Essential Tasks of Pastoral Care

Essential Tasks of Pastoral Care
By James Littles

A critical part of a minister’s life is pastoral care. Substantial amounts of time and energy are spent in praying, counseling, organizing, and equipping others to provide pastoral care. Pastoral care is not something that stands in competition with evangelism or teaching on righteous and holy living; in fact caring for others is a major witnessing tool (John 13:35). Pastoral care should not be a response to the pressure of psychology or any other social science, though the pastoral caregiver would be remiss in refusing such insights that are in accordance with biblical principles. Finally, pastoral care giving is not only the purview of the pastor. Pastors frequently provide training and oversight for members of their congregation who in turn can provide pastoral care to other saints in the church.

As with all aspects of ministry the biblical text provides the foundation for a proper understanding of pastoral care. Everything that happens in the church is a part of the mission Christ gave to us. Jesus defined Himself as the Good Shepherd in John 10. Jesus had to call Peter to the shepherding task three times in John 21. The apostle later conveyed this responsibility to fellow elders in I Peter 5. These biblical mandates provide examples that contemporary undershepherds can follow as well.

In most Pentecostal circles the call to preach is the call to ministry. While this use of language may adequately convey the importance of the preached Word, it does not fully describe the work most pastors will be doing in their lifetime. Jesus and Peter understood that shepherding included feeding, caring, and protecting. Paul’s ministry mandate in Ephesians 4:11-13 further adds equipping for ministry and working toward unity as part of the pastoral
office along with the other offices mentioned. With the continued work of the Spirit, the pastor is empowered to face the challenges that arise each day.

Definitions of pastoral care vary from one writer to the next. The Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling provides a definition that is adequate for our discussion. Pastoral care is the ministry of over-sight and nurture offered by a religious community to its members, including acts of discipline, support, comfort, and celebration.”‘ Pastoral care activities include all aspects of church life from preaching, worship, and Christian education to hospital visitation, counseling, baby dedications, weddings, retirement celebrations, and funerals. Pastoral care-givers seek to achieve two primary goals: (1) bring a greater degree of wholeness to the lives of individuals and communities, and (2) glorify the Lord. Contemporary culture is greatly lacking in these two areas. Life is fragmented into compartments that arc frequently in conflict; true wholeness includes spiritual, mental, physical, social, ecological, financial, and institutional domains.

Pastoral caregivers should examine the various tasks included in this part of ministry. Five different tasks can be found in the work of Howard Clinebell3. The first task is the primary mission of the church itself, to bring reconciliation to all relation-ships. Pastoral care seeks to bring healing between individuals and groups as well as between people and God. Paul states the relationship between God and humanity is a state of declared war (11 Corinthians 10:3-5). Sin also drives a wedge between individuals, families, and communities. In pastoral care the work of reconciliation fulfills a beatitude condition of peacemaking (Matthew 5:9). A second task of pastoral care is the act of healing. The church has received the spiritual gift of healing (I Corinthians 12:9). This healing seeks to go beyond cessation of pain and suffering to actually restore that which has been broken (Joel 2:25). The third task of sustaining is related to the healing work of pastoral care. At times individuals and churches will suffer with Christ (I Peter 4:12-16, Revelation 2:8-11). In such cases the task of pastoral care is to provide sustaining comfort during times of crisis or pain as seen in the Smyrna congregation. At such times the caregiver may be called to walk through the valley of death with the suffering one.

The final two tasks of pastoral care are more growth oriented. Saints are called to mature in the spirit so they can perform their own works of ministry (Hebrews 5:12). The fourth task provides guidance for individuals or groups as they make critical life choices. Though guidance is not the same thing as paternalistic hierarchical control, it does require an under-standing of human development and the process of change in the lives of individuals and culture. Many of these life choices are a result of the normal transitions in a person’s life cycle; in pastoral care the individual is assured he or she does not travel alone. Finally, the ministry of nurturing is the last task of pastoral care cited by Clinebell. Nurturing assists individuals in developing their full potential in Christ. This process includes the work of sanctification as the saint becomes more and more transformed in the image of Christ.

The central motivation for all pastoral care can be found in Peter’s call (John 21). Jesus’ primary qualification question concerned the disciple’s love of the Master. If Peter truly loved Jesus, then he would have no problem providing pastoral care for the sheep he served. He tried to pass this core identity to those who followed in his footsteps by telling the next generation of pastors not to lord over the people as if they belonged to the pastor (I Peter 5:3). Pastoral care that is motivated by love for the Chief Shepherd will provide the caregiver with a sense of mission and freedom to walk boldly with those served. An understanding of these five tasks of pastoral care can help inform and guide a ministry in any context.

James Littles is vice president and processor of practical theology at Urshan Graduate School of Theology.

1 A good resource guide for this ministry is
H. W Stone, The Caring Church: A Guide for Lay Pastoral Care (Minneapolis, MN:
Fortress Press, 1991).

2 Rodney J. Hunter, ed.. Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling (Abingdon Press: Nashville, TN, 1990). 213.

3 H. Clinehell, Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counseling (Revised) (Abingdon Press: Nashville, TN. 1984).