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preaching, pastoral care, and spiritual practices – lynne baab

Last year I was asked to write a book on pastoral care. What an honour! I’ve written many books, but I had never before been asked to write one. That book has recently been published by Fortress Press, with the title Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century.

As I thought about what topics I wanted to cover, I decided to focus a long chapter on spiritual practices. I could see clearly that habits of prayer, Bible study, and other ways of drawing near to God are essential for pastoral carers for at least two reasons: so they can receive God’s guidance and strength when they give care, and so they can facilitate spiritual practices among care recipients.

The same two reasons apply to why spiritual practices matter for preachers. We need to come to our preaching from a place of connection to God. And we need to be able to talk in our sermons about the numerous ways people can draw near to God as described in the Bible and as experienced by people today. We will be able to speak about spiritual practices more effectively if our own practices are solid, rich and life-giving.

Here’s an illustration of why preachers need to be people of prayer. Two years after I left the congregation where I had served as an associate pastor for seven years, I ran into a congregation member in the supermarket. I hadn’t known her well. It was a big enough congregation that I knew who she was but had never had a conversation with her.

I had preached six to eight times a year for those seven years, amounting to a total of about 50 sermons. In a small handful of those sermons I had mentioned my years of depression in my young adult life. The depression was over when I ministered in that congregation. I have a rare B vitamin deficiency that causes depression. Two years before I was ordained, I had discovered the miracle (for me) of B vitamins.

The women in the supermarket said, “I want you to know how important it was to me that you talked about your depression in sermons. I’d been battling depression myself, but I felt that for a Christian to admit they were depressed would show a lack of faith. When you, a minister, talked about being depressed, I found the courage to talk to my doctor. I’ve been on an anti-depressant for several years now and it has changed my life. I want you to know your honesty made a big difference to me.”

As a preacher, I had prayed frequently about whether or not, and how often, to talk about my history of depression. On the one hand, I wanted to model honesty and vulnerability. On the other hand, I didn’t want sermons to be about me. The conversation with the woman in the supermarket affirmed to me the value of those prayers. Truly God had guided me.

When doing pastoral care and when preaching, we pray about many of the same things. Ahead of time, we pray for God’s guidance and presence in the pastoral care visit or sermon. We pray that we will accurately represent Jesus’ priorities in the words we say. We pray that God will guide us not only in what to say but what not to say.

We pray that God’s Spirit will be at work in the care recipients and the people who are listening to the sermon, that we will be sensitive to the Spirit’s work, and that we may be able to reflect back to the people the ways we see God’s hand in their lives. We pray that our words will bring shalom – well being in every way – to the people who hear them. We pray that our words will help others draw near to God in trust and obedience.

If you’d like to learn more about my new book on pastoral care, click here. I invited you to ponder the role of spiritual practices both in preaching and pastoral care.

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