How can elders provide better pastoral care for their congregations?
The place to begin is with elders themselves. How in touch are they with their own spiritual journeys? How often do they ask each other where God is in their lives? How committed are they to a regular discipline of prayer and study? It is very difficult to extend to others what one does not possess. The well from which we draw must be deep enough to draw from again and again.
At the same time, many ministers and elders have learned that extending pastoral care to others enriches their own spiritual lives. However, it's important to keep in mind that when we care for others only to feed ourselves, the one served knows he or she is not the subject of our love but rather the object of our need. The words of Jesus call us to empty ourselves in service and love so we may be filled.
Pastoral care requires good listening skills, intentional visits, and empathetic care. Busy people often do not pause to ask deeply spiritual questions. Elders can help people reflect on deeper matters by engaging them in quiet moments of conversation, practicing a disciplined life of prayer for others, and leading small groups that reflect on God's presence and grace. Elders can also visit those who are in the hospital, homebound, and in nursing homes and those who seek the counsel of a trusted friend. These are the same suggestions for pastoral care that were offered to the early church two thousand years ago. Putting them into practice may require some creative planning, but people and their pastoral care needs have changed little over the centuries.