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How Pastoral Care Stunts the Growth of Most Churches

Of all the mysteries that shouldn’t be mysteries, why most churches remain small is perhaps the greatest.

I’m sure there are a few leaders who want to keep their churches small, or who don’t care about growth.

But most small church leaders and pastors I meet actually want to reach more people. They want to see their mission fully realized. They hope and pray for the day when they can reach as many people as possible in their community.

But that’s simply not reality.

The Barna group reports the average Protestant church size in America as 89 adults. 60% of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. Only 2% have over 1000 adults attending.

As a result, the dreams of pastors of most small and even mid-sized churches go unrealized. Why?

I outlined 8 reasons most churches never break the 200 attendance mark in this post, but today I want to drill down deeper on one that kills almost every church and pastor: pastoral care.

If pastors could figure out how to better tackle the issue of pastoral care, I’m convinced many more churches would grow.

Here’s why. And here’s how.

shutterstock_62970499How Pastors Die Trying

When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding and funeral and make regular house calls, attend every meeting, and lead every bible study or group, he or she becomes incapable of doing almost anything else.

Message preparation falls to the side, and providing organizational leadership for the future is almost out of the question.

The pastoral care model of church leadership simply doesn’t scale.

It’s somewhat ironic, actually.

If you’re a good pastoral care person (and many pastors are), people will often love you so much that the church will grow to two hundred people, at which point the pastoral care expectations become crushing.

Inevitably, pastoral leaders with larger churches can’t keep up and end up disappointing people when they can’t get to every event any more.

Caring for 30 people personally is possible. Caring for 230 is not.

Many pastors burn out trying.

The pastoral care model most seminaries teach and most congregations embrace creates false and unsustainable expectations.

Consequently, almost everyone gets hurt in the process.

The pastor is frustrated that he or she can’t keep up. And the congregation is frustrated over the same thing.

Eventually the pastor burns out or leaves and the church shrinks back to a smaller number. If a new pastor arrives who also happens to be good at pastoral care, the pattern simply repeats itself: growth, frustration, burnout, exit.

It’s ironic. They very thing you’re great at (pastoral care) eventually causes your exit when you can no longer keep up.

Or, if you stay for a long time, your church settles down to around 100 people and you simply can’t grow it beyond that.

Why? Because, as I explain in some detail in my new book, Lasting Impact: Seven Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow, you haven’t structured bigger to grow bigger.

Complication 1: Pastors Who Won’t Let Go

Several other factors make pastoral care complicated.

Many pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature (if that’s you…read this). Wanting to not disappoint people fuels conflict within leaders: people want you to care for them, and you hate to disappoint them.

In some respect, pastoral care establishes classic co-dependency. The congregation relies on the pastor for all of its care needs, and the pastor relies on the congregation to provide their sense of worth and fulfilment: the pastor needs to be needed.

Complication 2: Congregations That Won’t Let Go

Many congregations define the success of their leader according to how available, likeable and friendly their pastor is.

It’s as though churches want a puppy, not a pastor.

Since when did that become the criteria for effective Christian leadership?

By that standard, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, the Apostle Paul and perhaps even Jesus failed the test.

The goal of Christian leadership is to lead, not to be liked.

That’s no excuse for being a jerk or insensitive, but still, leadership requires that at times, you need to do what’s best, not what people want.

If a church is going to grow, congregations have to let go of the expectation that their pastor will be available for every medical emergency, every twist and turn in their lives, every family celebration and every crisis.

That’s a tough sell for many congregations, but if a church is going to grow, it has to happen.

How to Break Through

So how do you deal with this?  Have the courage to shift care to the congregation.

The best answer I know of for pastoral care in a larger church is to teach people to care for each other in groups.

Groups based care isn’t just practical. It’s biblical.

It’s thoroughly biblical: going back to Exodus 18, when Jethro confronted Moses about doing everything himself.

Even Jesus adopted the model of group care, moving his large group of hundreds of  disciples into groups of seventy, twelve, three, and then one.

I have been the pastoral care giver in a small church. Some of those original people are now part of our much larger church where care happens in groups. In the process, both they and I have made the transition.

As a result, here’s what I’ve come to believe about pastoral care: 98% of pastoral care is having someone who cares. It doesn’t have to be the pastor.

2% of the time you’ll have situations where the need of a member exceeds the ability of the group to help. That’s what trained Christian counsellors are for. The tool kit of a trained Christian counsellor is deeper and better than the counselling ability of the vast majority of pastors.

I rarely if ever counsel people. Why? Because I care about people too much. Instead, I send them to people who can actually help them.

If you’re wondering how to start the discussion, I started it with my elders and leaders when we were about 100 in attendance and told them my role would be changing. I used this book as a resource, and told them that we would never break 200 in attendance unless I stopped doing pastoral care.

It was a tough, but we made it.  We now have a church of 2300 people with almost 1100 in attendance on weekends.

It’s tempting to say I’d be dead if I was still trying to do pastoral care personally, but that’s simply not true.

I’d be alive, very tired (it’s not my key gifting) and our church would be under 200 people. I also likely would have quit. We would never have grown. That’s the reality.

It’s simply impossible for a church to grow beyond 200 under one person’s direct care and leadership.

Too Scared?

Too scared to have the conversation?

If you’re a people pleaser, do what you need to do to get over it. Go see a counselor. Get on your knees. Do whatever you need to do to get over the fear of disappointing people.

If you’re afraid to have the conversation, have it anyway. I actually designed my latest book, Lasting Impact, to facilitate 7 critical conversations like this directly with your board and leadership team.

Courageous leadership is like courageous parenting. Don’t do what your kids want you to do; do what you believe is best for them in the end.

Eventually, many of them will thank you.

And the rest? Honestly, they’ll probably go to another church that isn’t reaching a lot people either.

I’m convinced that if we changed how we do pastoral care, we’d reach more people. And in the process, we’d care for people much better than we do now.

If you want to go deeper, on Episode 58 of my free weekly leadership podcast, Beth Marshall explains how they do pastoral care at NewSpring church, a church that reaches over 40,000 people each weekend.

What do you think? Scroll down and leave a comment.

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  • Jason

    This article demonstrates the blindness and darkness that the Christian Church is under, in that they falsely believe they are part of the one true church the Messiah Jesus setup, failing to see the truth right in front of their eyes that Jesus didn’t setup the Christian Church but rather the kingdom of heaven on earth, which is his assembly of called-out-ones (Ecclesia, NOT CHURCH). The many various individual christian churches all have their own congregations (flocks) with their own pastors (shepherds) and teachers, all claiming they are part of the one true church and that they are working for Jesus. But rather, the christian pastors and Bible teachers and theologians are simply the blind leading the blind, and have led the religion of Christianity into a pit of darkness.

    The truth is that Messiah Jesus is the only good shepherd, the One Shepherd (Pastor) of his one flock; our only Master and Lord; our One Teacher, and we are all brothers and sisters with One Father who is in heaven (John 10:14, 16; Ezekiel 34:23, 37:24; Isaiah 40:11; Jude 1:4; John 13:13; Matthew 23:8-10) – we are disciples of Jesus, not members of the religion of Christianity. We are the true worshipers who worship the Father in spirit and in truth, rather than in church buildings and with empty rituals. (John 4:21-24; Isaiah 58:5-9)

    The pastors of the churches are not disciples of Jesus, but hired hands who care nothing for the sheep (the one true flock, the kingdom of heaven) – imposters who “crept in unnoticed”, who, “for pay, pour out deceit”, preaching Paul’s “gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24; see Romans 2:16, 1 Corinthians 15:1-2 “the word I preached to you”) rather than Messiah’s gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 24:14; see John 12:48, Matthew 13:19 “word of the kingdom”) – imposters who take the title of and assume a position of authority reserved to One, Jesus the Nazarene, the one and only true shepherd/pastor; whose sheep hear his voice and follow him alone as their spiritual leader, and his words alone as the foundation of their faith. (See John 10:11-13, 27; Jude 1:4, 11; Matthew 7:24-29)

    Any true follower of Jesus will obey Messiah’s commandments and teach others to make Jesus their One Shepherd/Pastor, Teacher, Lord and Master; so that they too may have the opportunity to hear his voice, join his one flock, and enter the kingdom through the door – the small/straight gate (rather than following those climbing up some other way) – by following him on the narrow way which leads to life. But the christian pastors teach you that God’s church is made up of many flocks with many pastors, and teach you to follow traditions and doctrines of men rather than the commandments of the One True God; thereby taking away the key of knowledge and locking the door of the kingdom in people’s faces, neither entering the kingdom themselves, nor allowing those who are attempting to enter to go in. “These are the ones who CAUSE DIVISIONS, who are worldly and DEVOID OF THE SPIRIT”. (Jude 1:19; see also Matthew 12:25, 30)

    If we wish to enter into life, we would be wise to listen to the voice of truth, and leave the blind guides:

    “Leave them; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

    And then come follow the Light of the world, so that you might have the light of life, and no longer walk in darkness; for his words will set you free from the darkness and deception if you are willing to listen and obey them. (John 8:12, 31-32, 51)

  • A big church maybe oughtn’t to be the ultimate goal, though. If people duck out of the services during the final hymn in order to beat the crush in the parking lot, that church is too big for me.

  • Let’s look right to the scriptures to examine this:


    Romans 12: 4-8

    For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

    1 Corinthans 12: 28-30

    And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues ? Do all interpret?

    Ephesians 4:11-13

    So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.


    If we believe the Bible and we can understand the clear language that Paul has given to no less than three of the early churches, then we see that Christ himself has give different gifts to different people.

    Let me emphasize that again.

    Different gifts = different people

    So why are some so determined that

    one person = all gifts

    That simply is not Biblical. A man who has been given the gift of being a teacher may not have the same gift of being a pastor. A man with the gift of being a pastor may not have the gift of being a preacher. The man who has the gift of leadership may not have the gift of being an encourager.

    Now does that mean that a teacher can’t also preach or lead? Of course not, but if that isn’t a gift they have been given, then they are not as suited for it as others.

    But in our modern churches, many people are of the assumption that if a man is called “head pastor” he must also be in charge of every ministry personally. And that simply isn’t true.

    If the head of a local church is given the gift of leadership and guidance, and he appoints someone to preach the word on Sundays and another to be in charge of visitation, how many would accept that in our church culture?

    And yet, if he is using his gifts and he is allowing others to use their gifts, he is doing the right thing.

    Putting the pressure of running a church on a single man is not what is taught in the New Testament. The New Testament teaches that various gifts are given to various people so that the church can run effectively. Even near the very beginning of the church, the Apostles appointed seven men to run some of the pastoral duties of the church in Jerusalem.

    That should be our model.

    • RWilliams

      Amen! May the Scriptures guide our practices!

