Picture an evangelist. What are you imagining? Perhaps a motor-mouth with the enthusiasm of a labrador pup, the skin of a rhinoceros’s hide, the social skills of a barge pole and the patter of a “Phones 4 U” sales rep.
Now picture a pastoral carer. What are the images now? Surely it’s endless cups of tea, frowns of concern, shoulders squeezed and pained benedictions: “Aw bless” they say with an empathy perilously close to patronising.
In the popular Christian imagination, these are two different species. One of them we’re very happy to send off to “The Mission Field.” Then, with the wild-eyed enthusiasts out of the way, the pastoral people can settle down to their head-cocked expressions of condolence. And never the twain shall meet, right?
Well no. You see those pictures have nothing to do with the roles of evangelist (good news teller) and pastor (shepherd). They’ve got everything to do with personality-types that have hardened into caricatures. Actually evangelism and pastoral care are the same thing. Really. Genuinely. Stop laughing, I’m serious.
Just the other day I learned from an evangelist that the most common book he’s given away to non-Christians in the last few months is… (drum-roll)… A New Name. Well of course. It’s a powerful testimony to Christ. It’s an explanation of how the gospel impacts our everyday struggles with food, body, identity and meaning. It was written to speak into a deep pastoral issue. And it’s wonderfully evangelistic. Because – well, they’re the same thing. Really they are.
Last week we were put in touch with a couple who live up the road from us. Their landlady is a Christian and noticed that the woman was very thin. She gave her A New Name and the couple soon got in touch with us. They’re not Christians but we’ve been talking at length about their struggles. And guess what – you just can’t talk about this stuff without talking about the gospel. Pastoral care just is evangelistic – it’s all about applying the evangel (the good news) to our struggles.
As I write this I’m preparing talks for an evangelistic mission to Bristol Uni next week. My lunchtime talks are as follows “Where can I find connection?”, “Where do I fit in?”, “How can I be free?”, “How can I be confident?” and “Is there hope for the future?”. I’ll be preaching Jesus from Luke’s Gospel as an answer to all these questions. But notice how we’re going to evangelise? Pastorally!
Because evangelism and pastoral care are basically the same. One speaks the good news to not-yet-believing-people and one speaks the good news to hurting people. But it’s the same good news and, let’s face it, it’s the same people too. Even if we’re pastoring/evangelising Christians we’re all to some degree unbelieving aren’t we? In fact that’s our problem – we don’t really believe the goodness of the good news. And so the issue for the believer as for the unbeliever is to see Jesus again. And, believer or unbeliever, seeing Jesus heals our wounds and it is eternal life!
Which means evangelists need to be a lot more pastoral, and pastoral carers a lot more gospel-focused, than the caricatures we started with. Then we’ll pastor our people with a gospel comfort that’s for sharing (2 Corinthians 1). And we’ll preach a gospel that liberates a suffering world.
That’s the dream anyway.