Christian Life

Are we confused about pastoral care?

The Importance of Pastoral Care 

Love One Another

If we take pastoral care under the general umbrella of loving one another then at least three reasons emerge as to why pastoral care is vital for the life of the church. 

  1. Apart from worship (loving God), our highest moral responsibility as God’s people is to love one another. That responsibility is to all but especially to the members our local church family.
  2. Pastoral care (loving one another) affects our witness to the world around us. Jesus taught us that it is our love for one another that would authenticate our claim to be his disciples.
  3. Finally, and more practically, failure to adequately love others in the church can make them feel isolated and disconnected from the fellowship ultimately causing them to leave the church.

What is Pastoral Care?

We’ve recognised that pastoral care is a way in which the members of the church love one another and as such is vital to the church’s health and ministry. However, pastoral care has become a secularly defined ministry which is not limited to local churches or Christians. Universities, charities and workplaces all identify the need for pastoral care. Therefore we need to make sure that our definition of pastoral care is biblically, rather than culturally, defined.

General Definitions of Pastoral Care

According to the Collins English Dictionary pastoral care is as follows…


1. education, British

help with personal needs and problems given by a teacher

excellent teaching and pastoral care

A few schools now offer counselling sessions; all have some system of pastoral care.

2. theology

help with personal problems given by a priest

the pastoral care of the sick

I think it is fair to say that most people inside and outside of the church carry a fairly broad understanding of pastoral care around with them. It may mean something along the lines of “showing care and support for people in need”. 

Thinking about pastoral care in this way has, over time, affected our understanding pastoral care in the church. Increasingly the church’s pastoral care is held responsible for a large range of services including psychology, social work and nursing. The problem is that most churches are hopelessly under qualified for these responsibilities.

Changes in theological education reflect the secularisation of the church to the extent that most pastoral programmes include elements of psychology and sociology as part of the degree.  Pastors are no longer trained to be theologians and teachers but also social workers and counsellors. 

It is clear that these services are important. No-one would deny the value that psychologists, counsellors, social workers and nurses add to our lives.The question is whether or not this general view of pastoral care lines up with the Bible’s teaching about pastoral care in the church.

What do you think?


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