Three Pastoral Models of Pastoral Care (3/3)

Donald Capps very helpfully outlines models and schemata for effective pastoral action, that I think are very helpful for getting pastor’s to think about the what and why of what they do in a community over which they exercise pastoral oversight.  This post is the third of three that will develop this scheme to show how pastoral care is multi-layered and complex, requiring self-understanding, and avoiding the over-simplification of a one-dimensional approach that can be seen in self-promoting and self-serving distortions of ministry.

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In Pastoral Care and Hermeneutics (a book I discovered by reading Anthony Thiselton’s A Lifetime in the Church and University), Capps first provides six Diagnostic Types for pastoral care approaches (pg. 61-65) and then, what concerned the first two posts, he locates them on three axes, with each axis viewed as a model of theological diagnosis (pg. 65-66).  He uses the content analysis of published sermons in six well known preachers, showing that each preacher had a characteristic approach that was common to most if not all the their published sermons.

Now following on from the Contextual, Experiential and Revisionist models of the previous post, Capps now draws these threads together (pg. 72-78) in three characteristic models or modes of pastoral ministry (See Figure A below – A Conceptual Schema for Interpreting Pastoral Actions), that he draws from the work of Alastair Campbell in his Rediscovering Pastoral Care:

Capps locates his three models of theological diagnosis thus:  The Shepherd fits the contextual model.  The wounded healer fits the experiential model.  And the wise fool fits the revisionist model.

1. The Shepherd and the Contextual type.  Biblically, the shepherd is one who knows the world in which the sheep live and understands the dangers they face and how to get them to safety and pasture.  The shepherd does not shield them from every danger or difficulty they face, but rather, helps them to cope with them by presence, guidance and solicitous gestures.  The shepherd is aware (inc. self-aware) of the limits confronting the sheep, especially death and other serious threats.  The shepherd’s action is one of “tender and solicitous concern” (S. Hiltner), but without any guidance becoming coercive or paternalistic, since the goal of all pastoral care is to help people to help themselves (my emphasis).  The shepherd guides without taking away freedom, even if this means making mistakes they will later regret.

The shepherd metaphor is rooted in both Old and New Testaments; Yahweh is Israel’s Shepherd (Psalm 23) and Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10).  In both senses, when the sheep are without a shepherd, they lose all sense of meaningful context.  This image fits the contextual model because the shepherd is aware of the range of possible causes of discomfort, and is best equipped to discover resources to help the sheep. Additionally, the shepherd’s ministry is one of a spirit of hope and confidence:  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).

2.  The Wounded Healer and the Experiential type.  This image is also biblical, and is primarily based on the image of the suffering Christ.  The wounded healer, according to Campbell, is one who,

…restores the fractured relationships between God, humanity, and the whole universe. . . . Jesus’ wounds, in life and death, are the expressions of his openness to our suffering.  He suffered because of his love:  his sufferings are the stigmata of his care for us and for the whole would estranged from God.”

The sufferings of Christ promote healing because they are the consequence of his deep love for us, and such love heals:

“Such wounded love has a healing power because it is enfleshed love, entering into our human weakness, feeling our pain, standing beside us in our dereliction.”

In the same way the pastor as wounded healer is motivated by love and not self-promotion.  The pastor must also share in sufferings, as one sharing a common humanity.  While every individual is unique in their suffering, and no one can ever fully enter into that pain, we are not so different, that no communication, no reverberation of feelings is impossible.  This does mean that on some level, which must be found, pain is sharable and we can, in this way, know and understand the sufferings of another.  Those who would deny all possible pastoral help because “you don’t know what I’m suffering” are claiming a uniqueness to their own being that is simply not there, nor is it theirs to claim.

Obviously, the goal of the wounded healer is to see healing.  But this model insists that healing does not come by isolating or distancing ourselves from painful experience (if that were possible), or even “working through” our pain, but by living our pain, allowing ourselves to experience it fully.  Henri Nouwen reminds us in his Wounded Healer, “A minister is not a doctor whose primary task is to take away pain.  Rather he deepens the pain to a level where it can be shared.”

This means that for effective pastoral ministry, the minister helps others to reject the false supposition that life should be painless, free from fear, despair, loneliness, and estrangement.  Indeed, those who avoid life’s pain (if they can) are ultimately poorer for it, because as we live our pain fully we also experience the unrelenting love of God and the peace that passes all understanding.

The wounded healer has the same concern for the suffering of others that we saw in the shepherd but does not address this concern by seeking to mobilise the available resources for alleviating pain.  Instead, the wounded healer encourages us to live our pain as deeply as we are able, to drink the bitter cup down to its very dregs.  While the shepherd holds out hope to the threatened sheep, the wounded healer puts stress on the power of God’s love whatever may happen.  Both models envision victory over the powers of sickness and death; one on victory over the dangers, the other on the abiding presence of God whose love knows no limits:  “If I go to the depths of Sheol, you are there” (Ps. 139:8b).


3.  The Wise Fool and the Revisionist type.  The “wise fool” (coined by Campbell) is a pastoral image whereby the pastor functions much like a clown in a circus – hospital chaplaincy fits this model very well.  Like the other two models, this is also biblical, in that we are not be be wise in our own eyes, but become a fool (1 Cor. 3:18).  On this basis, the pastor is neither worldly wise nor “just a fool,” but an apparent fool who is in fact a person of wisdom.   (This reminds me of a book by Rev’d Dr Helen Paynter called ‘Reduced Laughter’ which I reviewed here, and develops the Wise Fool as a hermeneutical model using the middle section of the Books of 1 & 2 Kings).  In any case, there are three main characteristics of the wise fool:

i. Simplicity. Seen in a refreshing directness and refusal to play language games that jockey for position and power.

ii.  Loyalty.  Seen in an undramatic but persistent loyalty to others in disregard of self.

iii.  Prophecy.  Seen in the tendency to challenge accepted norms, conventions and authorities within society.

Adopting this self-understanding always runs the risk of being thought unorthodox by fellow ministers, but it may also command a certain deep-seated respect for daring to challenge the empty professionalism and self-promotion in much contemporary ministry.  Pastors who function as the Wise Fool are often underestimated and taken for granted, being dismissed to easily, with ideas deemed unrealistic or unworthy of serious consideration.

The wise fool helps us “to see ourselves in a clearer light.”

  • Through prophecy the wise fool helps us to see what our social institutions are doing to us.
  • Through simplicity, the challenge is to conduct our professional lives with less self-serving distortion.
  • Through loyalty, the wise fool challenges us to be more truthful in our interpersonal relationships.

In this way, the wise fool fits the revisionist model because we are encouraged to look at life in new ways, and this because we have preferred darkness to light and truth.  The wise fool helps us see that “Truth is remarkably simple; error is unnecessarily complex.”  Professional and personal relationships can be remarkably straightforward and clear if we do not insist on deceiving one another, but instead relate to each other with the same honesty and straightforwardness with which God relates to us.

In this model, what we formerly considered foolishness is now wisdom, and our former wisdom is now folly.  Such reversals reveal a new world to us, one to which we had previously been blind or impervious.



Princeton Theological Seminary President Dr. Craig Barnes, wrote of Professor Capps following his tragic car accident in 2015, in a statement on the Seminary’s website, “Don Capps represented the very best in our profession. He was an accomplished scholar whose works shaped the field of pastoral theology. He was a beloved teacher who taught generations of future pastors to care not only for others but for themselves. He made a lasting impact on the church and our campus community, and we will miss him dearly.”




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