Trinitarian pastoral care

This post from Grace Communion Seminary faculty member Ted Johnston explores the Trinitarian approach to pastoral care advocated by the Torrance brothers. All three view pastoral care as Spirit-led participation in Jesus' ongoing ministry to and through his Body, the church. This post is excerpted from one of Ted's lectures in his GCS Practice of Ministry course.

Jesus Healing the Sick (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Andrew Root after him, emphasize that Jesus Christ, the ascended incarnate Son of God, through the Holy Spirit, ministers personally---sharing the place of every person. As pastoral ministers, we are called to be place-sharers with Jesus. We do so by helping people encounter Jesus Christ who is present already with them in healing ways. We offer this assistance by proclaiming to people the Word of God (the apostolic gospel)---a proclamation made in multiple ways, both verbal and non-verbal. We find helpful instruction about doing so in the writings of the three Torrance brothers. We begin with TF:

Thomas F (TF) Torrance

In Gospel, Church, and Ministry, we are told that TF learned about pastoral care while serving as a parish minister in Scotland. After being called to pastor a small church there, he quickly learned about the importance of “the ministry of being present” in the lives of his parishioners (and in the lives of non-members living within his parish). TF wrote this:
I set about visiting all the members of the congregation, accompanied by the elder of the district who introduced me. I made a point of reading a passage of the Holy Scripture and praying in each home, relating the intercession as far as I could to their family life and circumstances of which I learned from their elder…. It took very many weeks for me to visit them…but I determined to see them as soon as possible and as often as I could, and also to visit all the other homes within the bounds of the Barony Parish, whether they belonged to the Barony Kirk [Church] or not. In not a few cases I found that they had not had a pastoral visit from a minister for over twenty years, which rather shocked me. They were often in tears before I left…. During those pastoral visits I used to recall the statement of John Calvin that the gospel should be preached…privately and from house to house, and made that a major part of my ministry. I found that after I had visited people two or three times and read the Bible to them and prayed with them, they often opened their hearts to me. I learned more of the needs of people’s lives and souls in that way than I could have done otherwise and it helped to make my preaching of the gospel and exposition of the Bible as personally relevant to them as possible. (pp. 33-34)
TF goes on to describes one such visit with a particularly cantankerous parishioner:
When I knocked at his door it was opened by his daughter who was half-blind and unkempt, and told her who I was and that I had come to visit her father. She told me he would not see me—he heard and shouted at me from within telling me to go away. But I insisted, and when I went in I found him lying on his bed, which was rather filthy—he was clearly very ill. When he knew who I was and why I had come he shouted fiercely at me, but I told him I was a messenger from the Lord and had come to read the Bible and pray with him. In spite of his foul-mouthed objections I began to read the 51st Psalm, but he kept shouting at me all the way through. When I had finished he told me that now I could go, but I said that I would now pray, at which he objected vehemently. I prayed for him and his daughter, and asked the Lord to forgive his sins. In spite of his attempts to stop me I kept on and prayed through the 51st Psalm applying it directly to him, and at length he grew quiet. When I opened my eyes, he was quite calm, an entirely different person. I realized that it was a kind of exorcism, and now the poor man was restored to his right mind, and at peace with God…. What impressed me was the wonderful power of the Word of God, which I read in that ancient Psalm, and the power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus. The congregation soon knew what had happened and welcomed my pastoral visits even more than before. That was an unusual incident and an extreme case, but it reminded me of what happened in the mission field when my father [who with TF’s mother served as missionaries in China] prayed and spoke to people, which sometimes provoked bitter, even demonic, opposition, but when again and again the grace of the Lord Jesus triumphed over opposition and when even the most hostile were saved. 
I look back upon my house to house visitation in Alyth as the most rewarding and fruitful aspects of my ministry. I used to visit all the members of my congregation and parish like that as often as I could, not just once a year…. It served to complement my rather theological sermons. I myself learned so much by way of the relevance and healing power of the Word of God, that it had a decided impact on my theology—again and again when I was lecturing [as a professor] about some aspect of the gospel or evangelical truth… I recalled pastoral visits in Alyth from my house to house visitation of the congregation, so I was never able to separate [my] lecturing…from showing something of the personal and pastoral thrust and power of the truths of the gospel. (pp. 34-35)
As part of his home visitation ministry (particularly with the housebound), TF would offer the sacrament of Holy Communion. He explains:
The correlation of Holy Communion with pastoral visitation was a very enriching experience. At first I hesitated to hold private communion services with people in their homes, but came to feel it wrong that they should be denied the wonderful experience of Holy Communion, and so more and more… I gave much more attention to the celebration of the Lord’s Supper with the housebound…. I felt that in my way I was following the practice and example of the apostles who, we are told by St. Luke, broke bread from house to house. (p. 47)

