Minister’s Letter, June 2013

Dear Friends,

I recently spent some time with a colleague whose approach to ministry differs markedly from my own. Both of us responded to God’s call to serve him in ministry in the Church of Scotland, both of us are committed to the work of building Christ’s kingdom. Yet we are very different people, called by God and motivated to serve him.

In our discussions, my colleague made me think carefully about the pastoral work that is done to support people in Christ’s name in our congregations. Are the people whom a minister pastors friends, or acquaintances, or simply people in the pews who might call on the minister in a time of need or for some other reason?

I have always begun my minister’s letter with the words “Dear friends…”but should I think of changing how I begin my letter after 16 years in ministry?

There are different models of pastoral care that I learned about in the lecture halls of St Mary’s College, St Andrews University, almost 20 years ago (I am reminded of the opening line of the Beatles’ song Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band). It won’t surprise you that I got rid of my lecture notes on pastoral counselling a long time ago, not because I think I know it all, but due to limited storage space.

One model of pastoral care is called the “Wounded Healer”. The Christian writer Henri Nouwen describes this model of pastoral concern for others in his book by the same name. In this approach, the pastor recognises his/her own pain, fear and loss. The pastor has entered into these sorrowful experiences of life, addressed them, and come through the difficulties with renewed hope. We might think of sharing in Jesus’ suffering as the biblical grounds for the “Wounded Healer” model. “For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for yourcomfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort”[2 Cor. 1:5–7].

Another model for pastoral care is that of the “Shepherd”. In John’s Gospel10:11 & 10:14, Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd”. Jesus is expanding on the Old Testamentimagery of God’s shepherd-like qualities with his people (see Ps. 23:2; Ezekiel 34:11–31; Isa. 40:11 and other places). In his book Rediscovering Pastoral Care, Alastair Campbell writes: “The shepherd leads, guides, nurtures, heals, seeks out the lost, brings the scattered flock back together and protects from harm” [1]. Yet the shepherd must also be tough, decisive and courageous in pastoring God’s flock.

The third model is called the WiseFool”. There is an ambiguity that goes along with this. Foolishness might provoke mockery and derision, but it can also be used to show wit and humour, love and concern. We might turn to the apostle Paul’s words: “Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise […] he should become a ‘fool’ so that he may become wise” [1 Cor. 3:18].

Reading and reflecting on pastoral care is backed up by getting on with the task. I am sure, depending on the circumstances, I have used all three models at different points in my ministry – hopefully intuitively.

But back to the words “Dear friends...” at the start of the minister’s letter. In John’s account of the upper room, Jesus refers to those gathered with him as friends” [John 15:15], but that friendship went alongside his role as their Lord and master. In other words, there were some boundaries within the friendship that he showed.

In the work of pastoral care there are certainly boundaries to be observed. Peter Scazerro, Senior Pastor of the New Life Fellowship, Queens, New York, in his book The Emotionally Healthy Church, describes certain people as those who “jump over the bridge” [2]. He means that some people regularly get themselves into trouble of one kind or another, or perhaps they frequently cause problems in the life of a church community. His sound advice is that the pastor should never jump over the bridge with them. The pastor/minister needs to develop some boundaries, perhaps a number of them, if he is to minister effectively and in Christ’s love.

So will I continue to begin my minister’s letter with the words Dear friends…”? I certainly hope that I shall.

Your minister and friend,


[1] Rediscovering Pastoral Care by Alastair V. Campbell. 2nd Edition 1986. Darton, Longman and Todd, p 28.

[2] The Emotionally Healthy Church: A Strategy for Discipleship that Actually Changes Lives, Updated Ed., by Peter L. Scazerro & Warren Bird. 2010. Zondervan, see chapter 8.