Soul Care: One-to-one Pastoral Ministry

In Scripture, pastoral care imagery most often connotes corporate care of the flock, whereas scriptural references to the soul to denote the innermost being of a person or a person’s relationship with the triune God.


Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you in turmoil within me? (Ps 42:5a ESV)

Have you ever puzzled over why some people maintain that the primary form of pastoral ministry for a congregation is preaching and teaching? Or, that the task of pastoral ministry was related to admonition? Have you ever wondered how this conclusion was reached?

Abraham_Mignon_-_Interior_of_a_grotto_with_a_rock-pool,_frogs,_salamanders_and_a_bird's_nestThe term pastoral care has a rich heritage that traces its origins back to Church Father, Gregory the Great (540– 604) a bishop who wrote The Book of Pastoral Rule, as a guide for the ministry of bishops and clergy. Two later writers who wrote on pastoral ministry were the Reformer Martin Bucer (1491 – 1551), Concerning the Care of Soul and Puritan, Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691) The Reformed Pastor. Bucer and Baxters’ books became classic guides to pastoral ministry in the Protestant church and were manuals for clergy and elders visiting their congregational members in order to know them and perceive the states of their souls and to instruct and pray for these parishioners.

In addition to the traditional use of the term, the term pastoral care rose to prominence again in a new context. Various sectors of the progressive mid-C20th American protestant church reinvigorated the term pastoral care for a style of ministry based on language drawn from the Twenty-third Psalm combined with on non-directive counselling.  Since the mid-C20th the term pastoral care entered our vocabulary to refer to the various activities of ranging from church ministry, chaplaincy, Christian soul care, through to any form of multifaith and secular spiritual care. Following this broadening and inevitable shallowing of the term, pastoral care, became the accepted nomenclature for a large range of both Christian and secular roles that focus on the care of individuals with regard to individual well-being and issues of meaning and purpose.

So, for many of us, whose introduction to the term pastoral care was formed through contact with the C20th pastoral care movement, the idea that pastoral care as instruction may sound discordant. But if we were to trace back to the origins of the biblical pastoral imagery and its relation to shepherds and sheep, the pieces of the puzzle may become clearer. Scripture refers to shepherds and sheep hundreds of times within the Old and New Testaments. From the book of Psalm and the prophecies of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah and the other prophets, most references to shepherds are metaphors for God himself or the leaders of his people, who in turn are referred to as a flock, or as sheep.

Scripture certainly contains images of the tender shepherd scooping up his lost sheep, but many more references focus around the duties and responsibilities of the shepherd, and the dire consequences when shepherds neglect their sheep or even fleece and slaughter them for the shepherd’s own gain. The shepherds are instructed to guard the sheep and to teach them.

The image of a flock, or even sheep, are collective images that correspond closely to the corporate nature of a congregation. In the C16th, Martin Bucer chose another more fruitful term to refer to the individual state of a person’s faith, an intimate and richly textured image, the soul.  The concept of the soul provides a rich stream of thought that flows through the length of scripture from Genesis to Revelation.

Our soul is the part of us that loves God, rejoices at God’s goodness, pants for streams of water, grieves, is downcast, can be bitter or sweet. Our soul may be awake or asleep, alert or dull, at peace or in anguish, rejoicing or in deep sorrow, alive or destroyed. Our soul is our very being, it is embodied yet it is more than our physical body. In the final analysis, it can transcend death entering eternity, or yet may be destroyed, everlastingly.

In Scripture, pastoral care imagery most often connotes corporate care of the flock, whereas scriptural references to the soul to denote the innermost being of a person or a person’s relationship with the triune God.

Soul care is a particular concern for the soul of another. It is to take the time to attend to and enquire of another’s soul; to listen, to allow another’s soul to speak honestly, and also for our soul to respond to the words of that other soul. We weep and rejoice with them and share in their anguish and joy with prayer and hope of connecting them to a deeper well of wisdom found in Christ Jesus.   Finally, we connect their soul and its concern to Christ in prayer.

Image: Interior of a grotto with a rock-pool, frogs, salamanders and a bird’s nest by German-Dutch botanical illustrator and painter, Abraham Mignon 1640- 1679. In the Public Domain. 

