One of the privileges of serving in the ministry is the opportunity to be “pastor” to people in times of joy and in times of adversity. Having that “ministry of presence” and simply being there are greatly appreciated by parishioners in need.
I may be slightly biased, but I strongly believe every person needs a pastor and church family to support and walk with them during life’s critical moments: weddings, births, hospitalizations and surgeries, deaths, family crises, celebrations and losses.
One of the first questions that come to mind when I hear bad news is, “Do they have a pastor?” Right behind that question is, “Do they have a church family that will support them through this crisis?”
Being God’s instrument of pastoral care is a great responsibility that ministers take very seriously. There are times, however, when pastors can’t minister because members fail to inform them of their need. Only God is all-knowing. The rest of us need to be informed when a ministry opportunity arises. Blessed is the helpful member who gives the pastor a ministry prompt by sharing when a person may need a call or visit because of something going on in his or her life.
When do you call on your minister? Presbyterian minister Daniel Hamby published a list entitled “Ten Times to Call a Pastor.” I have revised it slightly:
1. Call your minister before going to the hospital if possible. If surgery is scheduled, many ministers make every effort to see you beforehand to have prayer and to affirm confidence in God’s care. Sometimes this prayer support happens the day before, or maybe in the hospital room before surgery. Or, these days, prayer may happen over the phone because of visitation restrictions.
2. Call your minister before your marriage reaches the breaking point. Most ministers are available and willing to help. Many pastors do not do in-depth counseling, but will refer you to skilled, trained professionals for help. Pastors want to help strengthen your marriage or family.
3. Call your minister before planning your wedding. Many ministers require premarital counseling in some form and often this requires several months of meetings before the actual wedding date.
4. Call your minister before a young person goes to college or to the armed services. Pastors want to keep up with what’s going on with their young people.
5. Call your minister before making funeral arrangements. He will be sensitive to helping in planning a funeral service that meets your needs and desires. He will provide support in a time of grief. When death occurs, the minister should be among the first notified.
6. Call your minister when a difficult decision confronts you. Life changing decisions should not be made alone. Most ministers can help people think through the options that face them in life. They can certainly join you in praying for God’s guidance.
7. Call your minister when you or someone you know needs help. Most ministers will readily admit there are few easy answers these days but ministers also know about resources and options which can help.
8. Call your minister when you are slipping into depression. Kierkegaard called spiritual depression “the dark night of the soul.” When God seems far off or prayer seems unreal, ministers are there to help you reassess the reality and confidence of the Christian faith.
9. Call your minister when a baby is born. One of the greatest joys of ministry is standing by the bedside of new parents, sometimes holding the newborn, and gushing with the parents and grandparents. Ministers want to rejoice with the new parents and ask God’s blessing on the child.
10. Call your minister when you have questions about your faith, or about your church. When you wonder about the meaning of your faith, let your minister know of your questions and struggles. Ministers will gladly help. When you need information about some process or matter in church life, go “straight to the top” and seek first-hand information. If the minister doesn’t know, he’ll be glad to find the answer or information.
Ministers are here to help. They love God and God’s people and are called and privileged to serve.
[David L. Chancey is pastor of McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Ga. The church family invites you to visit www.mcdonoughroad.org for more information and online worship options. Visit www.davidchancey.com to see more of Chancey’s writings, including information on how to order his latest book.]