For most of Christian history, preaching and pastoral care would not be spoken of with a plural verb. Preaching and pastoral care were seen and practiced as a singular experience. The earliest formulations of pastoral care in this century began in the pulpits of exceptionally persuasive and gifted preaching pastors.
John Carlton, Professor of Preaching at Southeastern Baptist Seminary, has written a sterling biography of Theodore F. Adams, the remarkable pastor for over thirty years of the First Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. (The World in His Heart: The Life and Legacy of Theodore F. Adams. Broadman Press, 1985.) Adams’ preaching was energized by his shepherding care of individuals and small groups. In the early 1930’s he was intensely concerned with synthesizing his preaching with a genuinely scientific approach to pastoral care.
Contemporary with Adams in the Southern Baptist ministry was a brilliant array of pastors in other communions. Ralph Sockman blended preaching and pastoral care as he preached to Methodist congregations. John Sutherland Bonnell and George Buttrick were Presbyterian preachers and authors whose sermons spoke directly to the needs of persons for ethical reinforcement of their Christian faith and personal fortification in their personal and family lives. Paul Scherer spoke as an inspired Lutheran to the need of people for pastoral care. To him preaching was an “event in eternity.”
The issues of “being a real person” were addressed, along with countless other themes, by Harry Emerson Fosdick at Riverside Church in New York. He measured the effectiveness of his sermons by the number of persons who sought his care and counsel in the following week. (See Edmond Holt Linn, Preaching as Counseling: The Unique Method of Harry Emerson Fosdick. Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1966.)
Norman Vincent Peale, in the Dutch Reformed Church, is well known for his books, but few beyond his parish realize his remarkably pastoral preaching Sunday after Sunday at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City. Even fewer realize that he established what was probably the first pastoral counseling center in the context of a local church.
These pastors, and many others of their generation, saw preaching and pastoral care as functional extensions of each other, not as separate disciplines between which a pastor chose. They taught homiletics and pastoral care in seminaries adjacent to their pastoral fields of action. In doing so they assumed that pastoral care and counseling is not a specialty apart from preaching but an organic whole with preaching.
Since the late 1960’s, however, the field of pastoral care and counseling has become more and more specialized. Pastoral care and counseling is both practiced and taught as a specialty apart from preaching. Lip service may be given to the relation between pastoral care and preaching, but the pulpit ministry is not often integral to the function of pastoral care.
More than that, with the over-identification of pastoral counseling with various forms of psychotherapy, the general work of pastoral care of the couple being married, families at the time of the birth of a child, the illness or death of a family member, etc. is separated from the practice of pastoral counseling. The relationship between pastoral care and counseling as different kinds of relationships tends to become obscure, especially in the minds of the green recruits for the ministry in seminaries. In the pell mell enthusiasm for specialization, the larger woods of the work of ministry cannot be seen for the smaller trees of this or that specialty.
The end result of the segmentation of ministry has tended to desiccate, that is, to dry up the spiritual freshness and vitality of preaching, because preachers tend to think of pastoral care and counseling as something somebody else does. The practice of pastoral care becomes just as insipid because without preaching as the proclamation of the good news of the available Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ, caring for people wears thin and becomes trivial.
Pastoral counseling can become a venture in transient psychotherapies, an isolated function apart from a community of faith to which both counselor and counselee are responsible. A unified view of preaching, pastoral care, and pastoral counseling today, therefore, is as imperative a need for preaching and pastoral care as it is a neglected one in today’s ministry.
The purpose, therefore, of this article and the four to follow it is to insist upon a holistic, inseparable relationship between preaching and pastoral care. I readily affirm that which I have practiced since the beginning of my ministry. The primary responsibility of a Christian pastor is to convey the good news that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. Preaching, teaching, and healing are inseparable ways of doing so. The current preoccupation with “pastoral identity” expresses our need for a re-integration of these forms of ministry.
Thus we can see our calling steady and see it whole and be enabled to communicate the whole counsel of God with a great sense of integrity and a deeper awareness of the peace of God in our own lives. Likewise, this wholeness comes more nearly to addressing the total need of those to whom we minister and who reach out to us for personal pastoral care.
With this in mind, let me suggest several functional interactions of preaching and pastoral care. Pastoral Care as the Preacher’s Feed-back Loop.
