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It is the purpose of this essay to examine three paradigms or theological images of Pastoral care and comment on their usefulness for the practical ministry.

The three paradigms chosen for this essay are, Jesus himself, the Shepherd, and Incarnation as a model of pastoral care.

It is hoped that as each paradigm is discussed in isolation that a clear idea can be gauged about their effectiveness as well as some of their pitfalls. As a paradigm, Jesus own model is of course without fault, however because we unlike Jesus have fallen and are unable to 100% replicate his model, we are left with the task of finding a paradigm of our own which we can model and in the process become effective Pastoral carers.

Finally each of the paradigms discussed will be compared to the definition of Pastoral care as laid out by W. Clebsch & C. Jaekle to give as solid a foundation as possible that they might be worthy of acceptance by those involved in care, be they professional or laity.


As a paradigm for pastoral ministry what greater model can there be than that which is the life of Jesus himself. Jesus was first and foremost, a minister[1](see Hebrews 8:2), and as such there was nothing more natural for him than to exercise his ministry among the many who sort his power to alleviate their needs[2]. J.T. Holland[3] discusses the issues of the Greek word for ministry (diakonia) and sets out how it was enlarged and transformed by Jesus' own ministry. The term was used of those who execute the commands of others[4].

Jesus' model of ministry was characterised by his authority, his ability to attract people to himself and his ability to meet people where they were at. People could tell that he had power, they could see in the way he conducted himself that he was in control. This is no more clearly seen that in the episode recorded in Mark's gospel (Mark 1:27) where the people are amazed at his teaching because it was with authority that he commanded the unclean spirit. In his introduction to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's book "Spiritual Care", Jay Rochelle expresses his agreement with Bonhoeffer, that the Christian Pastor is the representative of Jesus' authority and as such, "should be exemplar for bearing"[5]. Thus in it's practical outworking this can be seen to be an important aspect for any who would call themselves minister or servant after Christ.

An important point to recognise about Jesus authority was his own awareness of it. Jesus was aware of his ability to have authority to forgive sin, to confer that authority to his disciples and his power over the law[6]. It is this self awareness that holds the essence of this paradigm for ministry. Jesus as one who had the authority just outlined was aware of his own relationship with God. He knew that his authority was dependent on that relationship and his use of imagery through out the gospels depicts this dependency. For example in John's gospel Jesus talks about his dependency on the Father (John 8:28).

For the practical ministry it should be obvious that to fail to recognise dependence on Christ, (here assuming Christ equals Father and Son as one) cannot but lead to a sense of inadequacy as one searches for answers to the spiritual dilemmas that identify Pastoral Care from Psychological care of a secular nature. Clinebell talks about spiritual growth as an objective of all caring and counselling, and it being somewhat unique in the field of those who care at a professional level[7]. This of course could be extrapolated to cover all care and counselling at all levels, be it lay or professional. God is the essential element of what the Christian is about.

Another important characteristic of Jesus ministry is his concern for people, be that a large group or an individual with individual needs[8]. In other words, Jesus had compassion or empathy with those whom he ministered. Jesus often used the shepherd metaphor to describe his role and it will be discussed later in this essay. The Shepherd therefore can also stand alone as a paradigm for pastoral ministry.

It was within the context of being a shepherd that Jesus expressed his compassion in such verses as Matthew 9:36. Further Jesus' compassion can be seen in Mark 6:34 and Luke 15:20 as well in Mark 1:41 where he was moved to heal the leper. What good would it do to minister without compassion, what possible hope could be seen by those who are being ministered to, if they were unable to sense understanding within the one they had turned to for help[9]?

This ability to have empathy or as Browning puts it "to be sensitive" to others, is a direct by-product of Jesus' awareness of his own inner feelings. Jesus knew a proper expression of all human emotions and as such, he could cry when the time was appropriate, he could laugh, feel anger, pain, sorrow, and express love.

Take the story of Lazarus in John 11:3, here Jesus expressed his love for a human being, he expressed his joy that his disciples were not there when Lazarus died (v15), and he wept over Lazarus (v35). Jesus reacted to each situation with appropriate emotion. Erickson points out that these emotions along with Jesus' astonishment at both positive and negative situations mark him as uniquely human[10].

As a model for practical ministry this is of the utmost importance, because like the prior point it is these qualities that enable the effective discharge of the Pastoral office. With out being in touch with their own emotions the minister/pastor cannot hope to find and identify with those to whom they work and guide[11]. From a practical point of view Howard Stone put this in words which are hard to replicate, "In the name of God I am here for you......., I am a broken, human expression of that love, but you have my attention and care while we are together, and my prayers while we are apart."

