Missing tools

If anyone refrains from reproof and correction of ill-doers because he looks for a more suitable occasion, or because he fears that this will make them worse, or fears that they will hinder the instruction of others … in such case their action seems to be prompted not by self-interest but by counsels of charity. What is culpable is when those whose life is different and who abhor the deeds of the wicked are nevertheless indulgent to the sins of others, which they ought to reprehend and reprove, because they are concerned to avoid giving offense to them, in case they should harm themselves in respect of things which may rightly and innocently enjoyed by good men, but which they desire more than is right for those who are strangers in this world and who fix their hope on a heavenly country.

Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book I, Chapter 9

I wish my seminary class on pastoral care giving had spent several hours on this passage alone. I wish the hours I spent during Clinical Pastoral Education included training and coaching about moving into and through conversations like the ones Augustine envisions.

We spend so much time in clergy education working on our listening skills and bedside manner, and very little equipping us to enter into hard conversations that are necessary for the salvation of souls.

In the mainline church, of course, we are hampered in having such conversations because so many of our seminary professors and clergy find talk of salvation, heaven, and hell as missing the point.

Developing skills in listening and learning how to be an empathetic and compassionate presence are good things, but if these are the only tools in our pastoral kit, we are missing something fundamental to the work.


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