Pastoral Care: The Art of Arts

The quotation below is an excerpt from the late David Powlison’s new book, ‘The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care.’ Use my referral link to receive $5 off your order at Westminster Books.

It is hard to shepherd souls, to combat intricate moral evil, to help people walk through pain and anguish. Gregory the Great called it the “art of arts” in his great treatise on pastoral care. He thought the task of guiding souls far more difficult than the tasks performed by a mere medical doctor. Think about that. The body is relatively accessible. It is often explicable by cause-and-effect reasoning, and treatable by medication or surgery. But the “more delicate art deals with what is unseen,” the irrational madness in our hearts (Eccles. 9:3; Jer. 17:9). When you consider the challenge, how is it that most churchly counseling seems slapdash, pat answer, and quick fix? A good medical doctor spends a lifetime in acquiring case-wise acumen. A mature psychotherapist pursues continuing education. Can a pastor be content with one-size-fits-all boilerplate? Kyrie eleison. People are not served when the Christian life is portrayed as if some easy answer will do—a pet doctrine, religious strategy, involvement in a program, spiritual experience—and presto!—case solved. Again, hear Gregory’s words:

One and the same exhortation is not suited to all, because they are not compassed by the same quality of character… In exhorting individuals great exertion is required to be of service to each individual’s particular needs.

A pastor’s work is the art of arts.

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