The minister/pastor must like Christ understand themselves if they are to be effective.

It can be seen then that Jesus had a relational quality about him, that was like a magnet to those around him (Mark 1:45). People sensed his warmth, approach-ability and his non judgemental style[12]. People came because they sensed that they would be accepted, loved and cared for without being judged. This is expressed by the type of people who sort him out, (those who had the most to fear in a world where religion was bound by it's own rules and regulations) the publicans, the prostitutes and various numbers of sinners of all descriptions.

Jesus was prepared to talk with them, he was prepared to deal with their issues, not matter how difficult it might be. Take for instance the issue of taxes to Caesar, Jesus was not afraid to take some issues head on when that was the appropriate course of action. Yet he could express great sensitivity when he confronted the Samaritan woman at the well. These again would be qualities that an effective pastoral carer should be able to express. What hope is a carer who fails to engage their fellow in dialogue or who fails to help them confront life’s problems and bring them in wholeness.

This then is the model of Christ, a paradigm of empathy, warmth and genuineness. A practical outworking of love which meets and deals with the problems of the world with authority, a personal sense of self, an ability to transpose oneself into another’s situation and one which through acceptance allows all to feel free to partake of the grace of God. Jesus sense of ministry then was to bring others to wholeness and as a result of that see them achieve the ultimate relational lifestyle.

A second paradigm for ministry is the metaphor of the Shepherd. This is a model that Jesus continually refers to throughout his ministry. This model could be bought to mind by it's image of courageous leadership[13].

This is not however an image confined to New Testament times but rather this image has it's roots back in the Old Testament. Psalm 23 for instance recalls the image of God being a shepherd and helper, while in passages such as 1 Samuel 17 there is the image of a defender as a shepherd who has rescued the lamb from the clutches of the lion. Seward Hiltner in "The Christian Shepherd" outlines two helpful characteristics of the shepherd as concern (or acceptance) and clarification (or judgement)[14]. By his own admission these are not all the characteristics of a shepherd and the skill of shepherding is not in itself the full function of a person in the Pastoral role.

This in a sense brings out one of the major flaws with this image in today's world. Due in some part to lack of concern or commitment over the years shepherding has been disassociated by many from the other aspects of the pastors role. Campbell calls this image a "blank cheque" on which can now be written the value we wish to give to caring[15]. Harville Hendricks likewise feels that pastoral care is in need of a new paradigm, although he is reacting more to the priestly model[16].

Looking back to the twenty third psalm several internal images of the shepherd are bought in to acute focus.

Firstly the psalm speaks of a care for individual sheep[17]. This is the concern talked about by Hiltner, a concern which demonstrates that the shepherd can express their genuine concern for and acceptance of a person for who and what they are[18]. For shepherding to be taking place there has to acceptance of all the conflicts, negative feelings and sin that live within the one being cared for. This in practical ministry has the impact like that of Jesus who was not judgemental, allowing all to come and be ministered to[19].

The twenty third psalm goes onto talk about a shepherd giving rest, provision of daily sustenance, encouragement, guidance, instruction and security. All qualities necessary for the proper administering of a pastoral care role. These very qualities are all expressed in one term, Leader. It is the role of the shepherd to lead, for it is by following the shepherd that the sheep find that they are provided for. An important note here is that the shepherd leads rather than drives the flock. Jesus claimed the title Good Shepherd in John 10 and quotes Zechariah's prophecy of the smitten shepherd so that he could speak of his own death[20].

It is unfortunate that history has not served this image well as Hiltner and Campbell have picked up. Hiltner as stated earlier sees shepherding as only part of the pastoral role, with organisation and communication being it's compliments. Yet the New and Old Testament model of shepherding clearly embraced all the facets of the pastoral office[21]. Take for instance the extended use of the shepherd in Ezekiel 34. It can also be seen from psalm twenty three that clearly organising and communicating with the flock where important parts of the shepherds task.

There is a warning here for any who would down play the role of shepherd[22]. Taylor feels that all those who tend the flock will ultimately fail unless, “they honestly try to follow the pattern of the God Shepherd as set by Jesus himself”[23]. Jeremiah 25:34-38 tells of the harsh punishment that will be metered out to those who fail.

