How to Systematize Pastoral Care

I’ll be honest.

I’ve seen pastoral care and counseling catch a lot of pastors off guard.

They were ready for sermon prep, budget management, volunteer recruitment, weddings, funerals, and board meetings.

But they weren’t ready for the consistent requests from congregation members to “meet with them.”

Now you be honest…

Is pastoral counseling draining to you?

If not, great! If so, I hope this blog is super helpful and hopeful for you!

Here’s an overview of a simple way to think about it and approach it.

No rocket science, here. I worked hard to keep it as simple as possible.

Pastoral Care


  • YOU. Before the person you’re meeting with even shows up, find a quiet place to pray. Get your heart and mind in the right place.
  • THEM. At the beginning of the counseling session, establish the guidelines. This sets proper expectation for them before you begin.
  • SESSION. Your job in the first session is to listen well, love well, and get to the heart of the issue. Here are some great questions to ask in an initial session…
  1. Before we begin, can I quickly review the 5 guidelines?
  2. Tell me what’s going on. Why did you want to talk to someone?
  3. Is there anything else that I need to know?
  4. How is this affecting you and the people around you?
  5. What is the main thing you need right now?


Unless you were professionally trained as a counselor and you have enough margin in your schedule to be fully present when you meet with people, it’s great to have a list of local counselors or counseling centers that you trust.

Also, there may be times when someone needs more help than you can offer. Or their problem is one that must be addressed by someone who has extensive specialty training. You must communicate that to people after you’ve met with them. Here’s a great way you could communicate that to a member of your congregation…

Thanks for meeting with me. I admire anyone who will admit they need help. It’s a courageous step.

Like we talked about in the beginning of our initial meeting, there may be times when I refer people to another counselor that I trust. After our time together, I believe that there are counselors who have the skill and expertise to help you move toward healing. I want what’s best for you, so I suggest that your next step is to meet with one of the counselors I recommend.

If you agree, I will follow through until you are connected with the best person for you and your needs. You can be confident that this church will stand behind you and support you in every way we can.

Let me know what you want to do. Thank you again for taking a courageous step.


To maintain your emotional health and your integrity as a pastor, it’s vital that you set some internal guardrails. As people open up to you and move towards healing, it’s easy for them to develop an unhealthy attachment to you. Here are some great internal boundaries for you to establish…

  1. I will maintain confidentiality when it comes to information brought up in the boundaries of a counseling session
  2. For the sake of my family and the external guidelines I establish, I will maintain start and end time of counseling sessions
  3. Unless it’s a crisis, I will not answer calls or texts from those I counsel after 6PM
  4. I will make sure that I meet with people in a place that provides safety and accountability
  5. I will be very careful and cautious when it comes to meeting with a member of the opposite gender

At the end of four sessions, re-evaluate. It won’t catch them off guard if you communicate that up front. Here are some great external guidelines…

  1. After an initial meeting, I may refer you to an external counselor that will serve them more effectively.
  2. If we do agree to begin counseling, we will meet for 4 sessions and then re-evaluate
  3. I will maintain confidentiality unless you are being physically hurt, about to hurt yourself, or hurting someone else
  4. Because of my commitment to prioritize my family, I will not always answer calls and text immediately
  5. Unless there is a crisis, our counseling appointments will last approximately one hour

At that point you can either:

  • Pray together and complete the counseling
  • Refer to an external counselor
  • Agree to another four sessions