  • Ali Griffiths

    If a leader of a church doesn’t have a pastoral heart then they should go and work in a secular organisation doing good works or a para church organisation.
    The assumption that large and growing churches are the ones which are ‘healthy’ and ‘successful is patently nonsense biblically – it’s a worldly concept that suits many a church leader who needs his/her sad ego massaging.
    Good pastoral care is the main reason why broken, vulnerable and needy people come to church in the first place and stay. The idea that it stunts church growth is nonsense – it’s the most mission focused and loving thing the church does – offering the love of Jesus to people who need it and that includes fellow Christians. The world watches how we deal with each other.
    I am utterly fed up with silly headlines putting pastoral carers down and implying that bigger is always better. If all those people who travel miles to go to a mega church where they can hide in plain view actually committed to living their lives in the communities where they physically live, showed true loving pastoral care to those who will also know them through and through, THEN the Church will be known by its love of each and love of others and actually be noticed for all the right reasons. But that’s too hard. So people who call themselves Christians will continue to totter off to large churches where they can stuff themselves with teaching that they won’t put into practice themselves and go home to neighbourhoods in which the small churches struggle to cope because of their lack of resources. However, the smaller churches can love people so that is what they do and then they get criticised because that is ‘all’ they do. Actually, that’s the main thing, showing the love of God for people. Stop knocking it.

    • w84harpazo


      I can sense your aggravation with this topic and I understand your view. I will try and answer your response with respect and with the love of Christ—knowing we are brothers.

      I cannot answer for Carey; however, I am not sure that you understood Carey’s article.

      He never stated to do away with pastoral care, to the contrary, the article states to build a pastoral care team and not to alleviate the pastor from making calls, but so that the pastor doesn’t burn out, can focus on preaching, reaching, and representing the kingdom of God to the community.

      As an ex-church planter, current church planter trainer, a pastor, and now a revitalization pastor, I agree with Carey. But, I think that you are equating Carey’s article as “success=mega-church.” Having read Carey’s work and knowing his heart for discipleship, he’s not presenting pastoral care as bad, or a small church as unbiblical (surely there are rural congregations where growth cannot occur). He (I believe I am reading his article correctly) is stating that to further the gospel, churches can reach more people by making sure that pastor is focused upon leadership training (which includes pastoral care training), preaching the gospel, and intentionally being a part of community.

      As a pastor, I have to work hard and deliberately to set aside time to meet new people (non-believers), outside of my circle of influence. I do this in many ways, but understand fully what Carey is stating. I could be reaching even more people with gospel, if I were training members to reach and serve the community, and while doing that, having a pastoral care team that can effectively care for the needs of the flock. The problem is our broken clergy model–which heightens the role, expectations, and duties of the senior pastor—to do it all. If more laity were empowered (Eph 4), the church would be reaching and connecting to a far greater amount of people. Instead of surviving, the church would be thriving. IMHO.

      His servant and yours,

      • Ali Griffiths

        First, we are not brothers Matt. I am not male.
        Second, the title of this article is deliberately downgrading the importance of pastoral care in churches. If Carey isn’t meaning to do this then he should think more carefully about how he presents his material.
        Third, I did understand the article but I don’t think you do understand my reply.
        Fourth, the point that we can agree on is that the over reliance on the clergy to essentially do the work and ministry of the laity should be doing ( as well as the leaders not instead of) is a big problem in many churches. Empowering the laity is a major challenge and many of us now are reaping the fruits of teaching and practices that elevated the ordained leader to a position they should never have had.

    • Christoph Koebel

      What is a “pastoral heart”? And what make you think serving in a “para church organization” does not require a “pastoral heart”?

      • Ali Griffiths

        Never said it doesn’t require a pastoral heart – not sure where you get that from. I am clearly responding to an article that is downgrading the importance of a church leader having a pastoral heart. You need to read replies in the context of the discussion.

        • RWilliams

          I think you missed the whole premise. We have been given a Great Commission to go and make disciples. This means that we are seeking to reach people far from God with the Gospel. Expecting a Pastor who’s primary role is equipping the saints for that work to do all pastoral care is damaging.

          Also, a “pastoral” heart would mean a “shepherd’s”. A shepherds job is to care for the sheep, yes… but he should also be making sure his sheep are reproducing.. if not… the flock will die. Just a thought.

  • Truthbtold

    Today’s modern churches don’t have Pastors, but instead CEO’s who delegate responsibilities to other people. Let me give you an example of what CEO teaching Pastors do now .. A man in his church has to have emergency open bypass surgery but CEO Teaching Pastor cause he is too busy on his twitter, blog ect. relays a message to someone on his staff to go visit them. Well that visit is never made, nor does the CEO Teaching Pastor never call himself or come cause he thought his assistant to the assistant did it for him. But who does come a Pastor of a local Baptist Church stays with the family cause their CEO Pastor was working on his image. If the only time you hear from your CEO Teaching Pastor is on Sunday Mornings when he teaches then you don’t have a Pastor.

    • I think we have very different definitions of pastors. Your’s never allows a church to grow beyond 200 people. Maybe caring for more people (by scaling your church) means you actually care more.

  • Joel Bader

    Complication 2 applies to other groups–such as the Jaycees or the Lions Clubs. I used to belong to Jaycee and Lions Club organizations, and they wanted me to serve as a puppy–not as a leader. The Jaycee chapter to which I belonged is now defunct and the Lions Club to which I belonged is dying. I failed at being a real leader, and so did my groups.

  • Benjamin

    Hi Carey,
    Sorry to say that I don’t necessarily agree with your points, and here is why. Pastoral care is a fundamental aspect of church ministry which should not be neglected. Many of the revivalist and evangelical movements, with huge gatherings, tend to be a ‘flash in the pan’. With as many as 40% of those participants having fallen away from faith, or no longer attending. Other churches seem to maintain their numbers, but do this by continually bringing in a constant stream of new followers. There are so many people to relate to in a +100 church size, that inter-relational interactions are quite stinted. Clicks form, and ultimately, the churches exit door is just as big as the entrance.
    Obviously, neither of these outcomes are suitable for the growth of God’s Kingdom. As living the Christian life is much more akin to a marathon than a sprinting race. It does not matter how many people you have sitting on seats, in your church, if there is no longevity.
    Pastoral care, is often critical, but also overlooked aspect of ministry. It is essential for maintaining the Church. From many examples of those situations sighted (weddings, funerals, illness, relationship problems, etc.) these are almost always too late. Good pastoral care should be happening continually, everyday, and before people reach these life stages. Hard to do, and impossible for one person. The real key is to enlist the help of others. By encouraging, and equipping the lay community to take on leadership and ministry roles for themselves. I think most Christian communities need to let go of the personality cult.
    The church pastor is not superman, and he is not the only pastor. He is the churches ‘paid pastor’, but there are many others who go unpaid. His job is not to minister, but rather, to train others in how to do it.

