I’ve been working on my book, The Worship Pastor (read about it here), and I came across this fabulous quote. Keep in mind that this is a Roman Catholic writer making these observations:
For centuries, the liturgy, actively celebrated, has been the most important form of pastoral care. This was especially true of those centuries in which the liturgy was being created. Unfavourable conditions brought it about that in the late Middle Ages, in spite of the liturgy being celebrated and developed in numerous churches with great fervour and magnificence by collegiate clergy and monastic communities, a veil became drawn between the liturgy and the people, a veil through which the faithful could only dimly see what was happening at the altar. Even in all this we can still see how pastoral concern led to the development and adaptation of the liturgy.*
I can’t amen this enough. I’ve seen, time and again, that thoughtful, passionate, and intentional worship leadership yields pastoral care for the people of God. People can tell when you’re caring for them. People can feel that you love them. And people can sense when a worship service creates a context of care.
We often think of pastoral care as an individualized enterprise outside worship: counseling sessions, hospital calls, in-home visits, praying for individuals’ needs, and presiding over funerals. These are all vital, indispensible care practices of any pastor. But the Church’s history offers a different paradigm for the center, the starting place, of all pastoral care. It tells a story of pastors who see the core of their ministry to sick, hurting, wounded sheep happening in the context of leading worship. Worship is the ground zero of pastoral care. It is the place where all pastoral care rightly begins, and without it, all other forms of pastoral care lose their meaning and power.
The people who darken our doors each Sunday come bruised and battered. They are exhausted by life’s demands and their failure to meet them. They are beaten up by their sin and the effects of others’ sin on them. They come in desperately needing a word of relief. Our worship services need to be so much more than motivational talks and pump-you-up sessions. We need so much more than good advice and a few inspiring songs. Maybe even more to the point, our worship services need to feel less like therapy and more like a heart transplant (Ezek 36:26). Only telling the story of sin and grace can do that.
If this is true, then one of the best ways, week in and week out, that we can care for the people of God is to give them a worship service that walks them through the story of the Gospel, giving moments to highlight the glory of God (Call & Praise), the gravity of sin (Confession), and the grandeur of grace (Absolution & Assurance). In short, the Gospel is balm for the weak and weary, and worship is where God chooses to most liberally pour out that Word in song, sermon, and sacrament.
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28).