The other day, I was doing some cleaning in my basement. While working in a particular corner, I walked right into a spider web. My entire face was consumed. As I tried to get loose, pieces of the web kept sticking to other parts of my body; my fingers, arms, shoulders and even my torso! I could not get free of the web's embrace no matter how hard I tried.
Later that day, I was having a conversation with a fellow pastor about discipleship, counseling and pastoral care in the local church. In a serendipitous moment, I made a connection between my bad experience with the spider's web and a positive one as it relates to pastoral care. When we think about caring for people within the context of the local church, the image of a web is helpful. We want to create a web of care so that people find it hard to hide, get lost, slip away or fall through the cracks.
I started thinking about the various strands of what that web would include. You see, a spider's web does it's job well because the spider spins many strands. A single strand will not suffice if the spider is going to catch its prey. Likewise, no single strand will suffice if the church is going to guard and feed the sheep. Here is a list of some of the strands.
Strand One: The Pastor. This is the first and most important strand, yet many churches think this is the only strand. When they do, people are not cared for. It only takes a congregation of 25 to overwhelm one pastor!
Strand Two: Spiritual Leaders. Any church worth its salt will have a number of spiritual leaders who assist the pastor and help provide stability for the people. If this is going to happen, it will mean that the lead pastor/pastors will have a vision and plan for equipping these leaders with interpersonal ministry skill.
Strand Three: Pastoral Staff. Most churches, even if they are small, have staff; a secretary, receptionist, nursery coordinator, children's minister, youth pastor and other assistant pastors. Every staff person must be adequately trained to know how best to help others grow in grace. Once again, it is the responsibility and calling of the lead pastors to provide this kind of training so that key staff are adequately able to know how to assist in the growth process of others.
Strand Four: Uniquely gifted lay-people. There are always a number of people who have gifts of mercy and are relationally strong in helping others with wise counsel. Often, they have gained these skills and character qualities through the hard knocks of life. You know who they are because people talk about how they have been helped by them. If this strand is going to be leveraged to the fullest, know who they are and create a natural but more formal connection with them and the other strands.
Strand Five: Small group leaders. In most cases, equipping for small group leaders has one of three legs missing. The two legs that are often present are: 1) training in how to lead a Bible study and 2) training in group dynamics and how to lead the group in discussion. The third leg that is often missing is what to do if an individual or couple approaches the small group leader after the meeting and asks for help with a problem in their lives. When small group leaders are given this third aspect of training, they become a vital part of the overall web of care.