Article Information

Gordon E. Dames1

1Department of Practical Theology, University of the Free State, South Africa

Correspondence to:
Gordon Dames


Postal address:
PO Box 339, Bloemfontein 9300, South Africa

missional pastoral ministry; socio-economic and systemic pathologies; maintenance ecclesiologies; transversal hermeneutics; poverty-stricken families and communities; liberation and empowerment

Received: 16 Mar. 2010
Accepted: 03 Sept. 2010
Published: 23 Nov. 2010

How to cite this article:
Dames, G.E., 2010, The dilemma of traditional and 21st-century pastoral ministry: Ministering to families and communities faced with socio-economic pathologies, HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 66(2), Art. #817, 7 pages. DOI: 10.4102/hts.v66i2.817 Note:
This article was initially presented as a paper at the Joint Conference of Academic Societies in the Fields of Religion and Theology, Stellenbosch University, 23 June 2009.

Copyright Notice:
© 2010. The Authors. Licensee: OpenJournals Publishing. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License.

ISSN: 0259-9422 (print)
ISSN: 2072-8050 (online)

The dilemma of traditional and 21st century pastoral ministry: Ministering to families and communities faced with socio-economic pathologies

In This Original Research...
Open Access
Institutional methodologies engaging contextual challenges
Pathological socio-economic conditions
Pastoral theology in the (White) Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa
Missional pastoral ministry in Black communities
A transversal model of cross-disciplinarity: Towards a pastoral pedagogy for empowerment

A holistic pastoral methodology is sought in transforming the socio-economic and systemic pathologies of poor families and local communities. Missional pastoral ministry is proposed from a critical hermeneutical and contextual perspective for the empowerment and liberation of people living with complex and multiple forms of pathologies. A transversal rationality model is applied merging the complexity and divergence of cross-disciplinary and intradisciplinary approaches between missional theology, practical theology, contextual theology, religious pedagogy and ethics. Practical theology in South Africa should be applied from and within the contemporary socio-economic, systemic and ecclesiological pathologies.

Solidarity, prayer, and martyrdom add up to a time of salvation and judgment, a time of grace and stern demand a time, above all, of hope.

(Gutierrez 1983:25)

Institutional methodologies engaging contextual challenges
Pathological socio-economic conditions

Pathologies faced by families or communities in poor local communities are complex and virtually non-transformational; confronted with so much evil, deeply destructive of the human personality (Coene 1983:950). The church ought to be critical of the socio-economic and political conditions that oppress and dehumanise Gods people and create enormous crisis situations for Black people[7] (Moila 1989:208). A radical position is required in refusing to accept what Freire defined as (1978:9) packaged or prefabricated solutions. The church should, for example, call local governmental structures to task in providing transparent and quality services (cf. the Confession of Belhar in Botha & Naud 1998).

South Africas liberation movement of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s achieved only political freedom. White monopoly capital continues to hold economic power while poverty, unemployment and inequality are predominately confined to the Black majority (Cloete 2007:3). The new democratic South Africa does not resonate with the ideals of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, regarding a free, fair, equal, non-racial, non-sexist and righteous society. Similarly, the Confession of Belhar was not allowed to foster a unified church or society for social and economic righteousness (Botha & Naud 1998; Strauss 2005).[8] The reproduction of hegemonic philosophical and theological apartheid praxis disempowers authentic denominational and socio-economic transformation (cf. Van Dijk 1993). The greatest challenge for all South Africans lies in the appropriate readdressing of poverty and the quality of transformation (Sampson 2009:134). Superficial attempts by anyone to address these conditions should be viewed with suspicion. Social projects of some White churches may be equated to an attempt to silence a guilty consciousness for the inhuman apartheid atrocities.[9] White communities benefited from the liberation movements political achievements through retaining key economic power and demographic privileges. New guises of economic superiority and the perpetuation of old imbalances are prevalent today. Property and economic development lures poor families and communities to sell their properties for redevelopment in favour of White families. Socio-economic conditions of families in poverty-stricken communities remain unchallenged with little hope for its transformation these communities remain trapped as victims (Sampson 2009:135). Shabodien (2007:1) highlights this fact in referring to farm workers in the Western Cape as the most marginalised communities in South Africa with weak historical, social and political capital as a demographic group.

