Written by: Dan Steel
Dan Steel serves as the senior pastor of Magdalen Road Church in Oxford, England. Before returning to his hometown of Oxford, he helped plant Grace Church Stirchley in Birmingham, England. He and his wife, Zoe, have four children. You can connect with him here.
This following content was originally published on Acts 29’s website, linked here: https://www.acts29.com/assessing-pastoral-triage/
As you arrive in the hospital ER where my wife works, you’re met with a nurse who assesses where you need to go, filtering the patients so doctors can prioritize care. Perhaps it’s right that you came in—you need some help and attention—but you’re not a top priority (yellow). Maybe you’re really ill and need to be seen by a doctor immediately (red). Or, perhaps you’ve come in with something minor because you couldn’t get an appointment with your primary doctor (green).
We probably do this almost subconsciously with church members already, but now think of the church planters and pastors you know—think of yourself even—and apply that same “traffic light triage” to them. To you.
How are they doing? As you seek to invest in the lives of ministers and staff members, perhaps planters in your cohort or your region, who are the reds that need to be at the top of the pile? Is anyone looking out for them? Could you be that person?
Of course, this pre-supposes that we’re intentionally seeking to support and encourage others in ministry rather than just sticking to our lane. How well do we actually know those in our locality? What are the struggles they’re wrestling with in their church, family, or souls?
Let’s think a bit about assessing and prioritizing pastoral care:
These are the go-getters who always seem to be thriving. One ministry friend I spoke to said they didn’t exist. But perhaps they’ve only been in place for a short time, and there’s a zeal, energy, and optimism that is infectious. Maybe things are going well, and they’ve not yet hit some of the sin, suffering, and struggles—the thorns and thistles—of pastoral life. How could you help them? Initial trajectory matters; there’s a compound interest element to the early days of planting, which can leave you in big trouble later on.CLICK TO TWEET
Initial trajectory matters; there’s a compound interest element to the early days of planting, which can leave you in big trouble later on. How are they watching their life and lips (1 Tim. 4:16)? How healthy are they? How’s their prayer life? What are their practical pastoral skills like? They may look like a green, but behind the scenes, maybe they’re truly wrestling. How could you help their early trajectory to be healthy so 10 years down the line, they’re still in a healthy place?
This is probably the majority group. Most of us, if we’re honest, will likely be here. We get through season by season, week by week, meeting by meeting, and sermon by sermon. But we know we’re not as healthy as we ought to be. Perhaps affections grow cold, prayer gets squeezed, or relational difficulties overwhelm. Everything feels rushed and last minute. Or maybe we’re plagued with discontentment, wondering if the grass would be greener elsewhere. How do you help a yellow?
Of course, there’s more to it than this, but from my conversations (and knowing my own heart), the word to begin with and build from would be encouragement (1 Thes. 5:11). It seems to me we’re a people starved of encouragement—always aware of how things haven’t gone quite right, of what could have been done better.
And so, let’s be a people who encourage, not simply in remembering and being thankful for the good things, but encouraged to keep going, to keep pressing on and plodding. To keep believing the gospel and finding our identity not in what we’ve done but foundationally in who we are as children of our Father in heaven.
If you’re reading this and you’d classify yourself as a red, can I urge you, if you haven’t already, to reach out to someone? If you’re constantly feeling like waving the white flag and quitting, find someone local to speak to, and if there’s no one local, then get in contact with me (details below). I think red is the smallest group, but it’s unquestionably grown over the last few years.
Each situation will be different, each context unique, but reds have had enough. For their sanity and safety, they’re not able to continue. In a traumatic post-pandemic world of anxiety and anger, many are on the verge of quitting, which may be the right move, but let’s make sure we come alongside them for support. The danger comes when we ignore the reds because they feel hopeless, yet they’re the ones we need to place at the top of the pile. No one is at risk of receiving too much encouragement.CLICK TO TWEET
Pastor, how would you classify yourself? How are ministers in your area doing? Who can you get alongside and encourage? No one is at risk of receiving too much encouragement. Pastors need to be uplifted and supported in these difficult times. So let us, as a network that cares deeply about pastoral health, carefully and accurately assess ourselves and the church leaders we know. Let us lean on one another as we hold fast to Christ together, as a people united in mission for the sake of the world.