Soul Care Conversations

Soul care is a ministry where knowledge of God and the fruit of our faith bears fruit in the lives of those we encounter pastorally.


This week in Sydney we have two high profile speakers. An evangelist and the other a psychologist which has led to lots of discussion about God.

schafeWhat sort of God are they preaching? Why are people drawn to attend their events?  What are people searching for? How do members of the audiences think and feel about the message they heard? And how do we accompany people as they explore what they think, feel and believe? Conversations such as these lie at the heart of all soul care ministries.

Christian soul-care ministry covers a broad range of ministries in different contexts: pastoral ministries in churches, pastoral care in Christian organisations and institutions, ordained chaplains in the defence forces, chaplains to prisons, emergency services, sports teams and spiritual care to a vast range of secular institutions, but each of these pastoral encounters have one thing in common, each involves a conversation.

Christian soul care has two aspects. One aspect is helping Christians find a deeper faith in Christ rather than walking away and the other is helping non-Christians towards a deeper spirituality. Now it may not always be clear where someone is in their spirituality – whether they are seeking meaning or indeed, fleeing from it, but our task is not to determine where they stand so much, as to guide them to ask their own questions around meaning, belonging, identity, faith and existence.

Let me give an example. When we talk with someone who has heard one of these high-profile speakers, rather than asking them what was said by the speaker, enquire what was heard by the hearer? How did that make them feel? Or what did it have them thinking over or puzzling about? Does this indicate a next step that is needed for them or is the best just to continue mulling over points that are on their mind?

Soul care in its essence provides a space where people can unpack spiritually significant events with a desire to find deeper meaning.

I have heard soul care referred to as a ministry of listening – this is perhaps ninety per cent true, but I would want to suggest that it is not just listening but guided listening that lies at the heart of soul-care. And it is wisdom which provides guidance for this listening. It is wisdom that guides the listener as to when to remain silent and when to speak and the choice of those words imparted.

And from where do we get this wisdom? It is the wisdom of our Christian faith, wisdom tethered to the depth of our confessional faith, brought into conversation with the reality of another person’s life. Wisdom is a combination of depth of insight with a breadth of understanding.[1] And Scripture tells us that this wisdom comes as a gift from the Holy Spirit filling us with the knowledge of the God’s will through all the wisdom and understanding, and it is given in order that we live a consistent with our faith as followers of Jesus Christ.[2]

Soul care is a ministry where knowledge of God and the fruit of our faith bears fruit in the lives of those we encounter pastorally.

[1] 1 Kings 4:29 (NIVUK) God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. Cf Daniel 5;11 In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods.

[2]from Colossians 1:9-10.

Image: Public Domain.

Three Levels of Soul Care

The WHY of soul care is pastoral theology that attends to existential questions of life and faith, such as God, belief and unbelief, suffering and hope, guilt and forgiveness, sin and holiness, good and evil, and temporal and eternal time.

Do we have a clear vision of why we do what we do in soul care?

Flickr image: Sébastien Barré. “Pont du Gard” – 06, Sep – 01

Sometimes it’s even difficult to articulate what we do – so often we feel what is important and explain it by telling emotionally laden stories of what worked well and what didn’t. We see parallels within scripture that provide us with guiding narratives such as the Good Samaritan, or the welcoming father, or the shepherd who searches for the lost sheep, or a generous hospitality that welcomes lost ones in Jesus’s name.

Intuitively, we can explain that we love because God first loved us, we offer comfort as we ourselves have been comforted, and we do this through nurturing the fruit of the spirit – love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

At practical levels we are involved in setting up programmes for the pastoral care of people, but how do we align what we do when there are conflicting elements? For example, if we are to provide pastoral care in incidents of domestic violence, how does care of a victim differ from care of an abuser? This begs the question ‘What is the basis of our pastoral care, and how do we determine what love looks like in a specific situation?’

When Eduard Thurneysen wrote his ‘Theology of Pastoral Care’, he broke the book into three sections: I. The Basis of Pastoral Care; II. The Nature and Practise of Pastoral Care; III. The Implementation of Pastoral Care.

