Harold Senkbeil has the secret of sustainable pastoral work, before or during a global pandemic: “You need to realize that you’ve got nothing to give to others that you yourself did not receive.”

That’s his main message in a recent book called The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart [read TGC’s review], published by Lexham Press and winner of a TGC Book Award. Senkbeil is an executive director of DOXOLOGY: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care, and a veteran of nearly 50 years in parish ministry, seminary teaching, and parachurch leadership.

Senkbeil argues that we’ve focused so much on winning souls that we’ve neglected to keep them. Just look at the attrition rates for people who grew up in the church but drifted away. He advocates for a priority, then, on pastoral care against models of pastoral ministry as activity manager, CEO, or unlicensed therapist. How much more urgency does this priority take on in the midst of COVID-19 with our programs and activities on hiatus.

Nevertheless, he recognizes that many pastors lack spiritual depth and awareness to take up the challenge of pastoral care. We try to give ourselves, but we quickly run low on our own resources of empathy. He writes: “No matter how compassionate and empathetic a pastor is, there’s just no way he can come up with what it takes to feed the sheep of Christ effectively, much less tend to their spiritual heartaches, bruises, and injuries.” And especially when he’s battling his own fatigue during this pandemic.

Senkbeil joined me on Gospelbound to discuss how he learned these lessons the hard way, why Christian living is more caught than taught, and what he’s seen as the biggest change in pastoral ministry over the last half-century.

This episode of Gospelbound is sponsored by Southeastern Seminary, equipping today’s ministry leaders with the Word of God, a philosophical foundation, and care for the lost through their Masters program in Ethics, Theology, and Culture and the Ph.D. in Public Theology. Learn more at sebts.edu.