    • Ed Taylor

      This is exactly what Carey said. He said you train people up to do the pastoral care in the trenches through grouplife initiatives. We care for each other, not the pastor cares for everyone. That’s all he was saying. And he’s right…

      • Benjamin

        Oddly, I had’t gathered this from the article. The author seems to suffer from the presupposiiton that a 200+ intended congregation size is the intended aim. Sighting, at the begining of his article, that the vast majority of churches with congregations smaller than 100 people is a problem. I would firstly like to ask the author why he believes that a 100 person church is undesirable. It seems clear to me that if 100 people is the optimum size for pastoral care, then this is a good size to have. Kingdom growth simply means that you have more of them.

        Another point which I picked up from the language is the general lack of emphasis on training and equiping. The author seems to be advocating the wholesale delegation of pastoral care; but not giving a clear picture on how those needs are now to be met. The subtext seems to suggest that, “it is easier to grow a church (numerically) if you just don’t do pastoral care”, so don’t bother with that… If that is the message here: Then I wholeheartedly disagree.

        It is true that the head pastor, in a church, can’t do all things. But in restructuring a church, careful consideration needs to be given to how these needs are now to be met. I do appreciate that the author could have perhaps been deliberately provocative with the title of this article. But I do also detect a subtle idolatry creeping into this line of argument. An idolatry which should be identified and addressed.

    • cathyulrich

      Agreed. Leader’s primary goal & responsibility is to mature the flock to take the baton when they’re ready. Raising up other followers of Jesus who do the same is the goal. We need to do this in smaller groups and one on one whenever possible. Having home groups in a larger church is a good way to do this. Healthy accountability, as opposed to disfunctional accountability is the way to do this. Jesus said to make disciples & teach them what He taught you. Also in Ephesians it speaks of our primary goal being to raise up people to be mature followers who don’t fall when the waves get rough. A big part of staying power for individuals or churches to stay the course is to help people see what their particular gifting so are & then encourage them & allow them to be placed in the body whee they are needed. The Holy Spirit’s guidance in this & teaching people to hear God speak & learn to search the Bible for themselves is crucial so they are no deceived. Worshipping one personality @ the top is dangerous & leads to all manner of deception.

      • Truthbtold

        Mature followers are not produced by having Sunday night home groups lol

  • Sam

    Thank you Carey! Your podcasts really touch so many realms of ministry and life.

    Regarding pastoral care, it seems pretty simple. Those with the gift of leadership… lead. All the “one anothers” are for all of us, regardless of our specific gifts, to fulfill. However, each has our unique calling. Just like all of us give, not all have the gift of giving. All of us are to serve, but for some, it is their principle gift. All of us are to show compassion (mercy) but some have this in abundant measure. If the entire body fulfills their calling, we have… the body of Christ. If someone primarily is called to pastoral care, it might be difficult to adequately fulfill other role such as teaching, vision casting, etc. Get all believers on the right seat on the bus, and it will go as far as God intends. This is why he gives us spiritual gifts!

  • Kirk T.

    This is a good article, but an even more fascinating discussion. The basic question seems to come down to what God wants for the church. Obviously, we don’t know the mind of God, but we can find some clues. Perhaps love God, then neighbor and self? Perhaps feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, shelter to the stranger, and visit the sick and the prisoner. Perhaps go into all the world, make disciples, baptize in Jesus’ name, and teach them everything Jesus has taught us?

    Many churches have turned these directives upside down. Love us, pastor. Feed, shelter, and visit us, pastor. Don’t go, pastor, stay here with us. A church that follows these clues will be active in its community and will attract new people through its service, and grow. A church that demands its pastor be active only within the church won’t grow. The size of the church really doesn’t matter all that much. What matter is how the church cares for the community in which it lives.

    Corey is absolutely right. The church as a whole is called to provide pastoral care for the entire community which includes but isn’t limited to the church members themselves. The pastor is called to lead and model and equip the church for this service.

    • cathyulrich

      One person serving all others leads to stagnation just as a body of water w/ no fresh water moving into it & back out again is sure to dry up & smell. True in our personal life & in the church. Givers w/ pure motives who allow others to speak into their lives become mature & the River of the Life of God flows out to bring more of the life of God to others.

  • Brenda North

    Thanks Corey for this article, this is so true. I serve a church that was wise enough to realize that congregational care could reach much further than pastoral care alone. I, as senior pastor, still provides care in urgent and important situations, but trained, gifted lay persons provide the on-going care. Thanks to the faithfulness and leadership of these lay leaders and the power of God, our church has been able to grow well beyond the 200 barrier, and God willing, will keep growing and reaching new people. Programs like Stephen ministry, trained home Holy Communion servants, a lay minister for visitation or parish nurse, and a system for friendly visitation have provided great care for our congregation, developed more trained and caring lay leaders, and has allowed for pastoral time and energy to focus on those who are/were outside the church. It allows this congregation to more fully live out the Biblical witness of the early church “See how they love each other.”

  • aPEON

    The discussion reveals the Fundamental problem in today’s Church——-The Seminary Production of church leaders. The Seminary approach to providing church leadership is contra-biblical——-Disciple Making is the Biblical method. If you do not understand that, you have much learning to do.