Politicians, academics and public officials and the established churches of South Africa have become silent and allowed these disparities and gross discriminatory and disempowering practices to exists and grow. Shabodien (2007:1) criticises politicians in the Western Cape for a lack of land reform due to their reluctance to tamper with this important sector for fear of declining provincial revenues. It is destructive and breeds the old oppressive practices, which do nothing but exacerbating the plight of poorer communities. Freire (1978:3) therefore called for the death of self-interest and to die as a class in being reborn in consciousness.

Some of the traditional churches in South Africa demonstrate an inability to be reborn in consciousness and to die as a class. Furthermore, the uncertainty and corruption brought about by South Africas political transition, globalisation and postmodernity breed fundamentalism and individualism to the extent that a vision for the common public good of all suffers. The dilemma is that deep levels of distress develop among the majority of the poorest in the broader community. Pastoral counsellors may consequently encounter people with anxieties that do not stem from their personal lives, but from a distress-effect in the broader community (Taylor 1984:229). The impatience of the poor has brought the need for poverty alleviation into sharper focus. This calls for a new focus in government in addressing poverty alleviation before reconciliation (Sampson 2009:141). It also calls churches to realign their programmes for reconciliation and restitution in redressing socio-economic conditions in poverty-stricken communities. The plight of poor communities from the health professions perspective is self-illuminating:

In our country, the consequences of extreme levels of poverty and interpersonal violence bring people to the doors of our public health facilities. [This is the] end result of desperate lives leading to stabbings, gunshots, rape victims, gangrene from disease and personal neglect, ulcers from drug abuse, homeless people exposed to the cold, shack dwellers burnt at paraffin stoves, young children suffering the end results of malnutrition, cancers from smoking, asbestos, poor diet and of course our latest epidemic, HIV and Aids.

(Cairncross 2007:1)

Pastoral theology in the (White) Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa
Missional pastoral ministry in Black communities
A transversal model of cross-disciplinarity: Towards a pastoral pedagogy for empowerment

Pathological conditions remain a way of life for most of the poverty-stricken families and communities in Southern Africa. Missional pastoral ministry should engage in the liberation from and transformation of pathologies in the daily lives of suffering families and communities. Liberation from below proposes to transform oppressive conditions into Gods preferred praxis of total liberation:

Prophets need not advocate a revolution to overthrow an unprincipled regime. Commitments to a new understanding [how to live and transform suffering] undermine the allegiances to old realities and assure the collapse of [pathological socio-economic, political and even ecclesial] structures that are at odds with the new vision.

(Simmons 1989:521)

Christians are to be signs of hope, salt and light in the world, pointing to the moral influence that should be exercised in transforming pathologies, deconstructing and reconstructing public policy and ecclesial maintenance they ought to be guided and sustained by a commitment to justice, human rights, dignity and religious liberty, which is conspicuously absent from Christendoms moral priorities.[22]


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[1].Osmer (2008:170ff) prefers the concept cross-disciplinary dialogue instead of Van der Vens (1994:6ff) multidisciplinarity or interdisciplinary approaches.

[2].The concept interdisciplinarity refers to a real discussion between theology and social sciences. The term intradisciplinarity highlights a new relation between the two sciences. The reason for Van der Vens (1994:2ff) new approach lies in the fact that the social sciences do not perceive religion as part of the social reality and social sciences, especially within a secularised society. Practical theologians should integrate the methodologies of the social sciences in relation to practical theological questions and aims in a concerted effort to drink from our own wells (cf. Dingemans 1988:91ff).