More recently, Greg E Gifford, writing in the biblical counselling tradition, draws his readers’ attention to a similar need for three conversations when talking about biblical soul care:

‘To advance scholarship for the biblical care of souls within higher education we recognize that there are three conversations that must be understood and articulated.’

Gifford helpfully names these conversations the ‘Three Counseling Conversations’: upstream, midstream and downstream, stating:

‘Upstream conversations are those that are not as focused on the “how” of the counselling process but on the “why.” These conversations do not always produce an immediate fruit but often produce long-term fruit.’

Upstream conversations are biblical and theological in focus and address the ‘why’ of soul care, midstream conversations are in influenced by the ‘why’ but address the methodological ‘how’ of the pastoral session. The downstream conversation is the ‘what’ of an actual pastoral encounter with a real person, focused on their situation or circumstances but not the theology or method.

Gifford observed that the counsellee is rarely interested in either the ‘why’ or ‘how’, but rather with things related to the counsellee, most particularly ‘the what of now’. Yet, from a soul care perspective, all counselling-room conversations flow out of both the upstream and midstream conversations. All downstream conversations will depend directly upon the upstream tributaries of theory and midstream confluences of method and practice flowing into the downstream conversation.

Gifford’s proposal is like Simon Sinek’s belief that:

‘every organization – and every person’s career – operates on three levels. What we do, how we do it, and why we do it. We all know what we do: the products we sell, the services we offer or the jobs we do. Some of us know how we do it: the things that we think make us different or stand out from the crowd. But very few of us can clearly articulate why we do what we do.’

Sinek thinks of ‘the WHY as a tool that can bring clarity to that which is fuzzy and make tangible that which is abstract’. And when used well, it allows for intention to be communicated clearly and to shape strategies and practice. Sinek represents his model as concentric circles with the WHY at the centre moving outward to the HOW of methods and strategies and then to WHAT you do.

Soul care, like any other activity, has a WHY, a HOW and a WHAT.Screenshot 2018-08-14 19.30.20

The WHY of soul care is pastoral theology that attends to existential questions of life and faith, such as God, belief and unbelief, suffering and hope, guilt and forgiveness, sin and holiness, good and evil, and temporal and eternal time.

The HOW of pastoral care is a pastoral ministry and all that entails: training of ministers, programmes for the care of people, professional standards and familiarity with good biblical, psychological and sociological resources.

The WHAT of soul care is the pastoral care encounters with the recipients of the care or ministry. It is assumed that the pastoral minister is equipped and able to function as a minister providing pastoral care to a person in his or her situation.

The care of souls is an integration of theology, ministry and care beginning with God, in whom all theology, ministry and care have their being.


I am grateful to Barry McGrath who first drew my attention to the work of Simon Sinek and it’s application to theology and ministry.

Chaplaincy in a Secular Age

Most of us feel that ‘secular’ has something to do with being not religious or un-churchy. Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor’s major work ‘A Secular Age’ is an exploration of what it is to be secular and how we became immersed in secular.

Kate Bradford

Secular is a strange word. It is a word with a currency all of its own, with fluctuating exchange rates that depends upon which jurisdiction it is operating within. Yet, at another level, secular just is—it is to us, as wet is to fish.

In the West, secularism surrounds and engulfs us, it flows through us. We are in the world and how on Earth really, are we to be not of the world? What exactly, do we mean when we speak of ministry out in the secular space?

public saqareFor most of us, we feel that ‘secular’ has something to do with being not religious or un-churchy. Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor, whose major work, a study of a secular age, would both agree and disagree with our sense of the secular. His weighty tome, A Secular Age, which runs to 888 pages, is about the dis-enchanting of our world. It is an exploration of what it is to be secular and how we became immersed in secular.

Fortunately for many of us, another Canadian philosopher, James K.A. Smith had written a shorter book, introducing some of Charles Taylor’s most important ideas in a more accessible format. Taylor observed that the world became disenchanted at the same time as the Enlightenment undercut faith, transferring trust to rational and empirical facts. People of religious faith felt pressured by the disenchanted secularity encircling them,  inspiring and feeding a gnawing doubt. Taylor has a word for this feeling of doubt—cross-pressured. Even more peculiarly, Taylor noticed that secular people without faith can feel haunted by an ancient memory of God.

