AT OUR recent elders' council, we spent much time discussing ways in which we as ministers and local elders can be of greater help to our people. We recognize that many in our midst need pastoral care and are not getting it, largely because we don't know the immediate problem, and they are reticent in calling us. The problem is to get both parties together in time of need.
We ministers have been frequently reproached for not making a hospital call or sympathy visit, when as a matter of fact we didn't know the need existed. Our desire is to reduce the number of such happenings to a minimum. No one feels worse than the shepherd himself if a real need has not been met.
The question seems to resolve itself to this: Do my people know that help is available? Maybe we have been reproaching you for failing to do something you had never been invited to do. Everyone knows that he should turn to the spiritual leader in time of bereavement, but do most people realize that the minister or elder can be helpful in many other situations also?
As a result of our counseling it was decided to mention ten different situations when, in our opinion, the person involved should call the minister or one of the elders. The list does not exhaust the occasions when the minister can be helpful but is given to indicate that there are many times when he can bring to you the resources of the Christian faith.
1. Before going to the hospital. Every minister has heard this: "I was in the hospital and the minister never even came to visit me." He cannot visit you unless he knows you are in the hospital! If there is to be surgery he would like to pray with you beforehand, either at home or in the hospital. If you are going for other reasons, he would like to call on you sometime during your hospitalization.
2. Before you engage a lawyer. This does not mean before engaging a lawyer for any purpose, but when a husband and wife are considering a separation. Too often the minister is consulted only after all arrangements have been settled, and in effect he is asked to give his blessing to decisions already made. Possibly you may need a lawyer, but when you take the Christian view of marriage seriously you will wish to talk your situation through with the minister long before matters proceed to the point of no return.
3. When a baby is born. When a baby is born the minister would like to call while the mother is still at the hospital, to rejoice with her and ask God's blessing on the child.
4. When you would like to talk or pray about a difficult situation. The big decisions of life are so important that they should be talked through and prayed about before one acts. Whom shall I marry? What shall I do as my lifework? Should I change jobs? God never intended us to make these decisions alone, and often the minister can bring new light to the problem. Remember, he does not break confidences and he stands ready to help in any way.
5. When you know someone in need of spiritual help. It is strange but true that often people are most reticent to seek help when they most need it, and it is part of our Christian responsibility to be alert not only to our own needs but to the needs of others. Your minister is glad to respond to help anyone, whether a member of the church or not. The Bible puts it quite clearly: "We are members one of another," and "bear ye one another's burdens."
6. Before anyone enters the armed services. We ministers consider this visit as a special privilege. While we always plan to give our boys a Serviceman's Kit and provide them with our periodicals while in the service, yet the personal touch is most important. We want our boys to feel an abiding solidarity with the home church, and we want to assure them of the prayers and best wishes of the minister and church friends.
7. When there is a death in the family. For many, this is the only time when the minister is called, but as we have noted, this is a limited view of the Christian ministry. At this time your minister stands ready to do whatever you wish, in lightening your burden, comforting the sorrowing ones, and assisting with the arrangements, if necessary.
8. When there is a prolonged reaction to grief. Occasionally we find dear people who seem unable to return to normal living after a severe period of grief. This is unnatural, for God has intended that normallv sorrow shall turn to memory after a reasonable period, and our Christian faith will give us hope and assurance to carry on. When this does not follow, your minister can be of definite help to point you to the resources available.
9. When you are spiritually depressed. The finest Christians who have ever lived testify that they have had times of great struggle, when it seemed impossible to regain their Christian assurance. If this experience ever comes to you. don't try to fight it through alone, any more than you would suffer with an inflamed appendix or a broken arm without seeking help. If God seems far away and the Christian life has lost its reality, remember, you are not the first one to be tempted that way. Call on some minister or elder in whom you have confidence. If ever the supreme power of the Christian message can help you it is at this time of greatest spiritual need.
10. If you feel you are backsliding from the faith. We recognize that this is probably the time when it is most difficult to call on a spiritual counselor, but make up your mind to do it. Perhaps a personal matter or a difference between you and another has caused a rift in your church relations. Please don't let that rift widen. Call for help and start back—there is no other way worth while.