Christian Counseling and Pastoral Care – Introduction

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Christian Counseling and Pastoral Care – Introduction


All ministers give pastoral care to some degree. This ranges from those who emphasize pastoring almost exclusively, to those who do so only through small groups. Also, most ministers extend care at the advanced level of pastoral counseling or short-term therapy. Again the emphasis varies. In all cases, it is important to engage pastoral encounters with wisdom, sensitivity, and skill.

This Ministry Resource Guide is divided into two sections: 1) Pastoral Care, and 2) Pastoral Counseling. A separate page is devoted to each. While not all the literature observes this distinction, much of it does, yet there is considerable overlapping. Another important work is Spiritual Care, which although interfaces significantly with Pastoral Care and Counseling, is usually categorized in the field of Spiritual Direction, which will be included in a separate Ministry Resource Guide on Spiritual Formation.

By Pastoral Care is meant the general expressions of caring for persons in the context of ministry, some of it uniquely attributed to the pastoral role in our society — officiating at weddings and funerals, visiting hospitals, bereavement care, blessing new births, listening to a person’s pain while attending a social event, etc.

By Pastoral Counseling is meant the more specialized helping relationships that occur in structured therapeutic settings to help persons integrate faith into major life transitions (e.g. marriage, mid-life, retirement, elder care), difficult crises (e.g. divorce, abuse), or ongoing problems (e.g. depression, eating disorders).

One area of general Pastoral Care for which there is an abundance of resources is officiating at Weddings and Funerals. A separate resource guide is devoted to that subject, and is referenced below.

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While Pastoral Care is almost universally respected as the purview of ministers, some professionals have difficulty validating Pastoral Counseling. There are at least two reasons for this. First, what is often presented as Pastoral Counseling is unskillfully conducted, presumptuously stretching outside a minister’s expertise, and doing more harm than good. When this happens, the criticism is just. Still, ministers receive more opportunities to counsel than any other profession, even more than some licensed therapists. Both church members and those not associated with churches trust ministers. Ministers are more accessible and less expensive, and are often the first choice when people need help. Also, with rare exception, churches expect their ministers to provide counsel. Those suffering from troubled marriages, difficult emotional issues, etc. anticipate an emphathetic welcome in the minister’s office, and expect to receive quality care in this context. The minister saying to a church, “I don’t do counseling,” is like the proverbial house-cleaner saying, “I don’t do windows.” Simply put, Pastoral Counseling is expected of ministers. Refusing to counsel damages the pastoral relationship and in most cases contributes to unhappy, shortened tenures. The issue is not whether to do Pastoral Counseling, but to conduct it skillfully.

One area of Pastoral Counseling that is fairly universal among ministers is Pre-Marital Counseling, which has a separate resource guide and is referenced below.

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Second, some mental health professionals are concerned that using the term Pastoral Counseling confuses it with Certified Pastoral Therapy (CPT). CPT is a licensed profession, complete with graduate degrees, competency exams, practicum requirements, and supervised practice. Most ministers do not attain this level of training, and it is important not to mistake one for the other. Yet, both are “Pastoral” and both are “Counseling.” The difference is one is certified and the other is not. Perhaps in time the language will sharply distinguish between the two. For now, however, the term in common usage and professional literature refers to both the trained and the untrained.

All of the above underscores the need for Pastoral Care and Counseling to be conducted competently. Even for those with spiritual gifts and natural inclinations, this requires intentional development. The resources listed in this Ministry Resource Guide help with this. Follow the links below to the appropriate section.

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Ministry Resources on Pastoral Care

  • Pastoral Care — Spiritual and Theological Foundations
  • Pastoral Care — General Practice
  • Pastoral Care — Hospital Visitation
  • Pastoral Care — Crisis
  • Pastoral Care — Listening and Attending Skills
  • Pastoral Care — Weddings and Funerals (See Separate Guide)

Ministry Resources on Pastoral Counseling

  • Theological, Philosophical, and Theoretical Foundations
  • Dictionaries and Reference Manuals
  • Comprehensive Practice Manuals
  • Manuals for Short-Term Pastoral Therapy
  • Manuals for Premarital Counseling
  • Special Issues – abuse, addiction, depression, elder care, life cycle/life transitions, marriage and family, suicide
  • Organizations and Journals on Pastoral Care and Counseling

Ministry Resources for Pre-Marital Christian Counseling

  • Premarital Counseling
  • Comprehensive Guides to Pre-Marital Counseling
  • Assessment Resources for Premarital Counseling
  • Relationship-Building Resources for Premarital Counseling
  • Communication Resources for Premarital Counseling
  • Financial Resources for Premarital Counseling
  • Sexual Resources for Premarital Counseling

Ministry Resources for Weddings and Funerals

  • Comprehensive Manuals to Officiating at Weddings and Funerals
  • Wedding Officiating Resources
  • Funeral Officiating Resources
  • Help with Grief Issues

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