Another criticism of the paradigm of the shepherd  and it's implication for practical ministry is that it creates dependency. Those who are following, in time become dependent on the shepherd and cannot function adequately without them. The negative aspect of this is that the shepherd is seen as having all wisdom and knowledge, while the flock is seen as naive or stupid[24]. In his book "Ministry in the Church", Paul Bernier looks at the historical progression of the office of Pastor/Minister/Bishop. He on several occasions points to the gradual break down of the shepherd paradigm over history and like Campbell he concludes there is a need to capture a new image of Pastoral Care[25]. He looks at the need within the church to reintegrate the laity into pastoral care[26], giving sense of shared responsibility rather than using a hired agent only (Pastor). This is a reaction to the negative aspects mentioned a moment ago.

It can be seen then that this biblical paradigm for pastoral care has been transformed by history in our understanding of it. Hence as a stand alone model in today's world it is found to come up somewhat short. It is the opinion of this author that this is not a fault with the image itself but rather with our application of it.

A third paradigm for pastoral ministry is that of incarnation. This image of Pastoral care has many faces, however it’s essence lies in that the pastoral carer sees themselves taking with them the presence of Christ into each pastoral situation[27]. Likewise the incarnational model of Pastoral care is characterised by the taking of care to those in need, rather than waiting for them to seek help[28]. The use of incarnational theology identifies the caregiver with Christ and as such serves to combine the paradigm of shepherd and paradigm of Jesus himself[29].

Exponents of this type of pastoral care see their own presence in any situation as embodying the presence of Christ into that situation[30]. This embodying means that the carer literally becomes the means of grace to those whom they care. This personal identification with Christ adds both power and credibility to the carer’s presence. The care giver then becomes the mediator of God’s presence[31], and this leads to one of the first difficulties with this particular paradigm. Herbert Anderson in his article on, Incarnation as a Paradigm for pastoral care rightly points out that sometimes God uses absence as part of his methodology of strengthening his people. If then the presence of God is present whenever the carer is present, then the only time God is absent is when the carer is absent[32].

This raises another issue which bears in today’s world some thought. There are many who work in Christian ministry who have little or indirect links with the church. Take for instance those who serve in a hospital chaplaincy role or those who work within the welfare portion of our society. If the incarnation of Christ is not through the church alone then incarnational pastoral care allows these pastoral carers a legitimacy which breaks the bounds of ecclesiastical barriers[33]. Anderson sees a danger here: “Incarnation as identification is in danger of becoming a privatistic approach to faith and ministry that is not consistent with the corporate image of the body of Christ from Scripture[34]”.

As mentioned earlier there are other faces to this paradigm of pastoral care. Incarnational Pastoral care is used extensively by those in Urban Mission and Mission to indigenous peoples. Floyd McClung in his book[35] talks about the story of Catherine Booth and how she won the admiration of many for her Incarnational approach to ministry. McClung points out that Catherine with her life declared the words of John 1:14. The Word had become flesh and dwelt among those to whom they were ministering to. Catherine like so many others had embodied the heart of the Gospel message[36], she had in obedience to Christ’s command Incarnated herself into the culture where she was to work, and pastorally cared for the lost of Paris.

As a paradigm for pastoral ministry this is today one of the most effective forms of taking the care of God to his people. When the Paradigm that is represented by Jesus’ ministry was discussed earlier it was noted that one of the goals of Jesus was to Incarnate or place himself within the person’s situation to whom he ministered. Be that of course an individual or a group, Jesus by his very presence was the Incarnation of God.

McClung states, “The Christian presence that is divorced from the example of the Lord Jesus is not Christian”[37]. This may be to some a bit of overkill, but as the paradigms of both Jesus and the Shepherd are examined it can be extrapolated that if the Pastoral Carer fails to meet those to whom they wish to care, at their place of need, then they can be of little or no use to those people.

As a Pastoral Carer, it is possible to live a life that is not incarnational[38], however as a model, Jesus has given the examples of his own life and has himself embraced the title of the Good Shepherd. This means that the Pastoral Carer has like the Shepherd, the need to be with the flock day and night. To be an effective paradigm for pastoral ministry any image needs to embrace this essential element. Incarnation is becoming one with the people[39].

Harriet Hill takes an honest look at this type of ministry in a mission context (to indigenous peoples) and points out that there are areas where carers cannot cross the cultural boundaries[40]. The secret lies in knowing and understanding one’s own limitations, in the same way that Christ did.

