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The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart

ISBN: 9781683593010
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The Care of Souls

2020 ECPA Christian Book Award Winner for Ministry Resources.

2020 Christianity Today Book Award Winner for Church/Pastoral Leadership

2019 TGC Ministry Book of the Year Winner

Pastors care for a soul in the way a doctor cares for a body. In a time when many churches have lost sight of the real purpose of the church, The Care of Souls invites a new generation of pastors to form the godly habits and practical wisdom needed to minister to the hearts and souls of those committed to their care.

Harold Senkbeil helps remind pastors of the essential calling of the ministry: preaching and living out the Word of God while orienting others in the same direction. And he offers practical and fruitful advice—born out of his five decades as a pastor—that will benefit both new pastors and those with years in the pulpit.

Drawing on a lifetime of pastoral experience, The Care of Souls is a beautifully written treasury of proven wisdom which pastors will find themselves turning to again and again.


Praise for The Care of Souls

This book is not a manual on church strategy, metrics, or leadership theory. It is pastoral theology at its best. Written from the heart of the Lutheran tradition, The Care of Souls draws on the classical sources of Christian wisdom and reaches out to the entire Body of Christ. Every pastor, and everyone who wants to be a pastor, should read this book.

–Timothy George, founding dean, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; general editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture

Dr. Harold Senkbeil has distilled the wisdom that comes from long service in the church as a pastor, missionary, and seminary professor into this volume. His writing is rich and robust with biblical insight that has sustained pastors through the ages. His is a classical approach to shepherding that is attuned to contemporary realities. The Care of Souls will be a welcome companion to both novice and veteran pastors who take seriously their Lord’s mandate to faithfully tend His flock.

–John T. Pless, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry and Mission/Director of Field Education, Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, IN

Excellent for personal reflection and for pastoral study groups, The Care of Souls is an invitation to a safe place where we can reflect on our ministries in light of the incarnate Christ and in His caring body, the Church.

–Dale A. Meyer, President, Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO

Summarizing nearly a half century of pastoral labor is no small task. Distilling such extended service into a useable overview with a compelling narrative is quite remarkable. Making such a volume serviceably practical is truly noteworthy. Pastor Harold Senkbeil’s The Care of Souls informs and assists those entrusted with care of souls in the church by locating their service in the work of the Great Shepherd of the sheep and by sharing with us the gracious working of our Lord Christ in his own ministry. What a blessing this book is and will be for pastors!

–Lawrence R. Rast Jr., President, Concordia Theological Seminary (Fort Wayne, Indiana)

Top Highlights

“ He is guardian and keeper of all his beloved children. He guides you waking and he guards” (Page 215)

“So right up front, let’s start with this foundational definition: As a pastor you’re above all else a true servant of Christ and steward of God’s mysteries. Let that identity—that habitus—dictate everything you do and say in ministry. Then you yourself will be well served as you serve others in Jesus’ name.” (Page 26)

“Thesis One: All spiritual care is provided by God the Holy Trinity through his word in spoken and visible form.” (Page 92)

“Let’s get back to the root of the matter. ‘Radical’ after all has to do with roots. And here’s the root of the matter: When ministry is rooted in Jesus and his gifts, then that ministry will be all the more fruitful.” (Page 16)

“Thesis Five: Pastoral care focuses on enabling the soul to hear the word it needs in the context of its distress.” (Page 97)


  • Foreword by Michael Horton
  • The Pastoral Craft: One Farm Boy’s Story
  • What Is a Pastor? The Classical Model
  • The Word of God: Ministry’s Source and Norm
  • The Cure of Souls: Attentive Diagnosis
  • The Cure of Souls: Intentional Treatment
  • Sheep-Dogging and Shepherding: The Noble Task
  • Guilt and Shame
  • Holiness and the Cure of Souls
  • Drawing Near to God: Proximity and Holiness
  • Invisible Powers: Spiritual Warfare
  • Christ’s “Other Sheep”: Mission and the Care of Souls
  • The Shepherding of Shepherds
  • Always Be Steady: Equilibrium in Ministry
  • Joy in Office

Product Details

  • Title: The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart
  • Author: Harold L. Senkbeil
  • Publisher: Lexham Press
  • Publication Date: 2019
  • Pages: 312
  • Format: Logos Digital, Hardcover
  • Trim Size: 6x9
  • ISBN: 9781683593010

Harold L. Senkbeil is executive director emeritus of Doxology: The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care. His pastoral experience of nearly five decades includes parish ministry, the seminary classroom, and parachurch leadership. He is author of numerous books, including Dying to Live: The Power of Forgiveness and Sanctification: Christ in Action.

