Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century

Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century
By Lynne Baab
Reviewed by Darren Cronshaw

Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2018.

Mission to the Western world often begins with a basic commitment to pastoral care. In my local context of mission to my Auburn neighbourhood, my community engagement is at its best when I am functioning fruitfully in pastoral care. Recently this has included offering hospitality to newcomers to our neighbourhood, expressing compassion to grieving family and friends, and listening to friends who are struggling with vocational and relationship dilemmas. As a pastor, I seek to discern and recognise where God is already at work and express the loving care and presence of God in the midst of life’s challenges. Missional church writers have convinced me of the need for more leaders functioning apostolically, prophetically and evangelistically, but I am a pastor and a teacher. And among the ways I most effectively cooperate with God in mission are expressions of pastoral care.

I have had a sneaking suspicion that my deep commitment to the mission of God and to authentic pastoral care have more overlap than many books reveal. Refreshingly, Lynne Baab’s Nurturing Hopeoffers thoughtful frameworks and stories for integrating mission and pastoral care. Baab is a Presbyterian minister and teacher of pastoral theology. Her previous books explore Sabbath, spiritual practices, congregational health and listening. She consistently advocates for listening to God, to congregational members and to the wider community. She has often beautifully hinted at the overlap of mission and pastoral care, but in Nurturing Hopeshe makes the connection explicit.

The first section of the book discusses shifts in thinking about models and approaches of pastoral care. She warns against fostering dependency, becoming a rescuer, succumbing to colour blindness or reverting to advice-giving. She presents a high view of pastoral care of teams of church members, over against individualistic and clerical models that professional pastoral counselling has tended to foster. Baab explains how intercultural sensitivity, understanding generational differences and empowering leadership can inform quality pastoral care in a complex world. But drawing on Nancy Ammerman and Eugene Peterson she also reassures readers that pastoral care is foundationally about paying attention, and helping people see where their ordinary lives overlap with the holy:

“When we talk about the intersection of daily life and Christian faith, or the overlap of the ordinary and the non-ordinary, we are simply acknowledging that while God is present in all of life, often we find it difficult to perceive God’s presence and need help to do so.” (p. 7)

Pastoral care is less about what we do and say, she urges, and more about being present and bringing God’s presence (and in fact recognising how God is already present):

“By the Holy Spirit living inside us, whenever we enter into any situation, we bring God’s presence into that situation, and sometimes God’s presence is all that’s needed. Advice, helpful ideas, and strategies – all of which come all too easily to me in conversations – are appropriate sometimes, but many times simply being with someone in pain is all that’s necessary.” (p. 48)

Baab’s second section outlines four skills that are critically important for twenty-first century pastoral carers. First, she discusses sources and measures of stress people face in contemporary life. Second, she outlines the power of listening and attitudes that help it such as receptiveness and holy curiosity. Third, she encourages resourcing people with spiritual practices, including simple spontaneous prayers and Bible reading during pastoral encounters, but also practices that are especially relevant in modern life such as fasting (from technology) and simplicity (to deal with clutter). Fourth, she discusses the importance of resilience and rhythms of Sabbath for all of us, but especially anyone caring for others.

One highlight of the book is Baab’s illustrating these models and skills with the experiences of others and also sharing her own journey, most transparently with depression and eating disorders and associated support groups.

My favourite section of every chapter were the discussion questions and tips for teaching. Baab’s teaching style is to facilitate discussion more than present a lecture, and the appropriateness of her questions for starting conversations is clear, for example:

“Give them a chance to brainstorm settings from your congregation where conversations about the overlap of daily life and the holy take place, and the kinds of questions that help to make those conversations happen.” (p. 17)

“Discuss examples of pastoral care beyond the congregation from this chapter, your own congregation, and other congregations participants know about. Allow space for participants to ponder why God is calling them to provide care outside your congregation.” (p. 65)

Part of the challenge of mission to the Western world is that the gospel invitation to a life of faith comes in contested space. Engaging with people in and beyond congregations with attentive pastoral care is an appropriate demonstration of the shepherding care of God. Baab presents a high view of pastoral care, not in opposition to but in synergy with mission. Nurturing Hope is an ideal textbook for practitioners and students of pastoral care and chaplaincy, and anyone seeking to being a caring presence in their networks and relationships.

This review was originally published in Practical Theology 11:4 (2018), 362-364.