Drawing from a medical model of preventative care, there are three preventative pastoral practices that can protect and pro-actively nurture spiritual wellness:
- Have your congregants write down and reflect on God’s blessings on a weekly basis. If your congregation has the funds, consider buying or creating a notebook for your congregants. Encourage them to bring it every week and at some point in the service provide 5 minutes for your congregants to reflect on how God has been blessing them and the importance of God’s work in their life is. The more they can elaborate on their thoughts and ideas about God’s work in their life the better. This is true preventative care because this journal can be used as a source of memory and remembering when hard times come. Often, in the midst of struggle, it is easy to forget God’s faithfulness, or forget that God can and will bring people through their difficulties. Having a journal empowers their memory, imagination, and narrative to provide hope for their present circumstances and the future.
- Create a written record of encouraging narratives. Throughout the year, a pastor may encounter individuals who have traversed through a difficult season and made it through a difficult life experience. Document this in the form of a written interview or video because, as Charles Horton Cooley said, “Others are a lens through which we see ourselves.” The narrative of others can become a lens through which people view and imagine their own lives. By seeing someone else overcome a difficult life experience one can feel empowered and hopeful that they can overcome their own difficult life experience. In addition, if people are able to share how they were able to maintain a strong relationship – trust, hope, and faith, in God while they struggled this can also inspire others to trust, hope, and have faith in God through their struggle.
- Create opportunities for service. As a previous president of the American Psychological Association said, “When I am feeling down and in the dumps I force myself to get up, go out, and help someone out. Helping others helps me.” Serving others increases self-confidence and provides a sense of purpose that empowers physical-emotional wellbeing.
To be honest, pastoral ministry can be so time consuming and demanding that it can be hard to “get ahead” to a point where one finds time to pro-actively implement preventative care practices. Hopefully, you and your congregation are at a place where one or more of your congregational leaders can begin investing in preventative pastoral care. Specifically, in regard to hope, the best way to inspire and encourage hope is to nurture it before it runs out. One way to do that is to empower congregants to continually be aware of God’s work in their lives. In the midst of suffering, pain, and turmoil it is easy to grow weary. Just like the Israelites in the book of Exodus, it is hard to persevere and find hope in God when one has a broken and crushed spirit (Ex 6:9).
A member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Joseph Kim Paxton is an ICTG Advisor while pursuing doctoral degrees in Practical Theology at the Claremont School of Theology and Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. His current research areas include clinical-community psychology, pastoral care, social scientific approaches to biblical interpretation, group processes, spiritual struggle, coping, and attitudes.