Sample Pages from The Care of Souls


18 ratings

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  1. Michael McMillan
    Rarely do I write reviews of the books I read, so that says something. First the positive, and there is much to like. Senkbeil's pastoral habitus glows. His pastoral gift is evident in his writing. It often warmed my old pastor's soul. While the book is primarily useful to those in seminary or new to the pastoral vocation, there is much here for seasoned ministers as well. I especially appreciated his description of the pastor's capacity to be confessor and to offer absolution that is a tangible act of healing. He contrasted differences between shame and guilt in very useful ways. His calls to vocational faithfulness and integrity were effused in grace and forgiveness. Finally, I wish I had been able to find colleagues willing to mentor and pastor me as a fledgling pastor, as Senkbeil encourages. Even now his appeal finds home: pastors do need others to pastor them, and usually denominational overseers are not good at this. Now the negative: I did feel that there was much repetitiveness. The first 75 pages or so was sufficient to convey most of the book's useful content. Beyond that Senkbeil tended to meander down memory lane. He visited and revisited his perspectives on sexuality and gender roles. While his stories were often engaging and his perspectives in line with fundamentalist Missouri Synod Lutheranism, there were a couple of undercurrents that really bothered me. On the one hand ministry in a very complex world was made to seem quite simple even formulaic, as though having the right habitus and his "biblical worldview" erased all of the nuanced claims of less conservative Christians or "culture." The other was a darkness, perhaps unaware, that his androcentric worldview undercuts the habitus that he encourages developing. An exclusively male clergy is his baseline assumption. That led to a blindness to those of us outside of his tradition who could better hear if his language didn't mindlessly exclude us. Especially his appeals to sexual fidelity for male ministers, repeating tropes and stereotypes of male sexuality, was impassioned but not well informed. It reminded me of the "zipper speech" that was given during orientation my first day at seminary; the handful of women students in the room gaping at the audacity of the seminary dean's willful ignorance of their presence. It seems Senkbeil exposes a similar willful ignorance of human sexuality and the presence, giftedness and Spirit-given power of women in this vocation (even if they're excluded from his own tradition.) Final word: judging by the fundamentalist bias of the Logos editors and users probably few will be bothered as I was by these flaws. If however you have a graceful habitus and can look beyond these blind spots, Senkbeil has provided a primer on pastoral care that expresses the heart of a gifted healer of souls.
  2. Akintoye AKINTUNDE
  3. Steven Blader

    Steven Blader


  4. Tim Kuhn

    Tim Kuhn


    As others have commented, I don't agree with everything in the book, but I definitely learned from a brother who loves the Lord and His people. My struggle with the book is it was way more liturgical than I am used to. That part did not resonate with me. But that being said, the challenges of how to care for people, how to let God work in your heart, how to let God use you, that was the real meat in this book. I think it's worth the read even if you don't agree with all the theology.
  5. Nathanael Ross
  6. Jason Grubbs

    Jason Grubbs


    I don't give this book a five star review because I agree with the theology of the author. In many cases, we disagree. But the value of this book is in cultivating a pastor's heart. I feel like I have been sitting with an experienced pastor for days while he shared what he learned about loving Jesus and loving His people. This book is encouraging and challenging to all in ministry and will help you be a better shepherd. God is helping me to be a more patient pastor in the sanctification of his people. He is also helping me to be a more pursuing pastor with straying sheep. He has used this book to help me with those areas.
  7. Roll, Zachary

