and programs also will contribute in this area.
Pastoral Care for Physical Growth and wholeness
Physical healing and facilitating physical health also come under the realm of pastoral care of the church. As a part of the ministry to the aged and palliative care to the sick and bed ridden the church has a lot to do. Pastor can use the young adults and other healthy members to assist the families of the aged and the sick ones in many ways. Assisting with the supply of food, help in the hospitals, taking turns to nurse the bed ridden at home or in the hospitals are all a pastor and the church can do for the needy. Prayer for the sick, imparting hope for the dying and counseling for the caregivers also come under this.
Pastoral Care for Social Growth and wholeness
Pastor and the church also have to take the initiative in meeting the educational and social needs of the church members. Career Guidance for the adolescents and young adults, financial support for the studies of the needy, church picnics, community service on special days, art and sports competitions, church library, distribution of responsibilities in all different church activities are various means by which the church can facilitate growth towards social wholeness.
To sum up, pastoral care is a wider umbrella under which many areas of ministry have to be included for the benefit of the believers. The pastor has to make this awareness in all the members of the church. A pastor alone can’t finish all the tasks of the pastoral care. It must be a joint effort of both the pastor and the church. Then only the holistic healing of the persons can be realized.