This post is by David Pettett. David has been in Christian ministry for over 40 years. He has been a Navy, hospital and prison chaplain. He has managed prison and hospital chaplains and continues to teach pastoral care. He works as a Pastoral Supervisor and a Moderator of tertiary level courses in pastoral and church focused ministries.
To understand the competing world views a chaplain in a secular organisation faces, you have to understand a bit of history. But before we go there, there are two terms that need defining. The first is “world view”.
At its simplest, a world view is the way you look at, understand, respond to or interpret the world around you. As such, it will determine what you consider important and what is not important.
The second term to understand is the word “secular”. Many Christians use this word to mean “non-Christian”, but that is not the way I am using the word here. By “secular” I mean “non-religious”. A “secular institution” is an organisation, whether it be government or non-government, that deals with non-religious things or issues. By definition, most governments are secular. That is, they do not have a position on religion other than to, perhaps, guarantee freedom of religious practice. So, in the way I am using “secular organisation” here I am referring to an organisation like a hospital or a school, whether it be a public, government run, or a private hospital or school, it is a secular organisation in that it does not exist to promote any religious agenda.
In the hope that I haven’t raised more questions than I’ve answered, let me move on to understanding a bit of history. The Enlightenment of the late 18th and early 19th centuries encouraged people to think more independently and not to accept dogma, especially Church dogma, as unchallengeable truth. In the Christian world, this idea gave rise to the Evangelical movement, giving a much more personalised understanding of faith and relationship to God. No-longer did an individual Christian have to unthinkingly follow church dogma but was now set free to explore wherever their minds and observations took them. This approach allowed Charles Darwin, for example, to develop his theories. It also allowed Sigmund Freud, in a later generation, to develop his understanding of human psychology.
This understanding of history is particularly important when it comes to the development of modern pastoral care practices. The insights into the human condition gained by Freud and those who followed him have been taken up in a big way by those who developed Clinical Pastoral Care. These insights and their application to pastoral care have brought great benefit to the quality of pastoral care being offered in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries.
But there is a problem. Historically pastoral care belongs in the realm of theology and a biblical understanding of the human condition. Modern pastoral care practice in the main has fallen for an unbiblical approach, forgetting the nature of sin that inhabits every human being, and encouraging those being cared for to find what gives them meaning and purpose in life rather than to develop an obedient relationship with their Creator.
I am not suggesting that people should be harangued about sinful behaviour. Nor am I suggesting they should be lectured about obedience. What I am pleading for is for Christian pastoral carers to have a more biblical world view and to bring the insights that God has revealed about the human condition back into pastoral care.