One of the traditional functions of a pastor in many churches is counseling those who are going through hard times. Pastors also often refer congregants to specialists when problems extend beyond the scope of their expertise. Even with a very small church, though, this task can become overwhelming for just one person.
A pastoral care team is a group of people who fulfill this function for the church. The pastor is still likely to be involved, of course, but having a team for support helps to alleviate some of the pressure of solving everyone's dilemma. It can also help stave off the loneliness that often comes with carrying the burden of other people's pain alone.
Who Is on the Care Team?
Being on the care team is not a decision to be taken lightly. The people who accept this calling must be willing to keep an open mind and listen without judgment. They also must agree to keep everything they are told confidential. Frequent training and self-care are reasonable things to expect from care team members so that they don't cause harm to themselves or others, even in heavy situations.
Keeping all of these parameters in mind, the specific roster of your team may depend on many factors:
- What role (if any) the pastor wants to take on the team
- Who is interested and available to serve
- How much time they are willing to commit each week
- The unique qualifications they bring to the table
What Needs Does the Care Team Address?
The primary goal of the care team is to link people who are suffering with the resources they need. Almost any problem that members would take to their pastor or counselor can start with the care team. For example, if someone loses a job, the team can help that person look for a new one and provide emotional support during the process. The team members may also assess whether the church can offer temporary financial assistance if necessary.
Many churches task their care teams with providing assistance to those who are homebound and their caregivers. While the team is not qualified to give medical advice or home health care, it can be instrumental in alleviating some of the social isolation these members often experience. Home visits, shared meals and help with errands can make a big difference in the emotional and spiritual well-being of those who can't get out of the house to attend services. It also gives some relief to their primary caretakers.
What Are the Limits of the Care Team?
When it comes to assisting other people with their struggles, it is important to set and communicate clear boundaries. There are many ways of helping that go beyond what a care team is able to ethically provide.
The care team is not a substitute for medical or mental health care. Even if there are nurses, doctors, therapists or similar professionals on the team, they should still encourage those who need extensive help to talk to their own doctors. If they haven't already designated a PCP or don't have a specific person in charge of their care, the care team should refer them to a trusted colleague.
The care team is not solely responsible for solving the problems people bring to them. They can offer assistance, but the outcome is ultimately going to depend on how much work the people who come to them are committed to.
Having a care team at your church is a smart way to take some of the needs of the congregation off the pastor's plate. It ensures that everyone has a chance to be heard and cared for.