“I exhort the elders… Shepherd God’s flock among you… and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” (1 Peter 5:1-4)
Poimaino (“Shepherd”) – to feed or tend to a flock. Pastors, we are so exhorted by the Apostle Peter as he passes on to us the work of ministry first assigned to him by the Lord Jesus Himself in John Chapter 21. Ours is a high, ancient calling. Admittedly, however, Peter never shepherded a flock through a worldwide pandemic. Neither have you and neither have I. This is new to all of us. And with the newness of this season come new challenges for carrying out ancient responsibilities.
Pastor, while you are maintaining organizational continuity and capitalizing on new tools for evangelism and discipleship, don’t let pastoral care slip through the cracks. Shepherds don’t just lead the flock in a unified direction; they care and provide for the sheep as well. Here are 8 segments of your congregation who may need special attention to pastoral care in this season.
1. The senior saints.
There is a lot of talk these days about senior adults being the most vulnerable among us. Many of them have never thought of themselves this way before now. Others deny it altogether. The church needs to be a safe place (physically and relationally) for senior saints. Be sure your oldest members are being communicated with and loved-on with increased intentionality through this season of social distancing. Make phone calls. Write cards. Drop off baskets. Do something – anything – to remind them of their value to humanity, to the church, and to you personally.
2. The quarantined.
Anyone who has a confirmed case of the virus, or who has been in close proximity of a person with a confirmed case, is under quarantine. Worry and fear have a tendency to thrive in insolation. Find a way to regularly stay in touch with those sheep who are quarantined from the fold. Use digital communication, phone calls, hand written cards, etc. Failure to minister to isolated sheep will be a missed opportunity to fulfill your ancient calling as a shepherd of God’s flock.
3. The hospitalized.
It grieves a good shepherd when his lambs fall ill. Never did I think the heart of a pastor could hurt so badly from the inability to visit his people in the hospital. You most likely cannot/should not visit them in person right now, but you can pray over the phone for their healing. You can drop off a note at the reception desk. You can make a short video of the staff giving words of encouragement and text it to him or her. Inability to engage in traditional forms of visitation is no excuse for lack of faithful ministry. Be creative. Ask for help. Care for the hospitalized.
4. The dying and bereaved.
The death of a saint ushers in the fullness of gospel hope. Videoconference memorial services, live streamed funerals, and closed-group gravesides are not ideal but they are helpful tools for celebration of life, closure for families, and proclamation of the hope of the gospel. Dying members need to be encouraged to embrace the hope of the gospel. Grieving families need to be reminded that for those who are in Christ there is a grief firmly affixed to eternal hope. Shepherd them – lead them – to this gospel hope using any means necessary and available.
5. The young families.
It is likely that church families with children are going stir-crazy right about now. Parents are working from home while homeschooling their children, with no social respite in sight. Young marriages already wrestling with the novelties of life together are being refined in the fires of confinement. With the pressures of our fast-paced culture being compressed in the vacuum of social isolation, your youngest families may be struggling to keep it all together. Care for them. Minister to them. Encourage them. Be the shepherd.
6. The singles.
The household of God is a spiritual family that supersedes any biological bloodline. Through COVID19, your singles have not only been isolated from their church, their jobs, and their friends; they have been completely alone with no family and no closest ones around. Period. It is entirely possible that the singles in your church have not physically interacted with anyone at all for over a month. We are created for community. We thrive in close relationship. Your singles need your attention. They need your love. They need your pastoral care right now like never before.
7. The emotionally dysfunctional.
Some may be willing to label themselves as such and others may not. The label is not important, but the ministry is. Which sheep, in the fold God has entrusted to you, are prone to emotional or mental dysfunction of some kind? Shepherd them. Love them. Encourage them. Find new ways to communicate their significance and value to the family of God, and the security of hope they can lay ahold of in Christ Jesus.
8. The occupationally displaced.
Our unemployment rate is skyrocketing. The economic fallout of COVID19 has been, and will continue to be, exponentially greater than anyone could have seen coming. Some of your people have been laid off from jobs they have held for decades. Professionals and up-comers alike are all affected; the Bear Market has been no respecter of persons. Find ways to meet benevolence needs. Post (or link to) a job board for your community. Hold videoconferences for those members who have lost their jobs recently. Do something to shepherd this segment of your flock with intentionality. They need you right now.
May the Lord grant you favor, pastor, as you fulfill the ancient calling to shepherd God’s flock among you through this season of crisis.
Grace and Peace,