Chaplaincy has been offered within public institutions for centuries.  J.K.A. Smith’s introductory guide to Charles Taylor’s Magnus Opus is invaluable to those of us living and ministering in the secular world.

Taylor identifies three meanings for secular. Firstly, Charles Taylor reminds us that secular is an old term, in fact, a medieval idea, which Taylor calls secular1Secular1 is to do with the earthly economy,  which was contrasted with a sacred or heavenly economy. Secularreferred to earthly activities such as farming, tending flocks or herds, industrial work, domestic work compared with the heavenly, sacred or spiritual activities of prayer, fasting, or meditating on scripture. Secular1 did not oppose the sacred or spiritual, it merely assumed, that all people were religious and also took part in scared or spiritual activities. However, some were engaged in secularwork, as were the common people, and others, such as priests, nuns, monks and chaplains were engaged in sacred or spiritual work.

From the time of the Reformation in England, secular came to describe a ‘public domain’, following Henry the VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s and 1540s. The public City of London Corporation obtained grants (titles) of three monastic institution— the hospitals of St. Bartholomew’s and St. Thomas’ for the care of the physically ill, and Bethlem Royal Hospital for the insane. These institutions were re-founded as secular institutions funded from an endowment by the king. The scope of the work was secular (not funded by the church) – that was the ‘domestic’ work of caring for people with earthly ailments and conditions.  The hospital also engaged a cleric/chaplain for caring for the spiritual needs of the patients. Patients were assumed to have both secular and spiritual needs, these needs were not in opposition to one another, but rather operated different ‘spheres of influence’—one earthly and one heavenly.

However, Taylor describes the way in which, the term secular continued to evolve and acquire the second meaning during the Enlightenment. Secular2 referred to the emptying of God, out of government and public spaces, and this included any discussion of higher or ultimate meaning, and a stance of neutrality was adopted. Secular2 exorcised religion from the public space, therefore marginalising it to the private domain. Secular2 is the worldview secularism, where one view secularism is held over and against the other worldviews, such as religion. Secular2 is an ‘either/or’  position rather than a ‘both/and’ perspective. Secularist follows a set of materialist beliefs as opposed to believing in God or transcendent realities.

The idea of ‘secular’ has yet, a further C20th C meaning. Taylor asserts this age is a secular3  age, and it is a contested space of competing for worldviews and perspectives.  Secular3 is filled with a diversity of religions and philosophies from which people vie for and choose from—or not, as they like.  This age is different from all that have gone before it—cultural life no longer centres around one religion into which people are born. To be secular3 is to be offered a dazzling array of ideas and faiths and out of this bazaar of philosophies of thought and belief, people must choose for themselves. This is the age of multiculturalism.

What have all these seculars to do with chaplaincy?

Well, they remind us to think about which level of the secular game we are playing—secular1, secular2 or secularwhich in turn helps us to identify the rules of that level.

Chaplaincy has a role in each level. In medieval times, chaplaincy, then as now, was a sacred office that had concern for both people’s secularand religious life. However, since medieval times chaplains have an enduring albeit limited role, in the secular2 space to perform religious ceremonies and rites, particularly around morality, war and death. These ministerial offices are funded by the secular institution up until the present time.

Chaplains minister with people—secularpeople. People of all faiths and none. Chaplains are religious specialists, who care for cross-pressured believers with doubts, and non-believers, alike who are haunted by a God-wistfulness, in which they cannot believe.

The Umbrella of Soul Care

Clearly, there will be different rules of engagement, but what might each of these visits have in common? Each is concerned with issues that challenge our everyday understanding of how life is to be endured or lived.

Soul Care is an umbrella term, that holds all sorts of ideas together.

It’s a covering for a loose cluster of interrelated ministries including pastoral care, spiritual care, chaplaincy, pastoral counselling, spiritual direction or pastoral supervision. To make matters more complicated, terms are used interchangeably.

clearwater-beach-umbrella-and-chairs-usa-274001Soul Care is care of living souls. All people are living souls, matter, dust of the ground, given form by the creative breath of God.

