In every church, of every size, meeting people's pastoral needs is a core area of minsitry. If leadership resources are already stretched, however, it can be an area in which it is all too easy to fall short, with potentially disastrous consequences.
We may notice and feel compassion when we see somebody struggling in some way, but we also need to be properly equipped in order to offer the kind of wise and practical assistance that will start to guide them back towards wholeness of life.
Earthed in Jesus' command that as his disciples we are to love one another, this book shows how home groups can be places where people's pain and difficulties are noticed, and first steps taken to help.
In theory most of us will agree that to love and care for one another is the responsibility of every Christian. We may well have a desire to create a welcoming and caring church, where the pastoral needs of all its members are met, but how well do we achieve this? Do many fall through the net because we are unaware of their particular needs? Or is it that we shy away, feeling inadequate and ill-equipped, and leave the task to others whom we see as wiser and more experienced than ourselves?
With church leadership resources being overstretched, over recent years small groups have begun to play a significant role in our churches. They provide an ideal setting for spiritual growth and, with the sense of belonging, can offer a climate in which we all feel loved, cared for and supported. As first-line pastoral carers, home group leaders have the opportunity to offer overall pastoral oversight and support to their members.
In Growing a caring church you will meet individuals within a fictitious home group setting; there is the shy person, the overworked, the stressed... The basic skills of listening are used to address the underlying issues that are causing stumbling blocks to growth and wholeness in the members' lives. There is a chapter focussed on listening and, together with the suggestions given at the end, could be used as the basis for developing our listening skills - an essential tool for all those in caring roles.
When facing a life-threatening illness the would-be carers may be particularly conscious of their own inadequacies - wondering what to say, what to do and how to respond to the emotions with which they are confronted. The book provides practical guidelines to steer you through the specifics; these are interspersed with real-life experiences.
Other issues covered include bereavement and loss, ministering to the older person, nurturing both marriage and the single person. Each chapter and the related suggestions at the end would provide the basic syllabus for initial training in pastoral skills for the creation of pastoral teams within our church families.
A way forward in your church could be to bring together existing pastoral carers - home group leaders, pastoral visitors, and so on - seeing their roles in a more integrative way; and then, with an awareness of strengths and weaknesses, work out how best to use the book to develop their pastoral skills.