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© Rosemary Bardsley 2005, 2016

The word ‘pastor’ literally means ‘shepherd’ – that is, a person who leads, cares for, protects and feeds sheep. The Bible uses the physical image of a ‘shepherd’ to teach us of God’s care for us, his people, the care that we should have for each other, and the care that those in leadership should have for the people they lead.


The concept of God as the Shepherd is found in both the Old and New Testaments. It expresses his concern for and care for his people. It is also clear from both Testaments that God expects his people, and particularly those who are in positions of responsibility within the church, to have the same caring, shepherd heart.

Read the Scriptures below. List the qualities and actions of the Lord, our Shepherd and their impact.

Psalm 23

Isaiah 40:11

Ezekiel 34:11-31

John 10:1-18


God expects his people, and particularly those in positions of leadership, to have the same ‘shepherd’ heart, mind and action.

Read these texts. What actions and attitudes of human spiritual leaders are contrary to the shepherd heart of God?
Jeremiah 8:10b,11

Ezekiel 34:1-10

Zechariah 11:17

Matthew 15:14

Matthew 23:1-36





John 10:1,5,8,10





B.1 People are precious to God
People are precious to God and he expects us to treat them accordingly:

He created us in his image [Genesis 1:26,27] and for this reason commands that we treat each other with respect [Genesis 9:6; Matthew 5:21,22]

He loves us so much that he gave his Son as a substitutionary sin-offering so that we should never perish [John 3:16; 1John 4:9-10], and for this reason commands that we love one another in the same way that he loves us [John 15:12; 1John 4:11]

God forgives us and bears with our sin [Ephesians 1:7] and for this reason commands us to forgive and to bear with each other [Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; Galatians 6:2].

Jesus did not turn away, or turn away from, those who were despised and rejected by the majority – the children [Matthew 19:13-15]; sinners [Mark 2:13-17]; lepers [Mark 1:40-43]; ritually unclean people [Mark 5:25-34]; Samaritans [John 4:5-10]. And he expects us to reach out with the same impartial love and concern [Matthew 25:31-46; James 2:1-7].

In serving in Pastoral Care our over-riding concerns should be:

To honour and obey God in the way we relate to people
To acknowledge the high value God puts on people by treating them as he commands
To express to them the same love and mercy that he has shown to us.

Loving care and compassion are effectively nullified if we see people as:

Numbers to add to our attendance totals
Potential members to increase our membership roll
People we will or will not be able to use in our ministry teams.

To see people merely as numbers or ministry assets is to over-look, and even despise, their value to God which rests simply in the fact that he has created them and, if they are believers, redeemed them at great cost. They are of value even if we did not count attendance, did not have a membership roll, and did not need people on our ministry teams.

B.2 People are fragile
Irrespective of how confident some people appear we are all fragile, and we all have areas of weakness and vulnerability. When you reach out to make contact with people remember that:

They may be suffering physically.
They may be suffering financially.
They may be suffering self-rejection or rejection by others.
They may be suffering relationship difficulties.
They may be suffering from lack of meaning and significance.
They may have been hurt or let down by Christians or churches in the past.
They may be anxious about talking to a stranger.
They may have learnt in the past not to trust people.

Any of these, and more, can make the person you are contacting someone who needs loving care and compassion. But many of life’s experiences have taught people to erect barriers as a protection against being hurt again. This means that the very people who need pastoral care the most are sometimes the most difficult to give it to. Those involved in shepherding God’s people should therefore exercise great gentleness and sensitivity of spirit, along with compassion and genuine concern.


Historically it was expected that every member of a church congregation would receive a home visit from their pastor at least once every year. There are a number of factors which have brought about a change in the possibility and appropriateness of a pastor fulfilling this expectation.

Changing social structures and demographics have brought about accompanying changes in the composition of church congregations. No longer do all the members of a congregation come from the same village or the same suburb. From the point of view of stewardship of time and money this broad spread of a large congregation across an extensive geographical area makes pastoral visits to every person a costly and almost impossible exercise.

With our increasing urbanization, the trend is to larger churches with hundreds or even thousands of attendees. Again, this renders it difficult or even impossible for the Senior Pastor, or an Associate Pastor, to personally cover the entire congregation with a meaningful visiting program.

The majority of families in many cities are two-income families. In other words, both husband and wife work. This seriously reduces the time available for pastoral visits. In addition to this, parents are frequently busy with family activities on Saturdays.

The mindset of litigation that has overtaken our society makes a male pastor particularly vulnerable to accusation of sexual malpractice, unless he can be accompanied by his wife when he visits women who are alone in their homes at the time.

While visits from the Pastor are still feasible in a small church, and while there are situations in a large church that make a visit by the Pastor critical, it is necessary for lay people to be equipped for and involved in the ‘visiting’ aspect of pastoral care.
C.1 A redefined perception of responsibility for ‘visitation’
Instead of seeing visitation as the specific role of the Pastor, and each member expecting a visit from the Pastor or Senior Pastor as their right, all members of the church are challenged by the New Testament to be known for their love and care for each other. It is not the sole prerogative of the Pastor to show concern; it is the responsibility of the entire body of Christ.

Reconnect with these scriptures. Whose responsibility is visiting or caring or being hospitable?
Matthew 25:36b,39,43

John 13:34

Romans 12:13b


1Peter 4:8-10

In addition, the concept of the church as a ‘body’ gives us a perception of an integrated and inter-dependent Christian community in which everyone cares for everyone else.

