Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Thoughts on Pastoral Technique

I've been thinking lately about Paul's method of pastoral care in dealing with Philemon. He says to him,
Philemon 8,9 - Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, yet for love's sake I prefer to appeal to you.

Pastoral care is often more of an art than a science. In this situation Paul recognizes that he has a legitimate authority. He would be well within his rights, and his obligations, to command Philemon to do "what is required." That is, Paul could approach him authoritatively as an apostle and demand that Philemon submit himself humbly to gospel obedience. There would be nothing wrong with this.

Instead, Paul says that for love's sake, he prefers to appeal to Philemon. Because he loves him, and perhaps because he knows Philemon's character and temperament, he phrases his exhortation to obedience in the form of an appeal. The appeal holds no less authority, but it does make a different impression on the one receiving it. An appeal portrays a different picture of how Paul feels towards Philemon. And as we all know, an impassioned appeal communicates much differently than an iron-fisted demand.

I've been thinking about this lately, in the context of hearing several stories from people who were personally hurt by a pastor who was too harsh. Indeed, it seems as though some pastors use as their primary (only?) model for pastoral care Galatians 2:11,
Galatians 2:11 - But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

This is how Paul dealt with Peter, and I have no doubt that it too was motivated by love, the sort of tough love that saw what a precarious position Peter had gotten himself into. And in this situation too, Paul was well within his rights and obligations as an apostle to speak in this way.

However, the verses in Philemon show us that this was not Paul's only method for pastoral care. He could be bold and firm when required, and he also knew how to make a gentle appeal for the sake of love. Pastors must learn to develop both of these skills, together with the even more important skill of being able to discern when to use which one.

Most of us are by nature inclined more towards one or the other, and we will need to be intentional in developing our weak side. And we need to know our people, and cultivate the wisdom and discernment to know when we are dealing with Peter, and when we are dealing with Philemon.

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