Lessons about Pastoral Care from a Lame Duck ACPE Certified Educator

By Paul E. Robertson

1. Compassion makes up for a host of undeveloped pastoral skills.

2. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

3. There are always at least three options, though they may not all be good.

4. Every response we make, in fact, leads the conversation.

5. Presence—it’s powerful stuff; we mix with humanity in order to take divinity as far as it will go; you are a glimpse of God’s face

6. Presence is not a skill set. Presence is what spills from one at home in his or her own skin. Or at the very least, one who has given up the need to impress or fix or please or jump hoops for laurels.

7. Healing is as important as curing, maybe even more so.

8. Joining with is better than fixing or advising.

9. Listening creates a sacred space. It is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing.

10. Our greatest gift is our wholeness, not our expertise.

11. Better to empathize then just sympathize.

12. When you choose to visit someone twice, you are choosing not to visit someone else once.

13. It’s not our task to provide easy answers, but to explore the mystery; questions are not always questions.

14. It’s more about the journey than it is the destination.

15. In the beginning was relationship.

16. The art of pastoral conversation depends on the minister’s ability to recognize and appropriately respond to the pastoral opportunities or doors to ministry that present themselves in dialoging during any given moment in time.

17. You can’t go with patients where you can’t go with yourself.

18. The capacity to listen to the non-sense of suffering is a hard-won skill.

19. Words don’t have meaning, they have usage (context, intent and interpretation).

20. Titles are like tails on a pig: they are real cute, but don’t add any meat to the table.

21. Hospitals are anxiety houses.

22. The foundational skill needed to establish relationship is active listening.

23. Feelings are not right or wrong; they just are (mostly so).

24. You can only help others to the extent that you take care of yourself (self-care).

25. Don’t cut the leg off a three-legged chair, unless you have time to put a new one on.

26. Don’t overestimate what you can accomplish in a single visit. But don’t underestimate the potential impact of what can happen in a single visit. Don’t go into a room expecting to change the world; be humble and grateful when someone’s world is changed by your care.

27. It’s okay to make mistakes; it’s not okay to not learn from them.

28. The goal is not to be perfect, but to be on a journey.

29. It’s okay to say, “This sucks.”

30. Religious clichés are not helpful; as caregiver, we need to unpack churchy, theological, religious “code” language.

31. Theological language is analogical; we need to be careful lest we make idols out of theological words or propositions.

32. God’s identification with our pain signals a fundamental change in human history. A God who suffers alongside us, who grieves with us, who is moved by our pain, who shows up is what people need.

33. A hard truth to accept is that we are mortal. None of us escapes death. We will all exit life through the cemetery. At some point, the question is not, “Will someone get better?” but “How quickly and how much worse will they get before the end?” Some diagnoses are final.

34. Learn how to hug your tombstone. Those who have grasped their mortality are better able to live it.

35. A challenge for pastoral caregivers is helping people to have a “good” death.

36. “And it is still true: No matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to   hold hands and stick together.” (Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know…”)

Good pastoral care can often be achieved by demonstrating compassion, providing a safe space for sharing listening deeply, and connecting soul-to-soul with no agenda other than humanity. Great pastoral cares involves careful spiritual assessment and provides informed spiritual interventions.


 — Paul E. Robertson MDiv, PhD is an ACPE Certified Educator

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