Book Review: Together Through the Storm

Together Through the Storm:
A practical guide to Christian Care
Sally Sims. Matthias Media, 2016

The book is just as it is described in the sub-title: it’s ‘a practical guide to Christian care’, in three parts. Part 1, ‘Suffering and the God who cares’, sets out the reality of suffering in this world and points us to the God who not only understands, but who can be trusted. According to Sims, Christian care aims to anchor the person in these truths as they deal with suffering. Part 2, ‘Biblical Foundations for Care’ explores how as God’s people we share life together in all its suffering and joy, and how we are called to love one another. It then looks at what makes our care Christian, and finally turns to how Christian care can be structured across the church. Part 3 is about Christian care in action, with lots of very practical guidelines for visiting people, finishing with the specific context of visiting people in hospital.
Sims has achieved what she has set out to achieve: a practical guide to Christian care which is also well grounded theologically, and not afraid of using insights from the helping professions. This work would be useful for a care team in the local church as a basic training tool, or for any Christian keen to be better equipped for caring.

I think the title ‘Christian care’, rather than ‘pastoral care’, is helpful in practice, especially when the term ‘pastoral care’ is too open to the misunderstanding that all or most pastoral care should be done by the pastor. Also, as Sims points out, it helps us to hold onto the distinctiveness of Christian pastoral care, when the term is often used of general pastoral care in hospitals and schools and other settings.
This is a balanced book, encouraging the use of the Bible and prayer in Christian care while also underlining how we demonstrate our love by the way we listen, are sensitive to people’s needs and provide practical care and support. The practical section, the last section of the book, covers some areas that those who are new to Christian care will find helpful—everything from how you might prepare to visit someone, what you need to keep in mind with hospital visits, to what to review when you come back, including discussing and praying about this with your team so you are encouraging each other in the work.

Overall this is a good and useful book. At times I wanted a bit more depth, but as a basic tool it is great. I especially appreciated the reminders about the importance of listening as a way of demonstrating love. These were repeated throughout the book, and I think Sims is right to imagine that we need to be reminded to listen. Her repeated reminders helped me finally to hear what she is saying, and—hopefully—correct the tendency to come up with a quick answer, seeking to solve people’s problems. (See pages 66-68 and 92-93 on listening).

Chapter 8 on the body of Christ working together gave a helpful basic outline and description of how a church could provide structure to the ministry of caring. I’m always struck by how Christian care happens (without much organisation by a leader) as people are motivated by God’s grace in their lives to reach out to love and care for others. Much of this is encouraged and furthered through small group ministry in a church. However, when circumstances are overwhelming or someone has long term needs, they may need additional care that’s part of a more structured and planned approach, including a care team of people who provide care at various levels and care leaders who co-ordinate care and who equip people for this ministry.

Together Through The Storm will help the reader to grow in their capacity to care for others, especially if Christian care is either new to them, or they need some basic training or a refresher on the basics of Christian care. Chapter 8 will also help pastors who have not thought through how to structure Christian care in a church, by providing a basic structure and description of that structure. Finally, there is a helpful reflection at the end of the book about how pain and suffering is often ‘where the real work of life takes place’, and thus how God uses our own pain and suffering to change us for the better and make us better carers. That’s something every pastor or Christian carer ought to reflect on and give God thanks for, whether we read this book or not.

Roger Morey, WA.