COVID-19 has ravaged our world as we know it, throwing our communities into disarray. Since the start of the global pandemic, we have faced so many challenges as a nation. We have been called to adhere to extremely strict protocols relating to social distancing and movement. In the space of 9 weeks we have seen the shutdown of our economy and the dire situation related to home schooling, poverty, and the banning of gatherings.

The nation-wide lockdown has had a far-reaching impact on the way the church community gathers. Youth ministry specifically has been severely impacted as pastors and youth leaders navigate their way around engaging youth on the various social media platforms such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook, TikTok and Zoom. In this article I would like to dig into what shape pastoral care in COVID-19 takes as we seek to cure the souls of those to whom we are called to shepherd.

Pastoral care: The healing and growth of souls

As youth leaders, parents and children’s ministry workers we might be taken aback by the term pastoral care, surmising that it’s a duty solely allocated to the pastor, but we are all responsible for this important task. Pastoral care is understood to be the “mutual healing and growth” within the Christian community. Scholars agree that pastoral care encompasses the healing of people’s souls, taking care of their needs and places value on the general well-being of a person.

Pastoral care primarily takes place within the context of the church, in small groups, prayer groups and discipleship groups. Traditionally it calls for face to face engagement but COVID-19 has forced us to broaden our thinking and expand our horizons.

Called to shepherd

Our motive for pastoral care is love, in the same way the Father loves us and desires for us to experience peace and safety. This is quite evident as we read in Psalm 23 that God our shepherd remains with us and takes care of us. Never leaving us to our own devices. As God’s sheep, we place our complete and utter dependence on God to keep us safe, protect us and feed us. In John 10:11-18, Jesus brings the imagery of the shepherd to life again declaring that He is the good shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. As God’s ‘under-shepherds’ we are called to care for God’s sheep, protecting and caring for them.

Although we can’t be there physically, there are ways to care for the flock.

Power in presence

Like the rest of the world, teenagers’ lives have been catapulted into much uncertainty during this pandemic. In this time, they are experiencing feelings of grief, loss, anxiety, and depression because of the sudden disruption to their social lives, schooling, and communities. As people we are social beings in need of relationship and human interaction – something which is even more important in a teenager’s life.

One space in which they experienced that is Youth. Friday nights are filled with loud laughter, high fives and tight hugs from friends. There is gaming, worship and teaching, and a safe space for them to be with one another. All of this was no longer possible. We had to think outside the box. Being present now had to look different.

Connecting in a new way

Trying to fill the void of regular face to face connecting has proven to be challenging. However, looking at new ways to be present has proven fruitful. We started checking in one on one after group time did not work. The one on one ‘check ins’ have been done differently for the various members on our committee, but include studying a book of the Bible together, video calls, gaming and weekly phone calls where we discuss everything and anything. Meeting the youth where they were at and engaging them in a way that affirms Gods love for them, and the care that exists within this ministry has been vital. There is also a regular reinforcement of God’s declaration that He is always with us – even in the difficult times.

Listen up!

Listening to where these kids are at in their daily lives is of paramount importance. Youth are inclined to shut down at the thought of sharing with an adult for fear of condemnation and judgement. It is, however, our God-given task to assure them that what they chose to share is confidential and met with love, provided it does not harm them. Listening adds value to them. It’s an integral aspect of pastoral care as it allows them to vent. As they share their hearts, we can point them to God with our response.

“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all” (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

This also allows for us to embark on a journey of friendship through discipleship.

Sticking closer than a brother

Being a friend to those you disciple offers both parties the opportunity to experience accountability. This pandemic requires us to deepen our level of discipleship and friendship with the youth. They are dealing with so many losses right now socially, emotionally, and mentally. What they need is a mature friend. A friend who understands them, walks with them, talks with them and cries with them. This is biblical. Jesus calls us His friends in John 15:15. Within friendship we have the liberty to openly rebuke through love, and still maintain trust and intimacy, which is vital.

In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 the writer says that two are better than one because they help one another. That is our charge in this time. As we navigate our way through uncertainty, we must offer youth our friendship.

“A friend always loves, and a brother is born for a time of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

Let us grow and heal together during this pandemic.