Pastoral Theology Website

Robert Munson, the Administrator of Bukal Life Care, recently created a website on Pastoral Theology.  It is called “Adventures in Pastoral Theology.” You can visit it at

This website will be used primarily for new, and updates related to Bukal Life Care, while articles related to Pastoral Theology (and its related concerns) will be located there. You are welcome to visit any time.



Pastoral Care Versus Spiritual Care

pastoralThere is an on-going controversy regarding what term is preferable, “Pastoral Care” or “Spiritual Care.” For some people this has become quite a heated issue. I have no interest in stoking this fire, and certainly encourage ministers and lay ministers to use the term they prefer. The use of the term “spiritual care” is often driven by a desire to be religiously inclusive, or inter-faith. I can see how that could be useful for some; and many people who have chosen to use the term “spiritual care” over “pastoral care” for this reason. Many who are seeking to be more inclusive still use the term “chaplain, ” or “chaplain services”— a term whose provenance is even more exclusively rooted in Christianity than the term “pastoral.”

While a number of terms are acceptable, I prefer the term “pastoral” over “spiritual” myself, and that is the term we use at our training center in chaplaincy and care. Here are some reasons why:

  • History and Tradition. Pastoral Care has close to 2000 years of history (longer if one includes such writings as the 23rd Psalm and Ezekiel 34). This history provides valuable insights into the role of a pastoral care provider. Outside of Biblical writers, Tertullian, Augustine, Pope Gregory the Great, Luther, Calvin, Baxter, Boisin, and Hiltner (an important but highly abridged list) have given great insight into pastoral care over the centuries. The role of a chaplain is not only to  utilize one’s own faith community, but one’s faith tradition in the role of “curer of souls.” The term “Spiritual Care” lacks that tradition. In fact, the term “spiritual” is used differently than its historic Latin roots of “spiritus.” The term then had less to do with “ghost in the machine” then as energized meaning or purpose. The disconnection of the present meaning (or vague idea of meaning) of spirit from its historic (as well as Biblical) meaning provides not only confusion to the role of spiritual care, but a lack of sound history or tradition to draw from.
  • Metaphor. The role of a chaplain or pastoral care provider is highly abstract. Ministerial identity of any type is going to be abstract. Because of this, metaphors are often used to help us understand. A metaphor links an abstract term with a concrete term. The link is incomplete, since abstract objects are clearly not the same as concrete objects, but they provide wisdom if one takes time to reflect on the tension of the relationship. The term “pastoral” comes from the Latin term referring to “the role of a shepherd.” Thus, the term pastoral care, means care that is informed by the care that a shepherd provides his/her sheep. The term “chaplain” is not, strictly speaking, a metaphor, but has roots in a concrete object, a “little cape.” This is to remind us of the story of St. Martin of Tours, who gave half of his cape to a poor beggar, serving Christ in so doing. Other metaphor’s exist as well.  A particularly popular one is from Henri Nouwen– the care provider as a “wounded healer.” The term “spiritual” is an abstract term. Explaining an abstract concept with another abstract term is not particularly informative.
  • Breadth of Ministry. Pastoral Care, drawing both from its historical and metaphoric roots, is seen as fairly holistic. Emmanuel Lartey sees a number of functions that fall within pastoral care. The first four were identified by Clebsch and Jaekle in the early 1960s (drawing from historical pastoral care) but then adds more from himself, Clinebell, and Lester. These functions are SUSTAINING, HEALING, GUIDING, RECONCILING, NURTURING, LIBERATING, and EMPOWERING. Based, again on history and metaphor, these abstract terms can be seen to be applied broadly— not just to spiritual concerns (such as relationship with God or existential meaning), and not just psychoemotional concerns; but also physical. social, economic, and political concerns. Without its historical and metaphoric roots, it is not surprising that “spiritual care” is often narrowed down to only counseling. In fact, among those who hold to a perspectival or ‘level of explanation’ view of counseling, there is often even a separation between spiritual problems (needing spiritual care counselors) and psychoemotional problems (needing psychotherapists). We are holistic, integrated, beings, so sub-specializing problems has drawbacks, and greatly reduces the role and impact of ministers.
  • Identity. While the goal in chaplaincy is to be inclusive, this inclusivity is tempored by ministerial identity. A chaplain or religious care provider is supposed to be ordained or affirmed or commissioned within a specific faith community. That faith community has both breadth (an existing community of those who share this faith) and depth (a trail of belief, faith, and membership of this community through time). This identification is a source of strength, not weakness. We are not able to believe in nothing… we are to help people find meaning, and we cannot help others find meaning unless we in some sense or understanding of existential meaning/purpose. For Christians, it is pretty obvious that such a multidimensional identity connects us with millenia of pastoral care. For Jews, the metaphor of the shepherd as a care provider is also strong. Muslims can also connect to this metaphor, and it seems reasonable that many other faith groups can as well. The term pastoral care seems highly appropriate for ministerial identity. Other religious groups (and even atheistic or freethinker chaplaincy groups) may still find value in the metaphor of the shepherd, and they should feel welcome to use the term. After all, many non-Hindus practice Yoga without feeling the need to change the name, and many Hindus practice Yoga without feeling the need to use a different name, to express solidarity with non-Hindu Yoga practitioners.

