For an effective and fruitful ministry outcome, one can first set and follow a clear model of ministry that will be foundational yet flow outbound to other areas of relevant service. Randal Ray, the Director of Pastoral Care at Medical West in Bessemer, Alabama, shared his model of ministry with me and provided his permission to share. Below is that model of ministry which I feel aligns to Jesus’ ministry among those in need.
1) Ethical Approach The Good Shepherd enters the sheep pen in the proper way by coming through the gate, rather than using some improper and deceptive point of entry. (vv. 1-2) He has the concern and care of the sheep in mind. He would do nothing to harm them in any way. The Good Shepherd is ethical in His approach to the sheep. As pastors, chaplains, leaders and care providers our approach to those in need of care must always be ethical. We must respect the dignity of each person to whom we minister, regardless of differences in race, gender, religion, nationality or anything else. Our focus and concern must be on the individual and their needs, not ours.
2) Relational in Ministry The fact that the sheep listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice, and that He knows the sheep by name, gives evidence that a relationship has been established between the sheep and the Shepherd. (v. 3) Obviously, the Shepherd has spent time with His sheep and has learned individual characteristics that make each one unique and special. In the same way, pastoral care is best offered and received through relationship. As pastors, chaplains, leaders and care providers, we are constantly ministering to people we meet for the first time. Yet even in such settings, rapport can be established with the person by demonstrating kindness, warmth of feeling and sincerity. Being relational in ministry helps put the person more at ease, enabling them to be more likely to open up and talk about their feelings and needs, thus making effective ministry to the person more likely. And in situations where multiple visits with a person may occur, more opportunity is provided for building relationships.
3) Relevant to Need Through His relationship with the sheep, the Good Shepherd discovers their needs. He knows their need for the “green pastures” and “still waters” of Psalm 23. The Shepherd then leads the sheep to the resources relevant to their needs. (vv. 3-4) Likewise, pastoral care must be relevant to the needs of those to whom we minister. Our ministry must not become a “one-size-fits-all” approach for every person in our sphere of care. We must discover through relationship with the individual each one’s unique personal needs and provide resources relevant to those needs. Such resources may include an attentive ear, a gentle touch, an encouraging word, as well as a relevant Scripture or prayer as appropriate.
4) Intentional in Purpose Jesus stated that the Good Shepherd was intentional in His purpose to minister to the sheep. He came with the intent of providing life abundantly for His flock. (v. 10) The care-giving required of pastors, chaplains, leaders and care providers also necessitates an intentional purpose. In the midst of sickness, disease, sorrow and death, one must also be a bearer of life. We cannot afford to approach such hurting people apathetically or carelessly. Our intended purpose must be to offer them the hope and life embodied in the Good Shepherd.
5) Sacrificial of Self Being a true shepherd requires a servant’s heart. This means a willingness to put others ahead of self. Nowhere is this demonstrated better than in our Lord as the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep. (v. 11) As pastors, chaplains, leaders and care providers, we may never be called upon to give our lives for a patient, a fellow staff member or another person. However, we will be called upon to sacrifice much of self for others through our sharing of their sufferings, our weeping with those who weep, and the inconvenience of long hours and on-call emergencies when our schedules are determined by the needs of others rather than ourselves. This also requires maintaining the delicate, but important, balance between giving of ourselves and care of ourselves and our families. But our small sacrifices are worth it when we can leave a ministry situation with a sense of satisfaction knowing that the Good Shepherd has used us to touch the life of one of His sheep and helped to make the pain more bearable. I have found this model for pastoral care to be a tremendous resource. However, regardless of the setting for pastoral caregiving—church, community, healthcare, first response, military, or prison—as pastoral caregivers, the model of pastoral care provided by our Lord as the Good Shepherd offers us a proven and effective method of ministry to others in need.