  • Another way to through the pastoral care trap is to embrace the New Testament concept of ekklesia where Christ-followers serve and minister to one another.

  • Adam Kilner

    Dear Carey:

    Thank you! I am very thankful for the ongoing thoughtful posts you offer! 😀

  • Thank you so much for this article. Something I’ve learned about myself in 18 years of full-time pastoral ministry is that a 30 minute hospital call takes the same amount of energy – emotionally, mentally, and physically – as about 4 hours of sermon prep or developing leaders or designated prayer time or dreaming/visioning/strategizing. I know this isn’t true of every pastor, but it sure is for me. Getting a church that has a 100 year history of pastoral care, as opposed to congregational care, that this shift is a must for the health or the church, and for my health (and my family’s health), is like telling my dog, “Hey, don’t bark.” My weekly workload is typically 50-65 hours, and when the majority, or even half of that, is on pastoral care, I have nothing left for my family, I’m drained and beginning to burn out, and those in the congregation with the spiritual gifts of caring, empathizing, and meeting felt needs, lie dormant. Equipping the church to do the work of the church is often viewed as “self-serving,” which is the saddest part to me, as the reality is the exact opposite. Much of the problem lies in the language we use. The vocational title for who I am is “pastor.” But the Biblical title for who I am is “Apostle/teacher.” EPHESIANS 4:11-16. We’ve created this 5-headed monster staff position called “Pastor” which is an apostle/prophet/evangelist/pastor/teacher. I believe the word for this is abomination. 🙂

    • cathyulrich

      Steve- Your articulation of the burn out of pastor & subsequent death of the church is prevalent & must be addressed. I used to go to a church just like this. After 17 years, 5 different pastors, prayer meetings giving way to the pastor teaching instead, I realized I had to leave in order to come alive spiritually again. I warned the pastor in love of the danger he & the church were in to no avail. Also my children needed to see a more Biblical model so they could live too. After a year & a half we are thriving in a more Biblically-based model church. Our Pastor has an open handed attitude & congregants are sent out to serve, as well as given opportunities to use their God-given gifts in the church & community. My youngest daughter, 18 years old, is now following hard after Christ after several years of rebellion & is going on the mission field. She now wants to go to Uganda for a long-term mission. The best part is she now loves & respects us & has a vital relationship w/ Christ. Our son is also turning from believing there was no God to learning that Christ is real & is allowing God to transform his mind & actions. Our oldest daughter is still away from God & overdosed, yet survived 4 years ago. However, we are standing on God’s promises & speaking & believing those things which are not as though they are!

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  • Charles Pritt

    “…and told them that we would never break 200 in attendance unless I stopped doing pastoral care.” Ouch, I just don’t believe Exodus 18 should be pitted against 1Peter 5:2 and Hebrews 13:7. Sure, leadership is an important part of pastoral work, and delegation is a good part of leadership. It is perfectly fair to criticize pastors who fall into the trap of loving to be needed (pastoral idolatry?). Yet I don’t think those things make us free to renegotiate the biblical job description of pastor/elder.

  • Trent Tanaro

    Very disappointed in this….blessings!

  • Mark

    Some people get too dependent on the pastor. Others like me never see the pastor nor any care. There is a thing as too little pastoral care. I have never really seen it unless I was at the hospital visiting a (grand)parent when clergy came. If a pastor is struggling to do it all, why does he/she not train some more people? For all the committee meetings and time consuming nonsense, there needs to be some care about ordinary people.

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  • mshelby1

    Couldn’t disagree more with this article. It appears to be more justification for the “dress for the wedding” nonsense. “You can’t be expected to ‘shepherd’ like an old-school pastor from (gasp!) 25 years ago…. You’re about growth, man!”
    You could study the successes of PLENTY of traditional pastors who’ve been faithfully serving the same mid to large sized congregations for 20 years or more…
    But I suppose that doesn’t support the narrative here. Yet why should my opinion count? I’m not a multi-campus pastor in trendy plaid shirts and nerd glasses. Heck, I’m not even a pastor… Just a regular Christian. Heck, I don’t even have a dream destiny. Wonder what I’m doing wrong?

  • Russell

    I see your premise as flawed. 1.) The institution of the church does NOT exist to further or to help realize the pastor’s dreams or mission. 2.) If the church does exist to further the pastor’s mission, it is no longer God’s church, but the pastor’s church. 3.) The Church exists for God’s will and purpose. 4) Success is NOT measured by how many are in attendance. It is NOT measured by programs or buildings. 5.) Biblical success, according to Jesus when speaking to the church at Philadelphia, is holding fast to His Word and to Him and His Name. 6.) One who loves Jesus obeys His Word. In the pastoral epistles the directive is to feed His sheep. Preach the Word. Feed the sheep–not the goats. Feed the sheep–not entertain the goats. Don’t waste your time counting numbers. Spend your time preaching the word of the Cross which is the power of God for salvation. 7.) Get over yourself. You are not Christ. You are not the reason the church exists. You are not the one that saves anyone. You are to serve Christ and obey His Word (The Bible).

    Repent of your self-serving nature and return to your first love, if it is. God will add to the number of the church. The pastor’s job is to care for those He has brought to the church.

    • Ryan

      Good points Russell.

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  • Marc Brisebois

    Great article! As the senior leader of a congregation I have frequently seen Pastors do the inverse of what God is doing. It may seem odd but I see true pastoral care like Paliative Care – comfort them while they die. God is trying to lead us to the cross and die to ourselves but instead, many are busy trying to keep alive what ought to die.

