Dr. Rick UnderwoodI was excited about continuing my study in the newly instituted Doctor of Mininitry program as I sat in Dr. Wayne Oates’ office at Southern Seminary as a recent M.Div. graduate in 1973. Much to my dismay and surprise, Dr. Oates, in his wisdom, suggested I wasn’t ready to pursue this advanced study in ministry. With his usual grace and poise he recommended I do ministry for a few years and get some life experience. A few years, I thought; I am married, have survived an alcoholic family, and have been to school for nineteen years. What else do I need to know? Well, thank God he not only made that suggestion but also held me to it. Now some thirty-six years later, I find myself back in the parish as a part-time pastor to a small flock of folks out in the middle of the country. After serving as a professional pastoral counselor for many years, my visits and conversations with parishioners and Sunday morning sermons seem to all run together. In other words, I see these two functions of being a pastor as two forms of hermeneutic that inform each other.
In his little book, New Dimensions in Pastoral Care, Dr. Oates (1970) offers eight basic principles of pastoral care: inspection, relationship, structure and control, emotional sensitivity, development and process, distribution of responsibility, durable and unbroken relationships, and recording and evaluation (pp. 49 – 66). All of these principles are applicable for today's pastor-preacher,  but I think inspection and relationship are of the utmost importance for our consideration together. As I read the articles for this Oates Journal Special Issue, it occurred to me that the various authors were fleshing out these two basic pastoral care principles. Further, I couldn’t help but think that these articles also were attempting to integrate two of Seward Hiltner’s (1958) pastoral functions: shepherding that is healing, sustaining, and guiding; and communicating that is learning, realizing, and celebrating (p. 28).


The Context

Today as no other time in history, we attempt to provide these levels of pastoral care to as many as five generations at the same time. Every Sunday, those of us who preach face persons influenced and shaped by values of the Traditional, Baby Boomer, Gen. X, Y, and Z (or whatever this newest breed will be labeled) generations; values and life belief systems deeply influenced by the Industrial Revolution, World Wars, Modern scientific movement, 9/11, terrorism, technological revolution, MTV, and now the post-modernist movement.

Psychologists have taught us that persons are motivated by personal needs and that those needs are arranged in a hierarchy. Further, developmental psychologists have demonstrated that there are different ego needs being created in every stage of life. How is a pastor ever able to bridge the wide gaps that might exist?

Preaching professors and modern day preachers employ a variety of approaches to make what they say relevant to this wide audience. Only a few approaches are mentioned here in the interest of space and time: Expository preaching where critical methodology is used to set the meaning of scripture in context and then the preacher tries to make modern day applications from the ancient scripture; Thematic preaching where certain theological themes or life issues are discussed with relevant Biblical and theological resources brought to light; Confessional preaching that draws on the pastor’s life experience and relates it to Biblical characters and stories; Entertainment preaching where all kinds of modern media, i.e. power points, modern music, videos, etc. are utilized to get a spiritual point across; Evangelistic / Persuasive preaching which unfortunately often times is used to get a number result or get persons to make some kind of spiritual decision; and, finally, Life situation preaching or Group counseling preaching, which is intended to give support, care, hope and guidance. Through this approach the pastor attempts pastoral care to a large group.

Which of these approaches are most effective in integrating pastoral care functions and the preaching / proclaiming / communicating functions and effectively speaking to a variety of needs at the same time?

The Challenge

Leonard Sweet (2000) in Learn to Dance the Soul Salsa raises the question as to whether it is possible for the pastor – preacher in the contemporary Christian church to speak a relevant word to the postmodern among us. Many postmodern folks (those who attempt to explain social life in modern societies that are characterized by post industrialization, consumerism, and global communications) think the spirituality of the church is a relic of a bygone era and that it is irrelevant to the pilgrimage they are on today (p. 15).

Ironically, I find myself relying on a G.I. Generation preacher to offer a direction, a way of doing pastoral care / preaching, which I believe can speak to and meet the spiritual needs of all who are seeking the truth.

Harry Emerson Fosdick (1956) once said of his preaching, “In general, my gospel is to get hold of live issues that really matter in the lives of people, to look at them long enough so that I believe something about them terribly hard, to baptize my conviction in the spirit of truth of the New Testament, and then to put it across to people as hot as I can” (p. 94). I would suggest for your consideration that our task is the same;  to get a better handle on how we can combine the best of pastoral care with the best of preaching to prepare the way for a rich Divine / Human encounter.


Fosdick, Harry Emerson. (1956). The living of these days. New York: Harper and Row Publishers.

Hiltner, Seward. (1958). Preface to pastoral theology. New York: Abingdon Press.

Oates, Wayne E. (1970). New dimension in pastoral care. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Sweet, Leonard. (2000). Learn to dance the soul salsa. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House.


Rick Underwood studied with Wayne Oates and George Buttrick at the Southern Baptist Theological seminary earning an M.Div. and D.Min. in Pastoral Counseling. After serving for more than 30 years as a pastoral counselor he is serving as the part-time pastor of a small, rural church; a college instructor in psychology, sociology, and business ethics / social responsibility. He also coachs college and high school soccer.

This Special Issue made possible by a grant from the Lattner Family Foundation