I consider myself a connoisseur of Urgent Cares. With three little boys who cannot seem to coordinate their sicknesses to coincide with regular business hours, I end up sitting in the uncomfortable chairs of Urgent Care facilities far more often than I would like.
On the rare occasions that the germ fairy visits during regular business hours, I find myself in a conundrum. Urgent care or primary cary? On the one hand, Urgent Care promises anonymity and flexible hours. No friendly small talk, no probing questions. Grab your prescription, pay the exorbitant co-pay and you are on your way. On the other hand, the primary care physician knows you and your history, which can be both good and bad. Good because he or she knows the correct questions to ask and takes time with you. Bad because you have to wait the whole 3 hours for the office to open; also, honest engagement and conversation are expected in this scenario.
With accessible, anonynous care available, it is easy to ignore primary care physicians altogether. If it were not for the outlandish copayments, I would be tempted to do so myself.
A few weeks of sickness and too many hours in Urgent Care facilities of late have my mind on a similar connundrum facing the Church in America today. Are urgent care type resources making it too easy to circumvent the primary pastoral care of the local Church? If so, is there a way to promote the primary pastoral care that is meant to happen within the local church while still enjoying the secondary, supplemental benefits of soul urgent cares?
With blogs, podcasts and other ubiquitous theological helps, soul care and theological training is more accessible today than in an any other era. These and other proverbial soul urgent cares are merely a click away; they can be accessed without ever having to get out of your pajamas and engage with human beings. While accessible and helpful, these mediums are largely impersonal and anonymous; at best, they give the feeling of relational connection without the needed, yet hard-to-quantify benefits of face-to-face interaction.
While such resources are truly a gift, they can also make it all too easy for Christians to remain in comfortable anonymity, apart from a physical connection to a local Church. Urgent Cares and 24-hour pharmacies are meant to supplement the ongoing care of a primary physician who personally knows his or her clients’ case histories, tendencies, and nuiances.
There is something beautiful and right (dare I say, Biblical?) about a primary care physician who has walked with clients through seasons of sickness and health. While there will always be occasional needs for sudden soul triage, this should be the exception, not the rule. Blogs, sermon podcasts and articles are necessary helps, but must remain in their proper place, as secondary, not primary, pastoral care providers.
For primary pastoral care to remain alive and well, two equally challenging roles must be met. Shepherds must posture themselves to care for their flocks, and sheep must posture themselves to be led.
Shepherds: In a church culture that looks increasingly like pop culture, there is a great temptation for shepherds to focus on counting sheep rather than feeding them. The same word that an aging Peter wrote to the leaders of the ancient church applies with striking clarity to aspiring shepherds today. “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to revealed: Be shepherd’s of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them- not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.” (1 Peter 5:1-3). Shepherding is a high calling with high cost, but it also comes with high reward. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4).
Sheep: Your posture is critical to primary pastoral care being a feasible reality. There is a vast difference between a headstrong, stiff-necked sheep who must be goaded to move an inch and a sheep who willingly allows him or herself to be guided and corrected. Paul’s closing words to his letter to the Hebrews issues a charge that continues on to modern day sheep. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).
Do you have a place of primary pastoral care, a place where you are known and seen regularly? Are their spiritual leaders who have your records and file history, who know your soul allergies and the places in your soul that need special attention?
Despite the inconvenience and hard work required, there are incredible long-term soul health benefits to primary pastoral care. To know and be known by a local family of believers is a beautifully messy way to regularly experience the Lord.