    • Jason Whitehead

      Without diving too deep into the atonement; I see the cross as helping us understand how we can overcome realities that seek to denigrate, demoralize, and destroy us. The focus should not be on the cross, but instead on the redemptive and empowering message of transforming the stories and symbols of our lives so that we may serve in our fullest capacity. We don’t help people die, they are already doing that (or it is being done to them), we help people wonder about the emptiness of the cross and what it means to overcome so that they might lead in their lives.

      • Marc Brisebois

        Are we denying the call to deny ourselves and carry our crosses?

        • Jason Whitehead

          I am flabbergasted by this response. Let’s carry that to the natural conclusion, because that particular attitude and theological statement says that pastoral care is merely looking at a hurting person and saying “buck up soldier, this is your cross to bear, you must be doing something wrong if it is too heavy.” If that is the type of care you want to offer, then by all means, delegate it.

          Pastoral care is not evangelism, nor should it be, ever, ever, ever. To evangelize during a crisis is an abuse of power and abusive to those who hurt, and that is nowhere near leadership in my book.

          • Marc Brisebois

            God bless you Jason but you might be confused. Are you responding to me or someone else? Palliative care is by nature comforting and loving. Buck up? These are your words. My initial point was to underscore the call to deny ourselves and carry our crosses. How can you say, ‘the focus should not be on the cross’. Yes resurrection into new life is the goal, but ‘death ‘ must come before resurrection. No one is denying proper relational care, it is the Christ Complex too many people walk in which is being addressed in this article.

          • Jason Whitehead

            Thank you for your clarification. I appreciate your ability to stick to the topic at hand. I do not deny the importance of death in order to imagine redemption, and the “I have to do it all” mentality of pastors can sometimes get in the way of good care and growth. While I do not consider myself confused (generally speaking of course), I do still think the characterization of pastoral care as only attending to certain events in the lives of people is over generalized, and that care is an embodied response and orientation towards the world that is derived from one’s faith, and that regardless of who attends an event, the pastor should always strive to live in ways the exude their care for others, however that takes place in their lives.

          • Marc Brisebois

            Thanks for your reply. I see a lot of defensiveness in some of the negative responses to this article. Like we all often do, some of these have drawn from other conversations and interactions not present here. This results in an unfair polarizing as we assign to others dimensions of meaning not contained in their response.Just to clarify what I am saying – there is a model of ministry driven by a needy self-serving people which is happily being filled by others who want to be needed.

            This does not necessarily invalidate anyone unless the shoe fits. The motive of everyone who serves is the pivotal issue here. I am not deciding for you or anyone else, but simply recognizing we have a problem with leaders who want to be ‘all things’. Like the mother who does everything for their children there comes a time to call people to own their lives. This is not uncaring but an expression of selfless courage, assuming it is being done properly… (Granted a large assumption). But just because some are not doing it correctly does not suggest it cannot or does not have to be done.

      • eli

        “We preach Christ crucified”. The Bible is not a book of inspirational stories for people to apply to their own lives. It’s the story of God who loved poor, miserable sinner so much He died an agonizing death to atone for their sins. Turning the Bible into a self-help book is mere idolatry.

        • Russell

          Amen, Eli.

        • Amy Zucker Morgenstern

          I don’t understand. God died an agonizing death on the cross? Are you saying God is dead now? Or that he thought he would be?

          Here’s what happens to a person who is crucified: they suffer agonies in their injuries, they can barely breathe, it becomes impossible to hold up their head, their bowels loosen and they die in their own diarrhea. As this is happening, they feel forsajen and hopeless. The only body they have is broken and a source of torment. They wonder if these are the last moments of their existence. They might hope that a pain-free and peaceful life awaits them on the other side, but they don’t know.

          Heres what happened to Jesus, according to what you wrote: he suffered physical pain for a few hours, knowing all the whole that his mockers and murderers were wrong and that after this orderal, he’d go back to being utterly free of pain and loss, and rule the universe and everyone in it, including them. His body hurt horribly, but it was just a costume and would soon be shed and never borne again. He just had to hold on for a little while longer.

          These do not sound like the same experience to me. Can you please explain to me how God can suffer like a human being?

          • aPEON

            Are you requiring Eli to provide the extended details of your two paragraph description of being crucified each time he mentions Christ Crucified?

            It seems that Eli was responding to another’s post, and that you attacked him for not giving a complete description of crucifixion. Which is not relevant to his comments.

          • Amy Zucker Morgenstern

            What is relevant is that Eli is trying to make the argument that we should not view the Bible as “a book of inspirational stories for people to apply to their own lives” because to do anything but read it as “the story of God who . . . . died an agonizing death to atone for [our] sins” is “mere idolatry.”

            I beg to differ. Reading the Bible as a book of stories that are often fictional but nevertheless inspiring stories is exactly what I do, and the reason is because claims such as that the Creator of all that is could possibly experience the same suffering as mortal, embodied beings make no sense to me. If you’re going to tell me that my way is idolatrous, you’re going to have to support your own reading of the Bible. Eli has not supported his claim, IMO.

          • aPEON

            Then you do not consider the Bible as inspired by God? If so, then it has no authority than any other book, and all that is written there does not have the signifigance that millions of believers have accorded to it.

            Your opening statement,

            “I don’t understand. God died an agonizing death on the cross? Are you saying God is dead now? Or that he thought he would be?”

            Reveals, as you said, “I don’t understand.” , that the true message of the Gospel, that God, Who can do what He desires, became a man, lived a sinless life, willingly gave Himself as the Perfect Sacrifice, for ALL the sins of the world, was in the grave for three days, and was raised from death by His Father, and that life is available to us through HIM.

            If you do not believe that, you do not believe the Gospel, or God.

            May He make himself known to you.

        • Jason Whitehead

          This will be my last reply, as this does not feel like a sacred and safe place to disagree and talk about those disagreements, while feeling heard and valued. This is the reason why I usually delete these articles from my facebook feed, and for now I will return to that practice.