David W. (DW) Torrance

Like his brother TF, DW places high priority on prayer as a vital aspect of pastoral ministry. In A Passion for Christ, the Vision That Ignites Ministry, which David co-authored with his brothers TF and JB Torrance, he talks about praying with congregants during visits, then emphasizes the importance of the pastor’s own prayer life:
Jesus’ ministry was a ministry of prayer. He prayed constantly…. To share through the Spirit in this ministry of Christ Jesus involves on our part a life of prayer and communion with Christ. Only Christ can change people and give them a new understanding and create within them a hunger and love for God and give us the grace helpfully to minister to them. We are utterly dependent all the time on Christ to work effectively through our ministry. 
When we do not pray we are not following the example of Jesus nor sharing in his ministry and our people suffer. Our ministry ceases to be effective. People may be drawn to us or to the Church but they are not drawn to the Lord. Lives are not changed. In parish visiting, I have found great value in praying however briefly before knocking on each door and before each pastoral encounter. (p. 80)
For a "You're Included" interview with DW in which he elaborates on the importance of prayer in pastoral work, click here.

James B. (JB) Torrance

In his part in A Passion for Christ, JB also addresses prayer:
[Jesus] gives us to share in his life of prayer. In Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are drawn into prayer that is a wonderful communion in the love of the Triune God. Prayer becomes not what we do—in our harried and exhausted effort—but what Christ does in and for us. This is the exhilarating freedom of the gospel.... We can only pray in the name of Christ because Christ has already in our name, offered up our desires to God and continues to offer them. In our name he lived a life in the Spirit agreeable to the will of God. In our name and in our place he vicariously confessed our sins and submitted for us to the verdict of guilty on the Cross, taking the condemnation of our sins to himself (the ‘curse’, the ‘wrath of God’ in New Testament terms) and in our name gave thanks to God. We pray ‘in the name of Christ’ because of what Christ has already done for us, and is doing for us today in our name, on our behalf…. 
In our name, on our behalf, in a human body, Jesus lived a life of prayer, a life in the Spirit in communion with the Father, to sanctify our humanity. He carried our old humanity in himself to the grave that our old humanity might be buried in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea and renewed in him. He rises from the dead, the first of a new creation, ascends now as our great High Priest to live for us in our humanity, in a glorified humanity, an eternal life of communion with the Father, to intercede for us ‘in the Holy of Holies’, ‘in heavenly places’. But he does not do that alone. He pours out his Spirit on the Church at Pentecost to lift us up into that life of communion with the Father that we might participate in his glorified life, in his prayer, his intercessions, his mission to the world. The important New Testament word koinonia can be translated by communion, fellowship, sharing, participating, having in common with Christ. That is the message of the New Testament, the secret of our prayer life. (pp. 55-56, 58)
It is my prayer that this post will help my brothers and sisters who have been called and ordained to pastoral ministry. I pray it informs their ministry---helping them share more fully in what Jesus is doing, through the Spirit, in the lives of those they are called to serve in Jesus' name.