One of the difficult problems of preaching today is that it tends to be predominantly one-way communication, i.e., from the preacher to the audience without any immediate response from the audience. This was not true of New Testament preaching, which was often done in highly informal settings such as street preaching.
Even in formal settings like the synagogue in which Jesus preached at Nazareth as described in Luke 4:16-29, Jesus created a “question-answer” dialogue with his audience. When the Apostles preached as recorded in the Book of Acts, they were readily interrupted by the audience. This does not happen in the congregational situation of preaching today.
If we define pastoral care in terms of the ministry of a pastor to individuals, families and small groups in a face-to-face dialogue, then pastoral care can indeed be a “feed-back loop” that both gets responses from preaching and informs the preaching itself. A hazard of this is that the pastor will depend entirely upon the most recent pastoral care situation for his or her sermon. This can be corrected by relying upon the lectionary for texts and topics. However, the most important feed-back is in the pastoral care of individuals and small groups when the pastor listens more than he or she speaks and gets something more specific and discerning from people about the effects the sermons have upon them.
I have orchestrated this feedback often by having a small group discussion in the evening after each day’s worship and preaching. In week-long revivals, Holy Week services, and spiritual emphasis weeks, I have found that these feedback sessions invigorated both myself as a preacher and the people’s personal appropriation of the substance of the preaching. Pastoral care done in this way enhances preaching by making it more concrete and vivid and less abstract and impersonal.
Preaching as a Ministry of Encouragement.
One of the several objectives of preaching is that of encouraging people. Putting heart into downhearted, discouraged, and unappreciated people keeps them from becoming “burnt out” with the multiple responsibilities they by necessity are bearing. Without this dimension of preaching deliberately exercised by a preacher, a congregation easily gets the feeling that their pastor does not really care about them, that they are being taken for granted, that they are unappreciated.
The Apostle Paul does this repeatedly in his letter. He gives thanks for the people he addresses, he lets them know of his affection for them, and he inspires them not to be weary in well doing for they will reap if they faint not.
The ministry of encouragement is a common thread running throughout all pastoral function, a pastoral care function of preaching and a proclamation responsiblity in all pastoral care.
Preaching and the Creation of Community of suffering.
In pastoral counseling with individuals, one of the most common expressions of persons in private is that no one else has any way of understanding what is happening to them. They feel that they are the only ones who have the trouble they have to endure. They say as Elijah did: “I, even I only am left….” This set of emotions epitomizes the isolation that prompts people to seek pastoral counseling. It is a common assumption of the heavy-laden.
Therefore, one of the major focal intersections of preaching and pastoral care is to create a common kinship of people that removes isolation, loneliness, and the horrendous sense of being different from the rest of the human race. As one mother put it, “I went to church knowing all the while that my daughter’s drug habit was known to many in the congregation. I didn’t know where to sit. There was no one I could sit by who would in any way like me.” The preacher on that Sunday morning could safely assume that whereas this one woman felt that way, there was a whole congregation who, when under equal stress, felt that way — including the preacher.
Pastoral care and preaching are one task in enabling people in trouble to become a community of suffering with each other. Christians bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. Life-Situation Preaching.
With the emergence of a scientifically informed discipline of pastoral care and counseling, a specific kind of preaching has emerged called “pastoral preaching” or “life-situation” preaching. Notable among the authors who have written about this form of preaching is Charles Kemp in his book, Pastoral Preaching: The Relationship of Preaching to Pastoral Care (St. Louis: Bethany Press, 1963). In 1956 he had written another book entitled Life-Situation Preaching.
The pattern of such preaching is to select a particular human need, such as overcoming loneliness, and concentrate the message of the Gospel on this universally human experience. This need not be merely a topical sermon. It could be an exegetical sermon entitled “The Loneliness of Jesus” using his High Priestly prayer in John 17:1-26 or his experience in Gethsemane or on the Cross. The homiletical literature on this particular kind of sermon is extensive.
Other aspects of the integral relationship between preaching and pastoral care could be discussed, such as the distinctly therapeutic aspects of preaching, preaching as meditation, preaching as the spiritual enrichment of family life, etc. Much of this will emerge in the articles that follow this one. This article serves, I hope, to introduce the interaction of preaching and pastoral care and to lay the foundation for the four articles succeeding this one.

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