          I can appreciate the different ways that we all approach faith, approach God and Jesus; I am glad you find value in the words you speak and that it gives you life and passion. I happen to approach faith in God differently, for that I am labeled idolatrous, sad, and that I “should be ashamed.” While I would like to talk with people who differ in the ways they make sense of their faith and how that works in the world, I am pretty sure that can only happen if we agree to respect people that espouse those differences. If I communicated anything differently, then I accept responsibility for that.

          Thank you for time and effort in these places, for expressing your points of view. I hope they continue to provide you with the sustenance you need to experience the active love and presence of God in the worlds you reside.


          • Russell

            I’ll clarify: if you’re reducing the cross the mere life principles, my comment stands. If not, then I regret misreading your ambiguous stance.

          • aPEON

            and Jason—-and ALL “Leaders”—A review of the ‘comments’ and ‘replies’ to a great extent, explains the ‘powerless modern church’——Leaders fight, churches die.

          • aPEON

            A basic ‘Passive-Agressive’ response——Paul, Peter, Timothy, Jesus–never!

      • Russell

        Are you serious, Jason? Are you seriously reducing the cross as an allegory that “fits” our lives today as it is an example of how to overcome?

        Please tell me you are joking? If you are not you are taking the greatest demonstration of God’s love and justice and prostituting it for examples of life principles.

        Upon that cross the King of Kings, out Sinless Savior laid down His life and our sins were the nails that were driven into His body. He suffered and died willingly for us, so that we may be forgiven for our sins and reconciled to the Father, as sons and daughters.

        You should be ashamed for smearing the cross with your “transforming stories and symbols of our lives.” You, sir, have a narrow, small and dim, at best, view of the cross.

  • RWilliams

    Love this!

    I don’t think that Carey is asserting that pastors become CEO’s at all. What I think he is asserting is that they become ranchers instead of simply shepherds. They don’t neglect the needs of the people of the congregation, they simply delegate them. Think of the early church in Acts 6. The apostles recognized as the church grew, they could no longer handle being fully involved in the care aspect (food distribution) and also remain fully committed to the teaching of the word. So they became ranchers. They didn’t say, we are done with pastoral care (as we are calling it here). They simply said we need to delegate so it is done well. What was the result? verse 7

    “So God’s message continued to spread. The number of believers greatly increased in Jerusalem, and many of the Jewish priests were converted, too.”

    The word “so” there is crucial. Because they created a structure conducive to growth, growth occurred.

    • eli

      The Bible calls pastors shepherds, not ranchers. If the church is too big for a pastor to adequately care for all his flock, a new church should be formed.

      • RWilliams

        If you’re going to use that specific definition for the word pastor, then I’m assuming you would say that the lead pastor (or elder, teacher etc….) who is over teaching should not be in charge of care (did you look at Acts 6?) This is a huge problem in the church. Every member of the church is a priest with Christ as our high priest. To expect the pastor of a church to care for you and not be expected to also be a minister of care is unbiblical

      • Marc Brisebois

        ‘A new church should be formed.’ This reduces ministry to mere caregiving and nuturing (necessary but not the job of some leaders). Where would that leave the early leaders who appointed others to do the serving so they could give themselves to prayer and the word. This model makes room for only one dimension of ministry.

  • Chad Richard Bresson

    Plurality of elders/pastors. Problem solved. No church was meant to be led by one pastor. IMHO, that’s the “distinctive” of pastoring that has been lost in the centuries since the early church (esp. among Baptists). And so, burnout, pastoral malpractice, neglect of sheep, etc. Plurality isn’t simply pastoral care delegated (group model), but pastoral care shared.

  • Jason Whitehead

    Thank you for this, I read it a couple of days ago and while there are some points to be made about what it means to lead, I have issues of how pastoral care is characterized. As I understand how the term is used, its description is antiquated, especially in relationship to how I understand and teach pastoral care today; care is as much about comfort as it is about challenge, support as it is about empowerment. It is meant to help people find their place in a community of faith when crises or tragedies befall them, as well as remind them of their strengths and empower them to speak and lead in these moments as well. A good leader empathizes, is compassionate, loving, leads from their strengths while recognizing the strengths around them. Good leadership begets good pastoral care, mainly because of the empowering way that good leaders help people understand their own gifts, talents, strengths, and resiliency as a community in these times of trouble.

    Pastoral care is not hand holding, that is not empowered care and asset-based thinking. Furthermore, good leadership is not devoid of empathetic and compassionate care for people in crisis. Good leadership and pastoral care is honest about our own gifts and strengths as pastors, and helps people find the right resources they need for support, rather than assuming all duties for all people (I think you are right about this to some extent, and those commenting are right about their suspicion of the CEO type leader as well).

    • Dedangelo

      I had the same reaction, Jason. The article is condescending about pastoral care as a profession. The “puppies” remark is a good example. I suspect it’s a gender role thing: Men want a “big church” rather than providing care for his flock. If you don’t have pastoral care skills, fine. But hire someone who does. Don’t denigrate the role — or parishioners who would benefit.

      • RWilliams

        I don’t think he is denigrating the role at all…. I think he is asserting that the pastor in charge of teaching and leading a staff shouldn’t try and take on the care themselves. When that happens, people tend to do just as he asserted…. they expect the pastor to be at every surgery, counseling session, football game for Johnny etc…. If our passion is to see more people come to Christ, we need to create an environment where this can happen.

        If the ministry of care is delegated out to smaller groups, the care will be handled much better anyways.

