Chris’ blog – June 2021

Pastoral Care Specialist for The Generalist

click image for more Leadership and Spiritual LIfe information

by Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life


June 2021 – In one of his lectures, Family Systems therapist, Rabbi Edwin Friedman recites an overwhelmingly long list of all of the ways psychotherapists can specialize:

“It is possible today to become expert in thousands of emotional problems that range from: agoraphobia to xenophobia, living with preschoolers to living with aging parents, coping with single parenting to coping with stepchildren, personality disorder to schizophrenia, impotence to promiscuity, abuse of substances to child abuse, creativity to catatonia. . . “

His list keeps growing as he began to detail the various specializations and subspecialties of study. At one point the list becomes so nuanced and obscure that his audience begins laughing. His point was not to dismiss specialization, but to remind his audience of just how much there is to learn and know and how one person cannot possibly learn it all.

In a world that seems to be more and more specialized, clergy are largely expected to be generalists. Clergy are expected to be competent in public speaking, fundraising, teaching, management, public relations, theology, philosophy, history, politics, comparative religion, popular culture, entrepreneurship, layout and design, communications, computers, music, marriage, family dynamics, death and dying, social justice, public policy, sound systems, air conditioning, and plumbing!

If I ever need a reminder of how unrealistic the role of clergy can feel, I just go to my own denomination’s Book of Discipline and read “Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Local Pastors.” I always chuckle as it is clear that no one pastor can do all of these things at exceptional levels at any one time. I often imagined some parishioner, miffed at something I said or failed to do, looking at the list and gleefully exclaiming “I’ve got him now!” I also knew, that but for grace, they would be correct. At any one time, yes, I could be doing more and doing it better.

One of the duties on nearly all clergy “job descriptions” is “pastoral care.” It can feel overwhelming for clergy. There is always someone in the congregation or the community who could use support. It is nearly weekly that someone will say, “You really should call on _________. They are having a tough time.” This is often followed by, “Please don’t tell them I told you.” Any clergy in any kind of congregation, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Hindu. . . any clergy, could spend 100% of their time in some form of “pastoral care” alone and still not meet all the pastoral needs in the community.

On top of this, often clergy feel ill equipped for pastoral care. Despite what most people assume, most clergy do not get a great deal of formal training in pastoral care. This became clear to me when I was in college and thinking about my own major.

I knew that after graduation, I was going to seminary to study to become a United Methodist Minister. So, I began to ask different clergy, “what is it that you did not get in seminary that you wish you knew more about now?” Nearly every one of them said “pastoral care and counseling.”

With that knowledge, I changed my major from Biblical Studies to a basic degree in counseling called Social and Rehabilitation Services. It was an excellent decision for me. While it did not make me a therapist, it did give me the basic knowledge and skills that helped me have confidence in my pastoral conversations with others. It also helped me to know when and how to refer people to others, when their needs were greater than my time or skills could meet. Many times, my understanding of the therapeutic process helped me encourage others to take their first step to talking to a trained counselor.

The good new is that if you are congregational leader, lay or clergy, and you want to grow in your pastoral care skills, you do not need to get a counseling degree. I encourage you to explore Pastoral Care Specialist program at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center. In this two-year, three-hour-a-month course, you will learn from clinicians, educators, and partners of the Center with special knowledge and experience on the subjects of:

  • Forgiveness
  • Whole-hearted Listening
  • Memory loss and cognitive decline
  • Suicide awareness and prevention in faith communities
  • Living with illness and chronic pain
  • The spirituality of children
  • Caring for the anxious: Being a non-anxious presence in an anxious world
  • Evil in every day life
  • Ministry with LGBTQ individuals
  • Mindful ministry
  • And more!

Class size is limited, and classes begin in September, so do not delay.

If you have questions, feel free to email me at

Your partner in hope and healing.


For more information about the Pastoral Care Specialist program see:

For more blog posts by Chris: