By B. Dean Akers, Jr.
I am often asked, “How do you provide pastoral care to pastors?” The better question is, “How can I be the chaplain for chaplains?” This is a question that I keep in front of me as the Course Manager for our U.S. Army Chaplain Captains Career Course-Hybrid.
I am pastoral with the students, but I am not their pastor.
Of course, I will help them as much as I can, but I also have to draw the line as their supervisor. Sometimes, this means that I cannot provide the pastoral care they need, but will always refer them to another chaplain. Some may see this as not being pastoral, but I see it as being more pastoral. I do not see it any different than a pastor being professional enough to know when he/she isn’t trained to help someone. What do they do? I hope they refer. This is part of good pastoral care.
You know that you are not the right person to help them; so, you refer them to the person who is able to help them. As a chaplain (pastor), you realize it is not about you, but about the person you are called to help. If you are not equipped to help them, then find the trained person. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give someone is that of knowing our own limitations.
Recently, I was doing some growth counseling with an individual. I informed them that this was the part of the job I didn’t like as much, because I was going to have to tell them some things that they weren’t going to want to hear. I articulated that if they needed to talk to someone afterwards; I had another chaplain standing ready to help them. The chaplain said that they really appreciated my honesty, because that is what we are called to do… “Speak the truth in love.” We must speak the truth in love even when someone doesn’t want to hear it. That is being a chaplain (pastor).
Pastoral care does not always have to be this touchy-feely stuff. It does have to be about the process. The process sometimes calls for us to be honest to the point of it hurting some. The best analogy that I can use to explain this is from my time within the burn ward at Brooke Army Medical Center. One of the toughest portions of the healing process for burn survivors is the skin grafts. Many times they are medicated not to feel the pain, but for them not to remember it. They have to go through the pain of the skin graft for the healing to take place. We too, must go through some pain in order to heal and move on.
Pastoral care is not always warm and fuzzy, but it about truth and growth. That is the thing that I think is most important about the pastoral care I provide other chaplains. I am always called to speak the truth in love to them. I strive to follow the example of our Lord!
Chaplain (MAJ) B. Dean Akers, Jr. serves as a CBF-endorsed Army Chaplain and the Course Manager for the U.S. Army Chaplain Captain Career Course-Hybrid in Columbia, S.C. He earned his M.Div. from M. Christopher White School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University and his D.Min. at Erskine Theological Seminary in Due West, S.C.