Pastoral Care 101

by Phil Sallee

Remember when God called you to be a pastor, and you said yes? From the first day you became a pastor, you learned that one of the duties that would occupy the largest share of your time would be shepherding His flock. Shepherding God’s flock in the Church is called pastoral care. The rigors of effective “pastoral care” or “shepherding” help a pastor/shepherd understand that saying, “surrendered to the ministry.”

  • Jesus had compassion for “harassed and helpless” people, because they were “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
  • After breakfast with the risen Lord, when Jesus was restoring Peter who had denied Him three times, Jesus said, “Feed My lambs… Tend My sheep… Feed My sheep” (John 21:15–17).
  • Later, Peter instructed elders, “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2).

As a shepherd takes care of his sheep, the word shepherding means “to tend, to guard, and to lead the sheep.” For a pastor, shepherding God’s flock is providing loving care to those in need. Pastors are expected to provide spiritual guidance, supply emotional support, furnish physical assistance, and, when possible, share financial help.

Some pastors are spiritually gifted in such a way that they find the caring and nurturing role of a shepherd very fulfilling. Other pastors are not gifted in that way, and for them, executing these duties can be difficult and draining. They are tempted to neglect the pastoral care side of ministry.

The reality for every pastor is the fact that broken people desire to be cared for and to feel loved. They cherish and appreciate individual attention from their pastor. Caring for the needs of people in your church plays a vital role in a church’s health and growth. Pastoral care helps the healing of broken hearts, enables healthy change, and provides the support for broken people to make healthy changes. Pastoral care ministers to the body, mind and soul. It is both practical and spiritual.

Effective pastoral care ministry has changed significantly over the last 50 years. The following is an incomplete list of ways to achieve effective pastoral care:

  • Follow-up text messages, phone calls and e-mails – new guests, absentees and prayer opportunities for people in need
  • Counseling – financial, marital, premarital, family, blended families, substance abuse, addictions, divorce, grief, etc.
  • Hospital, homebound and chronic illness visitation
  • Weddings and funerals

In smaller churches, one pastor can cover a significant piece of the shepherding needs of the congregation. However, as a church grows, it is critical for a pastor to include others in this important ministry. As a church plant grows, important choices and effective changes must be made by the leadership to ensure adequate and loving care to every person in the congregation.

Mobilizing small groups to assist in pastoral care is the single most effective way to provide pastoral care for the Church. Each small group must understand that the pastoral care/shepherding role is fulfilled by the group. Genuine loving and caring of group members provides a priceless value to the body that a single pastor shepherd cannot do alone.

A wise pastor finds the right balance between his involvement in pastoral care and empowering the church to provide pastoral care through small groups.

Phil Sallee is Minister of Pastoral Care at the North Campus of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Prosper, Texas.