It seems to me that many pastors are much more comfortable preaching and teaching in front of a group than in dealing with a single person about a problem or concern. Yet personal, one on one ministry, is definitely part of pastoral responsibilities, and too often seminaries and Bible colleges do not mention much about it. Here are some guidelines:
- Live and minister as a servant of Christ trusting God for the sufficiency of Christ.
“Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter, but of the Spirit ; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life . . . For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (II Corinthians 3:4-6, 4:5). Whatever your personal shortcomings, trust in God for his sufficiency for the situations that you will face, and go forth to serve with that trust.
- Develop a confident, caring manner in dealing with people one on one and in groups of two and three.
One of the problems that I found when working with pastors on Evangelism Explosion teams was to get them to tone down their approach. Some started out loudly, like they were starting a sermon without a microphone. “WE’RE HERE FROM <some> CHURCH!” Dealing with people one on one calls for a more soft spoken, conversational approach, and is not delivering a sermon. This kind of ministry is the place to “ . . . clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12). Some pastors also try to act so tough and macho that they show very little of the attitude of Christ, who said he was, “ . . . gentle and humble in heart . . .” (Matthew 11:29). It is absolutely horrible that some pastors and elders consider Christlikeness to be weakness and ‘wimpiness,’ and take on a gruff bossiness, a stiff pride and an unbending aloofness to others in deep pain which is so unlike the Savior. Yet a gentle, caring and confident manner demonstrates Biblical Christlikeness, and is a mark of someone who has been ordained not so much by the hands of a committee but by the hands scarred by Roman nails.
- Be prepared to ask questions and listen before offering answers.
Pontification, offering solutions before you have heard the entire story and jumping to conclusions about a matter on the basis of half explanations and offhand remarks results in ministry malpractice. I think that this tends to happen when a pastor wants to present himself as pastor who has things together and has boatloads of scriptural advice for all sorts of situations. Rather, listen, ask for clarification where necessary and seek to understand as much as possible before offering answers.
- Always be there with the caring and comfort of Christ for the major, life altering crises.
This is true whether the person who has had the crisis occur is a church member, regular or occasional attendee. This is especially true for the death of an immediate family member: father, mother, brother, sister, or child. Be there to pray and offer comfort. No one expects you to have all the answers, but the Biblical responsibility is “. . . mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). And then, let other people in the church know and encourage them to offer their support over the coming weeks. Mourning the loss of a family member takes some time, and it will often be months of adjustment for the family as well.
There will be major, life altering crises that happen. Be there as soon as possible and as long as it takes to minister to the need. Don’t let a person suffer in silence. Be less fearful that the person who receives ministry will become a ‘black hole’ of need and dependency and rather more concerned that Jesus might say to you in this situation, “ . . . whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). I’m convinced that not only do many churches lose people who feel abandoned in the hour of crisis and in their suffering, but that churches stagnate because of those who attend and sit in pews with broken and bleeding hearts, because “if one part [of the body] suffers, every part suffers with it” (I Corinthians 12:26). Advice to ‘tough it out, ‘suck it up’ and ‘get over it’ may apply better to minor hardships, disagreements, annoyances, slights and offenses, but not to situations like the loss of a job, a life threatening or even a terminal illness, an abusive marriage or workplace situation, becoming the victim of a crime against person, property or reputation, or the loss of an immediate family member or close friend. For more information, see my previous post on Care First.
- Pray with people in faith for their needs.
Ask if the person would be comfortable with allowing you to pray for him or her, and then pray quietly and reverently. Ask God for his solutions and his wisdom. Look for the glory of God here, and don’t let it be an attempt at a show of eloquence.
- Give scriptural counsel.
Let the Bible be the source and center of all counsel given. Demonstrate faith in the power of God’s Word to change lives. The memorization of scriptures that speak to common problems will give you a wonderful basis to speak to hurting people throughout your ministry.
A pocket New Testament or a small Bible that you can carry with you can be one of your best friends where you know of a place where Scripture speaks but you do not have the passage memorized. One of the advantages of speaking to people either in their homes or in the hospital is that there is often a Bible to which you can refer them. Many people will continue to look at the scriptures that you point out after you have gone!
Make sure that counsel is scriptural. Avoid sharing personal experiences as a resolution to someone else’s problem. Too many believers already canonize their experiences and things that they hear from others as the scriptures that they use in practice instead of the Bible. Rather, use personal experiences where they illustrate lessons learned from scripture and ways in which to apply scripture. Moreover, I’ve also seen some get caught up so caught up in their own experiences when starting out to share what happened to them to sympathize that the whole point of ministry to the other person got lost in the conversation. Moreover, avoid the kinds of hoary, unscriptural and often childish platitudes so cheaply thrown out such as, “Don’t pray for patience because that will only make things worse,” but point to what scripture actually says.
- Keep confidences.
Lots of things can be shared in the course of ministry to people that should be kept in confidence: medical needs, personal problems, and besetting sins may be some of them. There are always people in a congregation that are prone to gossip, who have overactive imaginations and uncontrolled tongues, and who are overly curious about these things and much less attentive to their own problems. It’s your responsibility as a pastor to make sure that they don’t learn about them through you. A loose tongue and the betrayal of confidences can go a long way to proving to a congregation that their pastor is untrustworthy with any confidences, and will destroy his ability to minister to them one on one.
- Don’t get caught in conflicts between people but be a peacemaker.
Someone will often try to share his or her ‘concerns’ about other people or a particular person with a pastor. It’s your responsibility to make sure that your ear is not open to slander and gossip, nor that you are drawn to one side in disagreements and conflicts. Rather, urge forgiveness and reconciliation as much as possible.
- Invite elders, other church leaders and potential church leaders along for prayer, assistance and on the job training.
Many elders and other church leaders come to positions in the church with very little, if any, training in ministry to others, aside from one or more long forgotten personal evangelism training courses. Many of them do not know where to go in the scriptures to deal with the problems that they may face if they engage in one on one actual ministry to people and conversations. One of the best ways to open their eyes to the needs of others and how to minister to them is to bring them along.
- Carry along a bottle of anointing oil for prayer for healing.
Many churches believe in and practice James 5:14-15, such as my own denomination, on the anointing of the sick with oil and prayer for healing. I’ve been on pastoral visits where the sick person has been in the hospital and at home and requested the anointing with oil with prayer. Carrying along a very small pocket size bottle enabled me to minister to this request on the spot.
- Make sure that you know how to present the gospel both briefly and in more depth.
When dealing with a person one on one, you will occasionally find someone who is a part of a church fellowship but has never really come to saving faith in Christ. This can be a wonderful opportunity to speak to this person about his or her eternal need. Do this gently and lovingly, and you may be more likely to find that person trusting Christ for his or her eternal salvation.
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers