The Nashville Statement and Models of Pastoral Care

The Nashville Statement and Models of Pastoral Care September 25, 2017


One of the most common points of critique that have been levelled against the Nashville Statement – even from some of those who subscribe to its basic theological tenets – is that the document is not pastoral (enough) in approach. For example, Scot McKnight describes the Nashville Statement as “pastorally inadequate”, arguing that the statement fails to take into account the pastoral sensitivities of “same sex orientation and same sex relations or wider dimensions of sexuality, in the complexity of modern and postmodern culture”. Similarly, Mark Yarhouse contends that the Nashville Statement fails to offer Christians the necessary guidance regarding gender theory that would assist in “the development of more flexible postures needed in pastoral care”. Are such critiques of the Nashville Statement warranted? Possibly – but the abovementioned commentators (and others who offer similar critiques) seem to presume that there is a general consensus among Christians about the definition of the notion of pastoral care. The reality is that there is no such common understanding of pastoral care. Rather, as Emmanuel Y. Lartey explains in his book, In Living Color: An Intercultural Approach to Pastoral Care and Counseling, there are five major models of pastoral care that may be identified – each model based on its own underlying theory and presuppositions. Therefore, I would argue that a person’s opinion of the extent to which the Nashville Statement may be regarded as pastoral (or not) is intricately linked to the particular model of pastoral care they espouse.

The first model of pastoral care Lartey identifies is the pastoral care as therapy model. From the perspective of the therapy model, the primary task of pastoral care is “to remove, or correct, what is wrong and in some way or by some means to return the sufferer to functioning order”. The therapy model contends that – with the aid of divine grace – anyone is able to change. The influence of the therapy model is clearly reflected in Article 13 of the Nashville Statement:

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.

The second model of pastoral care Lartey discusses is the pastoral care as ministry model. According to the ministry model of pastoral care, the role of the pastoral caregiver is to assist individuals or groups of people through “communication skills and sacramental rites [that] foster well-being, growth and spiritual advancement”. Such ministry is accomplished through proclamation (kerygma), service (diakonia), fellowship (koinonia), administration (oikonomia), and worship (eucharistia).  From my analysis of the Nashville Statement, it would seem that the only aspect of the ministry model present in the statement is related to proclamation. This emphasis on proclamation is evident in the final paragraph of the preamble of the statement, where it is emphasized that the statement is offered as a way of “witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuaility revealed in Christian Scripture”. Such emphasis on proclamation is also apparent in Article 11 of the statement:

WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.

WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his image-bearers as male and female.

Moreover, broadly speaking, the Nashville Statement as a whole may be regarded as a form of proclamation, more specifically as a form of teaching (didache) regarding human sexuality. The pastoral care as ministry model is thus present in the statement, albeit limited to the aspect of proclamation.

The third model outlined by Lartey is the pastoral care as social action model. This approach is often described as “prophecy to structures” or “speaking truth to power”. The social action model focuses on “the transformation of persons and societies”, with the aim of bringing about “a more socially just and equitable distribution of the human and material resources found on earth”. The Nashville Statement displays no evidence of concern for the goals of the social action model of pastoral care.

The fourth model Lartey identifies is the pastoral care as empowerment model. The empowerment model emphasizes that there is something inherently good and worthy in people as they presently are. Therefore, the focus of the empowerment model is cultivating and developing “the unnoticed strengths and resources within and around people and communities”. It would appear that the Nashville Statement does not address any aspects of the empowerment model of pastoral care.

The fifth and final model discussed by Lartey is the pastoral care as personal interaction model. According to the personal interaction model, the role of the pastoral caregiver should be to shape a warm, inviting, and non-judgmental space where the primary focus is on assisting the individual to gain insight regarding their lives. The goal of cultivating such insight is ultimately to help the person “explore, clarify and change (or else cope more effectively with) unwanted thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Nowhere in the Nashville Statement is there a focus on the importance of such personal interaction from pastoral caregivers.

Is the Nashville Statement pastoral (enough) in approach? Yes and no – it depends on your model of pastoral care. If you adhere to the therapy model of pastoral care or the ministry model, then the Nashville Statement may indeed be regarded as pastoral in approach. However, if you adhere to either the social action model, the empowerment model, or the personal interaction model of pastoral care, then the Nashville Statement is not pastoral in approach at all.


Dr Marno Retief holds a PhD in homiletics from the North-West University. He is a part-time lecturer at Cornerstone Institute in Cape Town, South Africa, as well as being involved with Friend of God Church, and Bibles for Everyone. He is the founder of the evangelization ministry,

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