Check these Scriptures. What do they teach about the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of the members of a local church?
Romans 12:3-8



1Corinthians 12:12-26


Thus we need to redefine ‘pastoral care’, and transform it from a one-man band to an expression of the shepherd heart of God right across the Christian community, the local church.

Discuss each of the activities below. In what ways can each of them be validly considered pastoral care?
House visits for no particular reason except to make or maintain contact

House visits of sick or housebound

Hospital/nursing home visits

House visits with a specific reason or in response to a request

Meeting with someone for a ‘cup of coffee’ at a local coffee shop

Having people over for a meal or supper or a cup of tea or coffee

Contacting people by email, text messages, social media, etc to encourage them


Welcoming new people to the church.

Inviting people to do something together with you, with the hope of being of some spiritual help to them

An appointment with a pastor or counsellor at church

An extended conversation after a church service

Meeting with someone for prayer

Serving your fellow-believers with practical help

Which of these are you already doing, or able to do?




‘Visiting’ is a means of making and maintaining contact with people. It goes beyond what can be achieved in a phone call, although phone calls could be seen as a kind of visiting. The face to face personal contact and interaction allows for greater understanding and sensitivity in caring.

So, why visit?

To be with someone who is alone, needs company, or wants to talk.
To listen compassionately to them.
To encourage and give moral support.
To learn of their needs or problems if they want to talk about them – physical, spiritual, family.
To care for them as appropriate.
To pray with them if they wish.
To share the Scripture with them if they wish.
To help them cope with their difficulties.
To encourage them in their Christian walk.
To help them feel part of the Christian community.
To encourage family members of those who are sick or in trouble.
To encourage people who are grieving for any reason.
To take them a meal or assist in any other material way.


E.1 Respect and courtesy
Remember the servant-leadership principle – you are serving the person you are visiting, not the other way round. Consider their ‘rights’ and:

Phone before you visit people at home – respect their wishes if they do not want a visit.

Be punctual – be there on time and don’t stay too long.

Treat them as people Christ loves irrespective of personal differences and standards; poverty, wealth, cleanliness, untidiness … whatever … treat each person with the same respect and honour as if you were serving Christ himself.

E.2 Sensitivity
There are several areas in which sensitivity is needed, for example:

If one or more members of the family are not Christian.

In the case of illness or accidental injury – remember that long visits are inappropriate, and other people may be wanting to spend time with them as well.

Peace and quietness are also appropriate in visiting the sick.

In home visits the parents may be embarrassed by their poverty, their children’s behaviour, the untidiness of the house … don’t make it worse by getting agitated yourself.

E.3 Confidentiality and privacy
It is standard procedure that all conversations in pastoral visiting are considered confidential unless they are about things that are common knowledge.

If the pastoral visitor considers that some point of information should be passed on to the Pastor, permission to do so should be sought. Use a comment like ‘Oh, you seem quite concerned about ….. ; would you like me to pass that on to Pastor ….? I really think he would be able to help you with that.’

E.4 Spiritual input
Our goal is not just a social call or meeting. The ultimate aim is to build people up and encourage them in their faith and to help them to live for the Lord Jesus. Therefore visits may include

Sharing spiritual truth – reading a Scripture passage, speaking about the Truth, leaving a Scripture verse on a card, or a tract.

Praying with the person – generally, or for their specific point of need.

E.5 Issues of integrity
Because of the era in which we live it is important that the integrity and reputation of both the visitor and the person visited be protected against misunderstanding, gossip, slander and litigation.

A visitor should avoid visiting a person of the opposite sex alone.

If it essential for a visitor to make face to face contact with a person of the opposite sex such contact should be made in the company of another visitor, or within the context of a larger group, for example, at church after a service.

Visitors should avoid repeatedly pairing up with the same person of the opposite sex to do visitation.
All compromising situations should be avoided.

A regular written report of all formal pastoral care visits should be submitted to the team leader or pastor. This report will include dates and names, plus any requests.

E. 6 Mandatory reporting
Sometimes a visitor will enter a situation in which he/she will be confronted with a situation where the law of the land is being broken and/or a life is in danger. Such situations include:

Evidence of child abuse
Domestic violence
Illegal drug use

The Pastoral Care Visitor is neither equipped nor qualified to deal with these issues. In addition, in some situations of abuse the law of the land demands that it be reported. There tension here for the pastoral visitor between the desire to maintain confidentiality and the need to report life-threatening situations. It is suggested that the Pastoral Visitor report his/her suspicions promptly and directly to the relevant Pastor, and leave it to the Pastor to make the decision whether or not to pursue further.

E.7 Avoiding dependence
It is not the purpose of Pastoral Care to create a relationship of dependency, in which the person visited expects and depends upon the pastoral visits and/or phone contacts for their personal significance and strength. The pastoral care visitor should point the person to the Scriptures and to the Lord. If it looks like a dependency is starting, set the person some Biblical or lifestyle project and indicate that he/she will phone again in ‘x’ amount of days/weeks expecting that the project will be completed by that time, and that during that time the person has to seek their help from the Lord.


In a local church there are a range of opportunities for serving in pastoral care. These include:

‘Welcoming’  – greeting people as they arrive at church.

Caring for new people – identifying new people, welcoming them, giving them information about the church and helping them to become part of the church.

 General congregational care – all types of ‘visiting’ – phoning, house visits, hospital visits, meeting at the coffee shop, etc.

Prayer – being part of the prayer team.

Practical care – of those in need of practical/physical assistance – providing meals, mowing lawns, helping with moving house, etc.