[3].Pastoral ministry in this article refers to a broader perspective on pastoral care and counselling.

[4].The concept missional is applied in reference to the critical response of contemporary Christianity to the traditional maintenance ecclesial paradigm.

[5].This refers to the scientific revolution that informed European comprehension that everything in the universe could be discovered by the laws (structures) that govern all physical phenomena (Thomas 2002).

[6].Compare Missional encounter of the Gospel engaging cultural edges as agents of adaptive change (Dames 2008).

[7].The term Black people will be applied in this article to refer to so-called Coloured and Black people in South Africa.

[8].The Confession of Belhar publicly witnessed against an unjust system; cultivating a culture of change and may continue to be instrumental in the transformation of unjust and irreconcilable contemporary practices (like the HIV and Aids scenario) and cultures. This public missional witness, however, has lost its momentum, leaving the church in South Africa in the same disposition as Christendom worldwide [collapsing into modernity, cf. Smit 2007]. A key answer to this dilemma for the church today lies in her being missional and in attending to the lives and conditions of the vulnerable, less fortunate and poor on the periphery of society (Dames 2008:60).

[9].Suffice it to say that there are many churches that want to do something about it, but that they do not always know what to do or how to go about it (Taylor 1984:228).

[10].Telic is derived from the Greek term teleion which, in Scripture, denotes the task of preparing one to appear before, and to live in, Gods presence. The term teleison also encompasses the idea of a mature faith and spirituality (Louw 2004:7).

[11].Ontology is taken to mean a hermeneutical endeavour to link God to human life in order to deal with the spiritual dimension of significance and the question of the ultimate meaning of life in the face of evil and suffering (Louw 2008:18).

[12].Fortology represents a movement away from pathology to constructive enforcement and encouragement (Louw 2008:31) [see Strmpfer 2002].

[13] The missional model has the potential to turn the churches inside out rather than allowing them to focus inward thereby overlooking the human situation (Johnson 2004:477).

[14].Compare Bosch (2005:370).

[15].Many persons may have the impression that pastoral care does not exist in the Black church [in South Africa] because very little has been written about it. [I]t can be concluded that pastoral care has always existed in the Black church because the needs of persons are ministered to by others all the time (Wimberley 1979:1718).

[16].Compare Heitinks (1979:375) pastoral care model in fellowship with the Church of Christ.

[17].. healing could become a tradition in the mainline Protestant white churches because there were economic resources to provide clinical training for pastors, whereas the Black church had to rely upon a tradition of sustaining and guiding fashioned in response to oppression (Wimberley 1979:2223).

[18].Boff (1986) introduced a new theological methodology, namely eco-theology, in an attempt to bring the experiences of people in relation with the official theological discourse of the church (Dingemans 1988:90).

[19] With all the emphasis, and justly so, on the scientific quality of [pastoral theology], a disregard has developed for the many levels and various forms of the practice of [pastoral theology] on the local as well as informal level (Mller 2005:73).

[20].A postfoundationalist or poststructuralist approach departs from a predominantly maintenance (structuralist or foundationalist) paradigm. This perspective takes seriously the challenges of postmodern thinking to all totalizing, modernist attempts to secure true knowledge through foundationalist strategies. It acknowledges that knowledge is constructed on the basis of social practices, language, and values that are local and contextual (Osmer 2008:308ff).

[21].The basic church communities are helping the whole church in the process of declericalization, by restoring to the People of God, the faithful, the rights of which they have been deprived in the linear structure (Boff 1986:32).

[22].Neuhaus holds that the debate within and amongst the churches is no longer over whether religion should be politically relevant. The debate is about the terms on which that involvement takes place. Which policies should be supported and why? (Neuhaus 1987, cited in Simmons 1989:517).


Crossref Citations

1. Reflection on pastoral care in Africa: Towards discerning emerging pragmatic pastoral ministerial responses
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