Pastoral Counseling

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Pastoral Counseling is a healing, supporting, guiding, liberating ministry of the faith community that is based on a relationship between a pastor or a pastoring team with counseling skills and a person or family who come together to engage in conversation and interaction. The relationship is a dynamic process of caring and exploration with a definite structure, and mutually contracted goals. It occurs within the tradition, beliefs and resources of the faith community which surrounds and supports the participants.

Pastoral counseling grounded in an Anabaptist theology stresses (1) embeddedness in the faith community, which is the context of pastoral care; (2) the integration of both the therapeutic and the ethical dynamics of intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts; (3) the unity of personal, familial, social, national, and global aspects of peacemaking and the creation of shalom. Thus, the pastoral counselor in the Mennonite context seeks to nurture healing relationships within the healing community; to clarify health and wholeness as well as justice and ethically right relationships; to invite reconciliation with oneself, one's significant others and the larger community and world.

A History of Pastoral Care

Pastoral care and counseling have taken different forms throughout the centuries of the Christian faith. In primitive Christianity the focus was on supported care and the endurance of persecution in view of the imminent end of the age. In the period of Roman persecution (ca. 180-324) reconciliation of those who broke down under pressure, and disciplining those who erred was central. Under Constantinian Christianity (after 324) the central motif was guidance and unification of values. Medieval Christendom stressed healing through sacramental rituals as means of grace. In the Protestant Reformation individual reconciliation, particularly of men and women to God, received most attention. During the 18th-century Enlightenment supportive care which sustained people with moralistic guiding, experiential rigor, and conversionist change was prominent. In the 20th century, individual guidance for self-realization and self-fulfillment have followed the trend toward individualism in the midst of Christian pluralism and private religion.

Anabaptism in its first centuries followed patterns parallel to early Christianity. The first period focused on supportive care for those suffering persecution. Menno's letters to spouses of martyred pastoral leaders exemplify excellent pastoral care in written communications. In the second period, discipline and moral guidance were practiced with concern for the sanctity of the group frequently surpassing the welfare of the person. The concern for the integrity and solidarity of community continued the moral approach to the care of souls into the 20th century. Multiple influences contributed to change in pastoral care and the emergence of pastoral counseling as a discipline in training and a contractual relationship of intensified pastoral care. Among these influences were (1) the involvement of Mennonites in mental health care during alternative service in World War II; (2) the establishment of mental health centers by Mennonite bodies; (3) the movement from a spirituality of self-sacrifice and self-denial to a spirituality of self-realization; (4) the acceptance of the social sciences and such disciplines as education, history, and sociology; (5) the experience of clinical pastoral education by pastors; (6) training of pastors in depth counseling for individual, marital, and familial problems; (7) Mennonite pastoral counselors' involvement with their peers in such ecumenical organizations as the Canadian or American Association of Pastoral Counselors. As the pastoral counseling movement has become the fourth major group of persons offering mental health care (psychiatry, psychology, social work, pastoral counseling), Mennonite pastors and other recognized ministering people in congregation and community have also developed gifts and claimed certification in the practice of psychotherapy from a theological-ethical grounding.

Pastoral Care Across Cultures

Pastoral care and counseling takes varied forms across cultures. The modern Western culture's fascination with introspection is less attractive in much of the Two-Thirds World because (1) there is a preference in non-Western cultures for action-oriented therapies which result in more immediate behavioral change; (2) the deference given to the pastor places more emphasis on guiding, directing, supporting rather than interpretation and inner exploration; (3) the reliance on the joint family (India), the three-tiered family (China, Japan, Indonesia), and on tribal-communal-familial relations (Africa, Latin America) results in resolving more difficulties within the group. The focus is much more on pastoral care than counseling, more on the relational than the intrapersonal, more on the familial than the individual. Since the resolution of conflict in traditional cultures is preferably done by third-party negotiation rather than direct confrontation, the pastor frequently functions as mediator-facilitator in healing strained relationships.

Pastoral counseling, as a function of intensive pastoral care, takes forms varying from short-term crisis intervention to long-term reconstructive therapy, from individual contract to family therapy, from personal change to communal and social transformation.


Augsburger, David. Pastoral Counseling Across Cultures. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1986.

Miller, P. M. Peer Counseling in the Church. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1975.

Author(s) David W Augsburger
Date Published 1989

Cite This Article

MLA style

Augsburger, David W. "Pastoral Counseling." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 29 Sep 2023.

APA style

Augsburger, David W. (1989). Pastoral Counseling. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 29 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, pp. 675-676. All rights reserved.

©1996-2023 by the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. All rights reserved.