What is meant by the term pastoral care?

Pastoral care is generally used as a term referring to the practices pastors do to shepherd or care for individuals in their local congregation. For example, some aspects of pastoral care could include hospital visitation, visits to elderly church members, pastoral counseling, prayer with church members, premarital counseling, weddings, funerals, baby dedications, or similar practices.

Pastoral care is generally based on the ideas of the pastor or elder as a shepherd in Scripture. For example, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep: "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep" (John 10:11).

In 1 Peter 5:2-3, Peter also teaches, "shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." His aspects of "shepherding" include willing leadership, eager service, and living as an example to those under one's care.

When the apostle Paul gave his final words to the church leaders from Ephesus, he shared, "Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood" (Acts 20:28). Good pastoral care includes paying careful attention to one's own life as well as to the details of those a pastor serves. A pastor is to oversee and care for the church with great love.

Another aspect of pastoral care is the commitment to sacrifice one's own life and desires on behalf of the sheep. Jesus set the example by laying down His life for His sheep. While a pastor must care for his own life, he also sacrifices his own desires many times in order to serve others.

Pastoral care is often considered as encompassing all of the areas of pastoral ministry outside of preaching and teaching. However, preaching is a primary method of pastoral care as well. How can a shepherd best care for his sheep? He must feed them well. He must protect them from harmful ways through warning against false teachings. He must show love in both word and deed, offering a voice of hope to those he leads.

Pastoral care is not a separate aspect of pastoral ministry, but is an integral part of the overall leadership a pastor provides to church members. A smaller congregation may be led by a single shepherd or pastor, but any church of significant size will require multiple pastoral leaders or elders who can personally invest in the lives of church members and help each person grow to his or her full potential in Christ.

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