Living souls are neighbours and strangers, people of different faiths and beliefs, some identify as religious and others – not at all.  Living souls are animated and enlivened by God’s creative breath. All living souls are recipients of his sustaining power, common grace, providential care and general revelation.

Soul care is person-centred care. It is concerned with the whole person – a living soul comprising their physical, emotional, psychological, relational, social and spiritual being.

From a Christian perspective, one way of thinking about these terms is to consider the extent to which they are concerned with relationship to God or Christian faith, or whether they are to do with more general topics concerned with living – meaning and purpose – or a conversation focused on a particular challenge or life issue.

One way, and perhaps the simplest way of determining the type of conversation is to consider the ‘how, who, what, when, where and why’of the conversation. Then we will know who is involved in the conversation, how they came to be connected, what issue is being discussed, when and where are they meeting and why, this will help clarify the expectations around a pastoral conversation.

Examples of soul care might be a minister visiting a parishioner in their home, or an Emergency Service Chaplain, attending victims of a train crash. Soul care could be a pastoral carer visiting an elderly Buddhist patient in a Christian residential care facility, or it might be a spiritual carer visiting all patients in an Intensive Care Unit as part of the Allied Health Team.

Clearly, there will be different rules of engagement, but what might each of these visits have in common? Each is concerned with issues that challenge our everyday understanding of how life is to be endured or lived. For the person being visited, the visits are contextual, location provokes, prompts or evokes new queries. These new queries are questions of meaning, belonging, purpose, ethics, suffering and well-being, good and evil. They are not psychological questions so much as existential questions to do with philosophy and/or theology. From a Christian perspective, they might be questions of faith, hope, love, guilt, pain, repentance, forgiveness, perseverance, joy or grace.

What are the origins of these different ministries, and how do these different ‘soul cares’ intersect with the ‘big’ existential questions?

Chaplains (and Chaplaincies) had their origins in medieval times when a chaplain was a clergyman or member of religious order attached to secular institution or aristocratic house. Thus, over the centuries chaplains were attached to hospitals, prisons, royal houses, the navy or military and colonial outposts. Following this traditional usage, the terms chaplain has continued to be used for clergy ministering away from home or ministering in attached to a secular institution, and not paid for by the church, particularly where ministry is required in the form of religious services as in the defence forces.

Pastoral Care is an even older term, it is an ancient Christian term that derives its name from the Gregory the Great’s Pastoral Rule, an instruction manual for clergy in the art of pastoral care for the Christian pastor-shepherd, as they care for the flock that God has placed within their care. Similar books have been written at different times to guide ministers in their work of the care of their flock, or parishioners.

Martin Bucer, On the True Pastoral Care and Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor, were books that were devoted to a Biblical, church-based ministry with the concern of members of congregation caring for and following up other members of the same congregation. Pastoral care broadened over time to include lay (non-clergy) Christian visitors and then was adopted by secular organisations to describe their employee care and well-being programmes.

More recently, Spiritual Care has been the term adopted for use in the secular organisations, such as the WHO in recognition of the less religious nature of the care, and more accurately describes the ‘provision of assessment, counselling, support and ritual in matters of a person’s beliefs, tradition, values and practices enabling the person to access their own traditional resources.’ [1]

By contrast, pastoral or Christian counselling will be more structured, more commonly based on psychological insights, through a Christian lens. The session will be directed towards an agreed goal. Likewise, spiritual direction and pastoral supervision, while having their own bodies of literature are similar in that they have structure and goals. Pastoral theology is the study of theology in relationship to ministry and practice of pastoral care.

Different forms of Soul Care have different emphases in different spheres of perceived reality. Spiritual care within the public space has an emphasis on the horizontal realm of space-time created order. The created order includes all the natural, supernatural and transcendent elements of the created world. From a Christian perspective, the vertical plane the revealed Word from the creator, the Triune God of the Bible, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is an essential asymmetry to the relationship between creator and creature, God is God, and living souls are human beings.

