With regards to pastoral care, I’ve been given the advice many times: “Don’t spend longer than an hour with someone. If 55 minutes isn’t helpful to them, 3 hours won’t be either.”
The trouble with that advice is that it’s bunkum. Total bunkum.
I suspect it comes straight out of the counselling world where conversations are engineered one-on-one, between strangers, strictly defined as helper and helpee, in a neutral space, at a set time, divorced from the rest of the world, the rest of the week, and the whole web of relationships in which these problems are lived out. It’s all on the clock. Everything is parcelled out. Kept separate. The counsellor especially.
Is that really our model for pastoral care in the church?
For many who operate within this professionalized system, they may force themselves to listen for as much as 45 minutes before dispensing their wisdom. And, to them, that seems like a long time. I want to ask them, when is the last time you listened to somebody for three hours? You’ll remember it. And so will they.
If you think you need a PhD in psychology to figure out how people tick, I can save you a lot of time. Don’t spend 3 years listening to Freud, spend 3 hours listening to your friend. I reckon any Christian can spot the ‘dynamics’ of a person’s life if they’ve listened for 3 hours.
And, my goodness, what a taste of grace. Not receiving someone magnanimously into your busy schedule for a precious slice of your attention. Rather, leaving behind your schedule and entering into their world to give yourself to them. That sounds like the gospel doesn’t it? Jesus doesn’t dispense heavenly trinkets from a distance, He gives Himself doesn’t He? And the professional model sounds like human religion. So repent of it.
I’m not saying don’t meet up regularly to disciple and shepherd – meals, drinks, walks – put them in the diary as a regular thing, great. But you need to be prepared to drop everything, drive across country, cancel those meetings and even (ee gads!) pair back your sermon prep and give people a taste of the gospel in the way you give them your time.
The quality of your pastoral care will not be measured in the discrete hours you dole out, but in the gift of yourself to those in need.