Pastoral Care & Counseling

Pastoral care and pastoral counseling are integral concepts necessary for effective ministry within institutional settings and church communities. It is vital to identify, recognize and differentiate between these two vocations. Although pastoral care and pastoral counseling are very similar, they have striking differences that one must understand to properly pursue and satiate our spiritual needs.[1] This essay will briefly demarcate the pastoral care in light of pastoral counseling.

Pastoral care “historically included any activity of the church that meets the needs of its members and its community; thus, activities of pastoral care can include preaching, visitation, performing funerals, counseling parishioners, outreach to the homeless, and many more”.[2] Pastoral care represents the reaching out of Christians to help, heal, or aid in the spiritual advancement and betterment of mankind. The duties of the chaplain are to give primary care to all those in need who seek the help and compassion of one dedicated to the holy life lived out in Christlikeness. Pastoral care does not require a regimented psychological background that pastoral counseling requires. In essence, anyone who cares can provide pastoral care.  

While rooted in pastoral care, pastoral counseling differs in specialization and need. “Pastoral counseling is both a specialized form of pastoral care and a specialized form of counseling.[3]” It is ethically important for the chaplain to understand how pastoral care transfers over to counseling so that he/she will know when, where, and how to get help or help others. Whereas pastoral care is the reaching out of one Christian to another, pastoral counseling involves deeper levels of therapy not afforded by regular parishioners, patients, or clergy.

When administering pastoral duties, one should be able to evaluate where and when proper care is needed. “Psychology became a vital part of the chaplain’s preparation and has provided skills that were needed, readily discernible and marketable in the clinical setting.”[4] Knowing the skills needed for proper counseling with patients who experienced trauma, etc. allows for a broader way to serve those in need.

Recognizing the similarities and differences between care and counseling sets up boundaries that allow proper healing and growth to the client by the correct person.[5] Many times the pastor or chaplain may take on the role of a counselor by supplementing it with care. Knowing the limitations of one’s ability to properly assign soul care and direct those in need of proper counseling to the right people is the right move in all situations.  If we overreach our pastoral duties and attempt to help those that need serious counsel, we run the risk of further damaging the client.

The importance of soul care could not be more important than in the new modern age of pills, medication, and overreaching physicians. “To attempt to reduce all pastoral care to counseling is to fail to recognize both the breadth of pastoral care as well as the distinctive nature of counseling.”[6] It may be an oversimplification to state that all pastoral counseling is an extension of pastoral care but not all pastoral care is an extension of pastoral counseling. Identifying where one ends and the other begins is the true challenge of the steward. But it’s importance can not be overstated.


Benner, David G. Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-term Structured Model. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003.

Holst, Lawrence E. Hospital Ministry: The Role of the Chaplain Today. Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2006.

Lynch, Gordon. Pastoral Care and Counselling. London: Sage, 2002.

McClure, Barbara J. Moving beyond Individualism in Pastoral Care and Counselling: Reflections on Theory, Theology, and Practice. Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2011.

Meier, Paul D., Frank B. Minirth, Frank B. Wichern, and Donald Ratcliff. Introduction to Psychology and Counseling: Christian Perspectives and Applications. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.



[1] Certain portions of this essay are taken from original material written by Seth Smith for South University in “Introduction to Pastoral Counseling” in 2017 titled Pastoral Counseling and Soul Care.         

[2] Barbara J. McClure, Moving beyond Individualism in Pastoral Care and Counselling: Reflections on Theory, Theology and Practice (Cambridge: Lutterworth Press, 2011).

[3] David G. Benner, Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-term Structured Model, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), pg.28.

[4] Lawrence E. Holst, Hospital Ministry: The Role of the Chaplain Today (Eugene, Or.: Wipf & Stock, 2006), 18.

[5] Gordon Lynch, Pastoral Care and Counselling (London: Sage, 2002),

[6] David G. Benner, Strategic Pastoral Counseling: A Short-term Structured Model, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), pg. 19.


1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on R-Rated Religion and commented:

    Pastoral counseling is a huge problem in the modern church in that most Christians do not utilize this helpful tool of the church. We, as believers, need to spread the message of pastoral care and counseling to our faith-based communities. Mental health in the world is at record highs and people should be opening seeking good certified pastoral counselors to aide and help heal those in pastoral care. Share this article with your communities and urge local leadership to address this in your parish, congregation, or Church. God Bless!


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