Resolving Pastoral Care and Missions


I am a Evangelical Christian Missionary serving in the Philippines. I also serve as an administrator of a pastoral care center (www.bukallifecare.org) and serve as the registrar for a certification program for clinical pastoral education. There are at least three big concerns that seem to come up in the realm of pastoral care that can cause conflict with Evangelical missions. I feel comfortable with where I have gotten to with regards to two of the issues. The third, I feel comfortable, for the most part, with the (creative) tension.

The three issues are:

  • Is Pastoral Care Christian? After all, many in the pastoral care movement utilize “non-Christian” methodologies. Some people who call themselves pastoral care providers are not even Christian.
  • Can one actually do pastoral care for non-Christians? Some argue that pastoral care is meaningless unless the other person is already a Christian.
  • (Bringing the two former points together) Pastoral Care generally does not involve evangelism. Often, practitioners are advised to not evangelize (especially if not asked regarding their faith). Is that a violation of Christ’s teaching?

Issue #1.  Is Pastoral Care Christian? The quick, and fairly obvious to most, answer is “YES.” But let’s take it further.   Pastoral Care has the classic image of shepherd and sheep, and its roots are as deeply embedded in the Bible as the concept of shepherding as a metaphor is similarly embedded. Pastoral Care has had the functional definition of “cure of souls.” The term soul here is not really as it is commonly used today. It is far more holistic. It could be translated at least as well as ‘cure of lives.” Its roots here are deeply embedded within church history. Clebsch and Jaeckle have described the basic functions of pastoral care as “healing, sustaining, guiding, and reconciling.” Others have added other functions such as nurturing, liberating, and empowering. All of these are well grounded in both the Bible and Christian history.

All this is good… but pastoral care has certainly broadened. In recent years, pastoral care has become more dependent of psychology. Psychology is seen by many Christians as a “godless” secular science. As such, it has no place for Christians.

The problem here is that there is an unnecessary and misleading dualism here.  As an Evangelical Christian, I take the following stand.

Christian Theology         interprets          the Bible             which is        God’s Creation

Psychology               interprets            the Human Mind         which is        God’s Creation

The problem is not God… who is integrated and consistent. The problem is not the objects of study of Christian Theology and Psychology. The Bible and the Human Mind, as God’s Creations, are consistent. At the same time neither is a substitute for the other. There are things about the human mind that are not mentioned in the Bible, and there are things in the human mind that are transcended in the Bible. As such, they are each valid objects for study.

The problem is our limitations. Our own perspective, finiteness, and basic ignorance mean that:

Christian Theology interprets correctly the Bible sometimes, and incorrectly at times.

Psychology interprets correctly the Human Mind sometimes, and incorrectly at times.

I believe that the Bible and the Human mind are both valid objects of study and are the work of God, but our interpretations of each through that study are potentially flawed. Therefore, we gain from healthy, and cautious, integration of these. Such integration can, sadly, lead people astray… but assuming one subject is completely correct and another is completely incorrect is hubristic, and is at least as likely to lead one astray. I do believe that many who are Christian pastoral counselors have fallen too much in love with psychological methods. They have at times, it seems to me, used psychology as an interpretive paradigm for the Biblical. This, I believe, is flawed. As Christians, our priority and specialty is God’s written revelation to us. But we are also souls (lives), God’s creation… and we cannot ignore the value in understanding this as well.

With this basic understanding, I think things become clearer.  Psychological methodologies are methods built (usually) off of empirical or theoretical underpinnings. As such, they can be useful or non-useful (or even destructive) to the extent that they correctly or incorrectly interpret the human mind… God’s creation. A pastoral care practitioner should be careful in any tool he or she uses. In fact, some methods that may be considered “Christian” may be based on a poor interpretation of the Bible as well. SOME in the Biblical Counseling movement and the Deliverance movement have done a poor job of Biblical interpretation by assuming that all problems come from far too limited number of sources (such as personal sin, or demon oppression). Such reductionism can be unhelpful, or even destructive, as well. A sound pastoral care provider must be cautious both theologically and psychologically.

Non-Christians sometimes describe themselves as pastoral care providers. That may annoy some Christians. However, there is no copyright on the term. Frankly, the use of the term by others is a bit complimentary since it suggests that the basic historical teachings and methods of pastoral care are seen a beneficial, even by non-Christians.

Summarizing the first point, I find as a missionary that pastoral care is a valid ministry, but must be dealt with intelligently, ethically, and cautiously, since it has tools from both the Christian and Psychology side that may have flaws due to improper interpretation of the Bible or the human mind.

<I will look at the other two questions in Part 2 and, I suppose, Part 3.>

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