As has become obvious there has been some discourse over recent time as to the necessity for finding or rediscovering a new paradigm for pastoral care. Both Campbell an Donald Messer[41] devote entire books to this very subject while others such as Hendricks are active journalistically. Hendricks[42] suggests that any model should contain those elements found in the definition of Pastoral care given by W. Clebsch & C. Jaekle[43].

To finally assess the effectiveness of these three paradigms let them stand against the four elements of Pastoral Care mentioned by Clebsch and Jaekle and be judged. Thus applying these to the three paradigms of ministry covered here, that of Jesus, Shepherd and Incarnation, it should be possible to draw together both their individual and corporate value for effective ministry.

Looking firstly at Healing, it is immediately obvious that Jesus came to heal both Spiritually and Physically. The Shepherds role is to by continual care of the flock,  heal any sickness that might be contracted, and thirdly, Incarnation of the carers presence into pastoral situations bring the healing presence of God. All three paradigm satisfy this element of Pastoral Care.

Secondly the element of Sustaining is by nature commensurate with the model of Jesus. Jesus came to sustain those to whom he ministered, as per the example of the spiritual feeding he gave through his words and the physical feeding he gave to those involved in the feeding of the four thousand in Mark chapter eight. The Shepherd is by definition some one who is responsible for sustaining his flock and again it can be seen why Jesus claimed this title for himself. The Incarnational model of ministry, because it leads to the imputing of Christ into the caring situation has also the potential to sustain.

Thirdly all three paradigms are about guiding people to Christ and hence ultimately to God. Jesus become the guiding light of the world, the Shepherd is forever a guide to his flock, and those involved in an in-carnational model of ministry are attempting to bring both of the former onto the stage of life.

Finally, the element of reconciliation is again to  be found with each of the three paradigms. Jesus reconciled people to God, the shepherd reconciled the lost to the herd and to himself and because the incarnational model is a reflection of both Jesus and the Shepherd its purpose is to embody the tasks of both.

In conclusion it must be said that each of these paradigms are not only exemplar models of how the Pastoral Carer can carry out their ministry but that they if taken together, provide a most effective means by which a Pastoral Carer can emulate the ultimate Carer, God himself.





Adams, Jay E.         Shepherding God's Flock. (Grand                        Rapids: Zondervan, 1975).

Anderson, Herbert,     “Incarnation and Pastoral Care”.                        Pastoral Psychology. Volume 32 No 4.                (1984) 239-249.

Bernier, Paul,          Ministry in the Church. (Mystic,                     Connecticut: Twenty Third                              Publications, 1992).

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Spiritual Care. (translated by Jay                     C. Rochelle: Philadelphia: Fortress                Press, 1985).

Campbell, Alastair V. Rediscovering Pastoral Care.                         (Darton Longman & Todd: London,                       1995).

Clebsch, W. & Jaekle, C. Pastoral Care in Historical                        Perspective. (New York: Harper and                 Row, 1964).

Elwell, Walter, A. ed. Evangelical Dictionary of                               Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker                         Bookhouse, 1994).

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. (Grand Rapids:                  Baker Bookhouse, 1985).

Hill, Harriet,       “Incarnational Ministry: A Critical                Examination”. Evangelical Missions                Quarterly. Volume 26 (1990) 196-201.

Hendricks, Harville, “Pastoral Counselling: In Search of                     a New Paradigm”. Pastoral Psychology.                  Volume 25 Number 3 (1977) 157-172.

Hiltner, Seward,     The Christian Shepherd. (Nashville:                  Abingdon Press, 1980).

Holland, J.T.      "Jesus, A Model for Ministry." The                    Journal of Pastoral Care. Vol XXXVI,                   No 4 (1982) 255-264.

Hunter, Rodney, ed.     Dictionary of Pastoral Care and                     Counselling. (Nashville: Abingdon                     Press, 1990).

McClung, Floyd,      Seeing the City with the Eyes of God.                  (New York: Chosen Books, 1991).

Macquarrie, John,      Principles of Christian Theology.                          (London: SCM Press, 1977).

Messer, Donald, E.     Contemporary Images of Christian                          Ministry. (Nashville: Abingdon Press,                   1989).

Stone, Howard, W.   The Word of God and Pastoral Care.                    (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988).

Taylor, Harold,      Tend My Sheep. (Trowbridge: SPCK,                          1983).

Wicks, Robert, Clinical Handbook of Pastoral                           Counselling. (New York: Paulist                       Books, 1985).


[1] The writer of Hebrews uses "leitourgoV" to describe the role of Jesus: One who ministers or serves at their own expense.