        • Jason Whitehead

          That said, the pastor while s/he may not do the function of pastoral care (I, too, believe that my role as caregiver is for planned obsolesce; that is, the community cares for each other so well that I am not needed except in acute crises). However, the pastoral leader must embody values of care in order to create community. We have enough messages in the workplace about a lack of care for employees, seeing them only as assets or problems rather than people with strengths who are struggling, that they should not see that in their pastor as well. What is missing from this post is the type of leader who empathizes, empowers, emotes, and engages people, but rather someone who delegates (which can be healthy, as long as they understand their ultimate responsibility for what they delegate to others and don’t blame them if something goes wrong) the responsibility of care without taking on the role of community caregiver through an embodied stance in preaching, teaching, service, and fellowship. Where is the illumination of these qualities in the pastor, rather than just the ceding of pastoral care duties in the service of greater numbers in the church? There is a difference between attracting members and creating disciples… have we learned nothing from the examples of megachurches? There is a difference between a cult of personality and community of faith…

  • Brent

    There is a lot of truth in here. However, I wonder if maybe the point of church is actually providing care (Heb. 10). I have pastored churches in the 100-300 range and the pastor doing all the care can be overwhelming at times. However, I have noticed that care extends to not only those in the church but often those who have left for mega-churches. When it is time for a wedding…I am called and not one of the mega-church pastors. When a funeral rolls around, the small church pastor almost always gets the call. I am more than happy to help because I know the people because I spent time with them…I did life with them.

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  • Brian William

    I think Reilly highlights an essential point when he says “my concern is pastors becoming CEO’s instead of shepherds.” That’s critical. No matter what, pastors need to care. I’ve been in a church where the pastors don’t care, and it ain’t pretty. (And the ironic part was the pastors did pastoral visits quite well, they simply didn’t exhibit *care*.) Ministry becomes efficiently running a program or managing a staff or hitting numerical goals or whatever, at which point it isn’t really ministry at all. Ministry is caring — caring about their personal wellbeing and caring about their spiritual growth.

    That said, I’m totally on board with what Pastor Nieuwhof is saying about the *manner* of pastoral care having the potential to limit a church’s growth. That’s because if a pastor believes visiting every shut-in weekly and visiting the hospital daily is what pastoral care is, they have much too narrow an understanding of care.

    Pastors need to show care in a multitude of ways. We’ve had 3 high school students commit suicides this year in the community, so I met with our youth group this past Sunday to pray with them for these families and for other students who are struggling. That’s care. We start every Bible study or adult class with 10 or 15 minutes of prayer concerns. That’s care. I just finished a sermon series called “Caregivers” about ways we care for others who are hurting. That’s care. I carry around prayer cards with me, and when I become aware of a need, I can offer to pray with them right then, right there, as well as hand them a card they can fill out so the prayer team will support them. That’s care. The other day I heard that the drummer missed praise band rehearsal because their baby is sick, and it took me 20 seconds to send them a text. That’s care.

  • Josh Evans

    Excellent post. How would you respond to a church member who is upset with the pastor over not visiting her in the hospital or something similar like that. Do you explain “he cant visit everyone” or how would you go about practically responding to someone?

    • eli

      He should visit everyone. If he can’t, the church should either get another pastor or form a new congregation to ensure everyone has access to pastoral care.

      • RWilliams

        Where are you getting these stances from? You said something similar below. Explain scripturally why you hold to this stance: that the pastor should keep the church small so he can individually care for and visit every sick or struggling person.

  • Rielly McLaren

    I certainly resonate with much of the explanation about how pastoral care can become dysfunctional and codependent, hence limiting the growth of a church community. The struggle I’m having with your post is that pastoral care is not a separate function from being a pastor, it is being a pastor. If one isn’t doing pastoral care, one isn’t a pastor. Of course, as a church grows, the delegation of pastoral care must creatively spread out in order to maintain the health of a faith community; but this cannot be to the exclusion of a pastor being a pastor. For example, a lead pastor could easily transition from being on-call, to providing pastoral care for pastors who are on-call. In other words, care for other caregivers is pastoral care.

    Messiah complexes and co-dependency aside, my concern is pastors becoming CEO’s instead of shepherds. The most powerful spiritual leaders, speakers, and pastors I’ve ever met are healthy Shepherds that continue to connect and care for people on the ground and in the mess of life – but they do it with tact, wisdom, boundaries, and delegation. They do not step out of the pastoral care function to grow their church, yet they may shift how and who they care for.

    Thanks for your post. I hope you receive my thoughts not as over-inflating the issue, but perhaps contributing or adding an addendum.

    • Frankly

      I have mixed feelings about this, like you. I think the article has a lot of wisdom and raises important points. I’ve seen congregations where the pastor does not effectively delegate, which ends up disempowering the congregation either through control issues or sheer bureaucracy. I think small country/neighborhood churches perhaps are the way to go–Christianity works better on that scale, I believe, even though all the fancy departments seem like a good thing and a great way to support emerging leadership–youth ministry, social outreach, etc. A pastor needs to know her/his sheep.

    • Dave Richmond

      I think what you are having trouble with is a confusion of terminology. The term “pastor” originally referred to the elders of a congregation. It was a team effort by multiple people that were “home-grown” within the local body. The preacher/evangelist was charged with preaching. Centuries later we have lost this distinction. This divide in responsibility was evident in the book of Acts when the Grecian widows were being neglected; the Apostles said it was unwise for them to neglect the “ministry of the Word”, so they delegated the care to the first deacons of the Church.

      This article nails the problem. The modern “Pastor” is charged with too many responsibilities by many smaller churches. It’s nearly impossible to find a leader who is a skilled communicator, excellent teacher and has visionary leadership that is also skilled pastorally. Most are naturally inclined towards one area, while only adequate in the other. A healthy church, and a healthy leadership, realizes the natural skillset of their minister and sets him up to win by making sure his responsibilities lie where he is gifted.

      • Marc Brisebois

        Well said…