    Roll, Zachary


  8. Jesvin Jose

    Jesvin Jose


    Let me start with this: I don’t agree with everything in this book (minor quibbles only). But that hardly matters! There is so much to commend in this book that minor objections can be safely ignored. Harold Senkbeil, a former farm boy and present-day Lutheran pastor, brings together his farm and ministry experience to produce a modern-day classic for the soul-caring pastor. This is pastoral theology at its very best! Here are some questions he tackles with great precision and care: How does a pastor cultivate the heart of the Great Shepherd? What does it mean to be a sheep-dog guiding the sheep? How does the pastor develop a ‘habitus’ (a heart disposition) for ministry? How does a modern-day pastor battle ‘acedia’ (lack of care) in ministry? What does it mean to be a ‘sentinel’ (a soldier on guard)? What is the role of the evil one in deep spiritual battles? Overall, the book is a soothing balm to the weary soul! Harold begins by introducing the pastoral craft, highlighting the virtue of steady patience and the joy of hard labor, taking his cues from farming. His main premise is that action flows from being; identity (‘habitus’) defines activity! On the one hand, the pastoral disposition or habitus is a gift of the Holy Spirit; on the other hand, it must be polished and mastered by deliberate interaction with God’s people. In other words, the pastoral habitus is not ‘adopted’, but ‘acquired’ by much practice and over the long haul. Pastors, he says, are nothing more than ‘errand boys for Jesus’! I love that humble definition of a pastor! According to Harold, the process of curing souls has two phases: attentive diagnoses followed by intentional treatment. Attention and intention, he says, are equally vital! He writes, “The pastor must first listen to the soul before he can minister to the soul.” A hearty amen to that! He suggests that the pastor must listen simultaneously on four different levels (these are signs or guideposts): 1) faith, 2) providence, 3) holiness and, 4) repentance. Under intentional treatment, he suggests ten theses for the cure of souls, highlighting the role of the Word of God and the sacraments in intentionally treating spiritual ailments. If faith comes by hearing God’s Word, and if the world, the flesh and the devil conspire to destroy that faith among God’s people, the pastor’s role is clear: he must apply the Word of God and the sacraments specifically and individually, much like a skillful physician. Harold then drives home his point by comparing the role of a pastor to a sheep-dog. This chapter is pure gold! The sheep-dog's one ear, he says, is tuned to the voice of the Shepherd and the other is tuned to the voice of the sheep. This is how it must be with the pastor too! He highlights three things about the relationship between the sheep-dog and the shepherd: 1) The sheep-dog doesn't know or grasp the Shepherd's full intent. 2) The sheep-dog is not self-assertive but is the agent of his master's mind. 3) The sheep-dog's tail is always wagging because of his love for the shepherd (despite frustration caused by wayward sheep). Harold further writes that the sheep-dog carries out such exhausting work not by its own strength, but by spending much time looking at the shepherd. Isn’t that how pastors receive rest for their souls too – by looking to the Great Shepherd of their souls? The insights in this chapter are thoroughly illuminating! Harold then helpfully distinguishes between guilt and shame, saying things like, “Guilt is sin committed; shame is sin suffered” and “Guilt has to do with behavior while shame is a matter of identity. Guilt is tied to sinful things I've done; shame is the continuous experience of utter remorse over who I am.” He also reminds the pastor that genuine virtue and good works come from the Holy Spirit – they cannot be manufactured from within! The couple of chapters on holiness remind the reader that proximity to the source of sanctification is absolutely indispensable for the sanctification of our souls. By faith in Christ who is “actual righteousness and true holiness”, we can participate in that divine life. He also reminds the pastor that spiritual battles in ministry (sexual battles, acedia, etc.) cannot be fought with our puny intellects or helpless will-powers. We and our people need Christ, who has won the battle against the evil one. We must never forget that the devil is a defeated enemy! We are mere sentinels (soldiers on guard), who when attacked, call the real warrior and champion Christ to fight for us! The last few chapters then deal with mission (Christ’s other sheep), pastoring pastors (shepherding the shepherds), and the need for equilibrium in ministry. Overall, very enriching chapters! Much more could be said about this masterpiece, but I wouldn’t want to give too much away - though I already might have whet your appetite! As I said, it is difficult to agree with everything that Harold writes (especially his Lutheran bias, which is clearly seen), but his pastoral heart will undoubtedly warm your weary heart. I read this work not because I am a pastor, but to understand my pastors. Oh, how they need our encouragement and support in serving Christ’s flock! I only wished that this book were 50-80 pages shorter (he does repeat things, but only for emphasis). Nevertheless, I am sure it will be well worth your time. I highly recommend it. *I thank Lexham Press for a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review*
  9. Brendon Branigin
  10. Abigail Stocker

    Abigail Stocker



Print list price: $24.99
Save $8.00 (32%)