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The Pastor's Role
The Pastor's Role As A GeneralistA pastor ministers to the person, the congregation and the community. This diversity is one of the strengths of his/her role while living in an age of specialization. In most fields, such as higher education, medicine, law and insurance, the generalist has disappeared in favor of the specialist. In many ways, among professionals today, only the local clergy are viewed as generalists who work with a wide range of people in a wide variety of life circumstances.
Because of the status that many attach to the specialist's role, clergy sometimes put little value on their own contributions and feel they play a secondary role to the perceived experts - the psychiatrist, the social worker, the clinical psychologist, the pastoral counselor, etc. In nearly every area where clergy operate there is a specialist. Clergy should realize that both roles are needed. The first is of the pastor who understands the general practice of ministry and how it serves people. The second is the specialist who has specialized training and skills to do more specific interventions with a narrowly defined population. People with mental illness and their families are best served when clergy and members of the mental health professions work together to assist people to receive the appropriate care.
An essential contribution of clergy is their personal relationships with their congregants. Clergy see them in worship, perhaps teach them in a religious education class, visit them in hospitals, and socialize with them at congregational events. In many cases, they will have conducted weddings or funerals for a family member or shepherded their children into the faith community through baptism or confirmation. Clergy are unique in having access to the homes of the people they serve. Not only is this a historic privilege, it is expected that the clergy will be there, be it a time of crisis or simply for a friendly pastoral visit.
People often will seek spiritual assistance from clergy when they experience a personal crisis. This is particularly likely to happen when the person views the crisis as a spiritual problem impacting their mental, emotional and physical well-being. In some cases, a pastor's work with someone who is experiencing emotional distress is sufficient to alleviate the problem. At other times the pastor is most effective by making a referral to a mental health professional.
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