Depending on direction from which they are approached, the horizontal axis, with all its natural, supernatural and transcendent elements can intersect with the revealed vertical realm. Soul care creates the possibility of deeper exploration through the hospitality of attending through attentive listening, considered speech, space, prayer, and thoughtful connection with the Word of God through wisdom, parables, an encounter with Jesus, psalms or spiritual songs.

Soul care is an encompassing idea that covers more specific terms such as pastoral care and spiritual care; or pastoral counselling or Christian counselling; pastoral theology or chaplaincy and even spiritual direction and pastoral supervision. At its deepest level, Soul Care that seeks to see living souls become whole, both horizontally and vertically.

[1] definition of Spiritual Care from Spiritual Health Victoria

A Call for Change

Chaplaincy training involves theory and practice.  Developing chaplaincy skills can be likened to an apprenticeship. It involves a repeated, spiralling process whereby theory and reality shape and reshape each other.

What does an Evangelical Theology of Chaplaincy Look Like?

Kate Bradford

At a chaplaincy conference eight years ago, a small group of us started to talk about the theology of chaplaincy. We wondered what a truly evangelical chaplaincy practice look might look like in our public institutions if we had our own perspective, rather than borrowing ‘bits and pieces’ from differing schools of C20th pastoral care. As a result, some of us started to blog at Blogging Chaplains.

In a 2011 blog, I asked, ‘What does an evangelical theology of chaplaincy look like?’

We were not alone our questioning, as that blog post had thousands of visitors over the past seven years.


In the blog, I proposed that an evangelical theology of chaplaincy would draw on its evangelical roots in scripture; the evangelical history of chaplaincy and conversation with other traditions of pastoral care. Chaplaincy within secular institutions faces the unique challenges of any public theology. That is of a Christian ministry undertaken within the shared space of the public square. However, for all the differences between church-based ministries and chaplaincy ministry in the public square both ministries are concerned with the care of souls.

Like pastoral theolgicans, Thomas Oden and Andrew Purves, who within their traditions looked back to their past, we also should also look back to our roots to search for the way forward. For us, this would mean revisiting classic and reformed statements of faith of the early church and the C16th Reformers. Then reexamining the evangelical touchstones emphaised  during the great revivals of the C18th and finally we should engage with the early-to-mid C20th protestant pastoral theologies which emerged in Germany, Switzerland, the US and the UK.

As we look at our history, we revisit the doctrines of God and humanity and the doctrine’s relationship with each other as we contemplate the needs of living souls. The balance of this relationship will guide the integration work between theology and the social sciences that inform the ministry encounter. It is the chaplain’s role to negotiate a way forward through the drama of life within the dramatic frame of scripture.

As we explore an evangelical theology of chaplaincy, we might observe that chaplaincy ministry has things in common with missiology and public theology.  They are all ministries that happen in spaces owned by others and have their own language, customs and culture and there is an art to acquiring the skills necessary for co-inhabitation in this space.

Chaplaincy training does involve theory,  but developing skills is more akin to an apprenticeship. It involves a repeated, spiralling process where theory and reality shape and reshape each other. These are times for listening, disengaging from self-preoccupation, suspending our disbelief, turning towards another and absorbing what is being shared and tuning into the heart of their matter, catching a mysterious spiritual solace, or aching disappointment, or a terrifying question.

The theory is truly tested as the chaplain lowers themselves down into the abyss of another’s suffering, the chaplain themselves enters the sufferer’s suffering. Issues that surround human life emerge: pain, suffering, justice, the groaning creation, a fallen broken world, alienation and forsakenness which may all co-exist alongside gentleness, kindness, the image of God, love, light, burden-bearing, redemption, forgiveness, peace, joy and eternity. The weighted issues cut across our common humanity, our frailty and our flawed morality.

We do nothing in our own strength: we are not counsellors, or social workers but simply fellow travellers who have been shown mercy in Christ and, as such, we extend mercy to another. We understand again our own need for Jesus’ death for us on the cross. An evangelical chaplain will be concerned that the ultimate need of any person is to see their story completed in Christ. As we accompany another, offering the spacious hospitality of deep attentive listening we are praying in our hearts, asking what is ‘good news’ for this person?