[2] Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker Bookhouse, 1994) p 721: Ministry is defined as, "the edification of individuals with a view toward corporate maturity in Christ".

[3] J.T. Holland, "Jesus, A Model for Ministry." The Journal of Pastoral Care. Vol XXXVI, No 4 (1982) 255.

[4] Holland, 255f.

[5] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Spiritual Care. (translated by Jay C. Rochelle: Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985) 10.

[6] Holland, 258.

[7] Howard Clinebell, Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counselling. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1984)67.

[8] Harold Taylor, Tend My Sheep. (Trowbridge: SPCK, 1983) 15.

[9] Robert Wicks, Clinical Handbook of Pastoral  Counselling. (New York: Paulist Books, 1985) 12. Donald Browning put it this way: "Pastoral Counsellors are more truly helpful in mediating transformative qualities- more truly able to increase a sense of self-cohesion, initiative, and freedom in those they help if they are sensitive to and able to address the actual developmental and environmental blocks, conflicts and ambivalence’s that are undercutting a person's capacities".

[10] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology. (Grand Rapids: Baker Bookhouse, 1985) 708.

[11] Howard W. Stone, The Word of God and Pastoral Care. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988) 138. Stone points out that the carer must have an understanding of their own self as well as helping others to find that same understanding.

[12] Holland, p 262f.

[13] Alastair V. Campbell, Rediscovering Pastoral Care. (Darton Longman & Todd: London, 1995) 17. Taylor, 9f.

[14] Seward Hiltner, The Christian Shepherd. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1980) 28ff.

[15] Campbell, 24.

[16] Harville Hendricks, “Pastoral Counselling: In Search of a New Paradigm”. Pastoral Psychology. Volume 25 Number 3 (1977) 158.

[17] Jay E. Adams, Shepherding God's Flock. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975) 6.

[18] Hiltner, 28.

[19] Taylor, 13.

[20] Campbell, 29.

[21] Taylor, 8.

[22] Taylor, 9.

[23] Taylor 11.

[24] Rodney Hunter, ed. Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counselling. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990) 1164.

[25] Paul Bernier, Ministry in the Church. (Mystic, Connecticut: Twenty Third Publications, 1992) 270 ff.

[26] Bernier, 279 ff.

[27] Hunter, 573. To quote C.V. Gerkin, Incarnational Pastoral Care is “a theologically descriptive term utilised by some pastoral care theorists to designate one or more of the following meanings: (a) the intentional effort of the Pastor symbolically to embody in the pastoral relationship to persons a relationship analogous to the incarnation of God in the human Jesus; (b) the recognition that pastoral care relationships may on occasion mediate the love of God to the recipient of pastoral care in that the pastor’s love speaks of the greater love of God; (c) the care of the entire faithful Christian community for one another and for the world as the response of the people of God to the admonition of Jesus to the disciples to carry on his work in his spirit; (d) pastoral care which seeks to engender in persons the capacity to be open to signs and symbols of God’s disclosure in the events of everyday life”.

[28] Hunter, 1164.

[29] Herbert Anderson, “Incarnation and Pastoral Care”. Pastoral Psychology. Volume 32 No 4. (1984) 241. Hunter, 1164. Both writers link the incarnational approach to Pastoral Care with shepherding and Jesus.

[30] John Macquarrie, Principles of Christian Theology. (London: SCM Press, 1977) 143. Here Macquarrie states: “In the central Christian Doctrine of the incarnation, it is a person who becomes the symbol of being, the revelation of God”.

[31] Anderson, 241.

[32] Anderson, 242f.

[33] Anderson, 242.

[34] Anderson, 242.

[35] Floyd McClung, Seeing the City with the Eyes of God. (New York: Chosen Books, 1991) 103ff.

[36] McClung, 105.

[37] McClung, 106.

[38] McClung, 107.

[39] Harriet Hill, “Incarnational Ministry: A Critical Examination”. Evangelical Missions Quarterly. Volume 26 (1990) 196.

[40] Hill, 198ff.

[41] Donald E. Messer. Contemporary Images of Pastoral Care. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989) Noted to help make the point about this area of discussion only.

[42] Hendricks, 158.

[43] W. Clebsch & C. Jaekle, Pastoral Care in Historical Perspective.     (New York: Harper and Row, 1964) 8-9. Their definition : “The ministry of the cure of souls, or Pastoral care, consists of helping acts, done by caring persons, directed towards the healing, sustaining, guiding and reconciling of troubled persons whose troubles arise in the context of ultimate meanings and concerns”.

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