Of course for those bothered in some way by the term “pastoral care,” they should feel perfectly free to use another term such as “spiritual care” or “religious care” or “chaplaincy care” or something similar. For us, the value outweighs its limitations.

Robert Munson, ThD, Administrator, Bukal Life Care


Necessity of Theology and Ethics in Pastoral Care

A question can be asked as to whether there is a role for pastoral care. While pastoral care has centuries (millenia) of experience… the last 100 years has seen growth of alternatives for psychoemotional care.

Consider 6 possible (or at least potential) views regarding therapeutic care for those with psychoemotional problems. (These are listed by H. Newton Malony in “The Demise and Rebirth of the Chaplaincy” Journal of Pastoral Care, Vol. 29, 1975)

  1. Biophysical. The psychoemotional problems stem from problems with the physical body.

  2. Intrapsychic. The problems stem from bad mental processes/conflicts going on within the mind.

  3. Behavioral. The problem is bad learned habits that must be unlearned/replaced.

  4. Socioeconomic. The problem is the environment the person is in. It is necessary to change the setting.

  5. Meaning. The problem is that the individual has failed to gain a sense or purpose or meaning in life.

  6. Morality. The problem is conflict between actions and sense of moral obligations and social responsibilities.

Psychiatrists may be generally thought of when it comes to the first of these (mental care tied to medicine). Psychologists of different flavors may work primarily in the 2nd and 3rd areas. Perhaps social workers would focus in the 4th area. But who can handle the 5th or 6th areas?

It seems pretty obvious that those specializing in pastoral care (pastoral counseling, pastoral psychotherapy) should be the one’s prepared to work in these areas.


First, the concerns of meaning and purpose are essentially theological or religious concerns. Religion speaks to the great mysteries… Why am I here? What is my purpose? Is this all there is? Who am I? Theology reflects upon these religious questions. These can also be described as the issues of spirituality. Sadly today, “spirituality” often implies a vague pleasant mysticism, but “spiritus” has more of an idea of “empowered meaning” or “enlivened purpose.” Dealing with issues of meaning and purpose are clearly to be in the skill set of a pastoral care provider since it is the realm of religion, theology, spirituality.

Second, the concerns of morality or social obligation are issues of ethics, of axiology. Dealing with choices as they pertain to what the individual believes his obligations are to God, to society, and to “what is right” is certainly supposed to be the domain of one trained in religious or pastoral care.

But is this true?

Sadly, this often is not very true. Theological training for pastoral care providers is often quite weak. Much of the training of pastoral care is more in the first four areas… particularly in the 2nd area. Is that wrong? Well, it is not wrong that pastoral care providers be trained in psychological principles. But if the focus is so strong that their theological integration is poor, the result can be that a pastoral care provider is one who essentially practices psychology– but with less skill than a real psychologist. Additionally, there is a strange reticence to give moral guidance in pastoral care. Perhaps this is a reaction to those who are often all too happy to provide quick and easy guidance… often with an ethical base little above Biblical verse dropping.

Pastoral Care Providers need a solid, reflective, nuanced understanding of theology, particularly as it relates to meaning and purpose, and as it relates ot making wise ethical choices. Pastoral Care should follow the wisdom of Psalm 23 in gently leading/guiding. This contrasts the polemic approach of some in ministry. But it also contrasts with the Rogerian “client-centered” approach that fails to give external guidance.

Summarizing, a solid pastoral care provider needs a mature understanding of his or her faith within the context of sound psychoemotional therapeutic principles and methods. If this is the case, such a person is competent to deal with the 5th and 6th areas of psychoemotional concern… areas that others have little to no competence in.

One may want to read an old, but good, article.  Has Ministry’s Nerve Been Cut by the Pastoral Counseling Movement? by Gaylord Noyce (1978)

October (2014) Updates

We have had a very busy time lately with Bob and Celia Munson, and Dr. Paul Tabon ministering in Korea, along with Cori, Jehny, and Becky getting training. But now that we are back… we can catch our breath a tiny bit in preparation before upcoming activities.

November 8.  Board of Trustees meeting. This is the 5th year anniversary of Bukal Life Care. We thought about having a big celebration… but decided to wait for the grand opening of our new office.

November 18-20. LCSBC Conference. We don’t have a primary role in it… although we may be working with some participants. However, we will have a booth there.

<November 29. Disaster Response Orientation seminar is postponed. It will be integrated into “Intro the CPO program, and the Leadership Symposium in 2015>

December 13-15. Pastoral Care trainings and meetings with Dr. Lawrence. (And staff Christmas party).

January 5-8. Lide-Walker Conference. We will have a booth, and we will have our grand opening for our new office.

January 19.  Start of Intro to Clinical Pastoral Care (CPO). 6. 100 hours (50/50). Integrating hospital chaplaincy orientation, disaster response chaplaincy, and (LIFT) palliative care.

March 23. Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE/T). Summer intensive unit. 11 weeks (400 hours) starting March 23.

May.  Leadership Symposium… focusing on Disaster Response for ministers. <Tentative>

Models of Pastoral Care, Coaching, and Counseling

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”Models of Pastoral Care and Counseling” target=”_blank”>Models of Pastoral Care and Counseling</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Celia Munson</a></strong> </div>