I was never much for a job description. The typical listing of pastoral duties didn’t mesh very well with the intangibles, with the inward work, the subtleties and unpredictability of soul care. Then I took up Psalm 23, the very definition of pastoral care. “The LORD is my shepherd.” Our Pastor. A flock so shepherded “lacks nothing.” To be good shepherds we do what the great Shepherd of the sheep does, and we do it in league with him, or we’re good for nothing.
We Restore Souls. Sometimes the believers we care for are like people coming off a Tilt-a-Whirl. They’re unsteady in spirit, woozy. They need to sit down and clear their heads and hearts. “Here,” we say, “drink some cool water. Let me help you rest your soul.” Then we dispense the grace of God in Christ—sometimes like medicine, sometimes like perfume, and sometimes like smelling salts. We help them find spiritual space. We insist they be still. Some people will only be quiet with the Lord if we sit there with them.
We Guide God’s People on Righteous Paths. We catch up with them as they try to maneuver through teenage angst or aching age, through job loss or disorienting success, through anger or depression or decisions. Preachers and pastoral counselors are prone to think that our job is to tell people what to do, but actually it is to help their hearts find the high road of holiness. So we teach them to pray well, to trust Scripture, and to lean on their brothers and sisters. We help them set their feet on the rock, and we point them toward home.
We Help People Rest Their Fears on Jesus. “I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” is easier said than done. We open the Bible to them. We ward off predators and try to keep them from stumbling. We show them the lofty, strong parapets of God’s fortress and remind them that angels are keeping watch. We assure them that “the waves and winds still know His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.” When someone’s pastor is with them in a dark place, they can believe more easily that Jesus is with them. Pastors know what a solemn privilege it is to walk with a saint into the valley of the shadow of death, and sometimes to stand with them on that threshold till they step away into the waiting welcome of Jesus.
We Give God’s People a Taste from the Table to Come. Sometimes God’s people, Spirit-sensitized to sin and diabolically accused, have a harder time believing in grace than someone on skid row does, so we help them understand their high position, their place at God’s table, in his company, out of reach of the Enemy. We anoint them with the Spirit’s blessing and celebrate, often to their surprise, how honored they are by the Father. We serve them a holy feast with Jesus’ own invitation, “Take and eat.”
We Reinforce Their Faith in God’s Daily Goodness and Love till They Are Finally Home, Safe and Sound. How many times does a pastor reassure his people of God’s lovingkindness? And in how many ways? It is mostly what happens in counseling and pastoral calls. We give voice to all of Scripture’s faith-fortifying stories. We reiterate the promises of God and add the Amen of Christ to them all. And when we rise to speak at their funerals the shepherd’s last word is, “And they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
That’s our work. That’s our calling.
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.