A Ministry of Care by Dr. Daniel G. Bagby

Pastoral Care Guidance for Deacons, Stephen Ministers, and the Congregation of River Road Church, Baptist

How to Care for and Listen to those who are Detached or Alienated from Church

The marginal church member often fits one of these experiences:

  1. The alienated
  2. The depressed
  3. The detached
  4. The grieving

The caregiver in a local church represents the congregation and its care, and can evoke all the parishioner’s past and recent experience with the church, God, and the unfinished business of their spiritual journey, its hopes, pains, and prejudices.

The caregiver often encounters:

  1. Polite dismissal and avoidance
  2. Overt rejection or anger
  3. “Masking” of feelings (“religious talk” to please the religious)
  4. Suspicion and caution
  5. Apathy
  6. Need to talk

Factors in the Marginalizing of Church Members:

  1. General sense of alienation from institutions today.
  2. Attempt to protect oneself and establish boundaries & privacy.
  3. Seasons of the soul:  What I needed then I don’t need now.
  4. Change: This is not the same congregation I joined.
  5. Unclear covenants:  I only joined for certain rituals .
  6. Unvoiced/unmet expectations: unattended crises/perceived lack of initiative.
  7. Fear of exploitation/disappointment with the “church.”
  8. Church’s failure to assume responsibility for mistakes; its irrelevance.
  9. The reluctance of the church to bless the need for renewal/recovery.

Signals as folks create distance:

  1. Change or pattern of distance in attendance record.
  2. Specific crisis & prolonged disability (never returns).
  3. Evolution of “spiritual plateau.”
  4. Pattern of isolation or dysfunction in family system.
  5. Characteristic evidence of private lifestyle.
  6. Expressed concern by friends/ suggesting need for investigation.
  7. Disengagement consistent with “family involvement” patterns .
  8. Pattern of sequential church affiliations (three to seven years).
  9. Dissociation from other significant affiliations.

How to approach marginal members:

  1. Respect privacy by calling on the phone to identify your role. Describe your purpose, ask for input, give permission not to get it.
  2. Write a note, indicating your role and your desire to be of service. Suggest information about personal journey of last year, the year ahead, and family preferences: call me (when), I’ll call, write me, visit me.
  3. Listen on the phone (but some people hate it); drop a note on certain anniversaries. When listening: validate feelings, affirm value of opinions, ask for suggestions.  Ask if a pastoral/deacon visit is desired.  No agenda.
  4. Give them permission for privacy, for sabbatical, for feelings, for conflict.
  5. Call periodically to inform them of special events—AFTER you gain permission to leave such information on the recording.
  6. Express care for the fellowship if a crisis occurred and no one knew.