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In this episode, I want to share a few strategies to take the awkwardness out of pastoral support sessions and allow you to get the most out of your time.

And in this episode, I’m offering a free downloadable intake form, which will be the first strategy I offer.  But first, I want to identify that these strategies are helpful in all support sessions, not just for pastoral care. 

In order to offer support from your church that is scalable and sustainable, most churches need to utilize mentors, coaches, and peers to offer support. And not just rely on pastoral care. 

Let me explain. 

Most churches are smaller and have few pastoral staff, and if every person in the church has the expectation that they can speak to the pastor one-on-one, the pastor will be quickly overrun with requests for pastoral care.  

So I recommend church build up a team of spiritual care mentors.  Those who have lived experience, wisdom, and character that is suited to compassionately and confidentially care for others. 

This group of spiritual mentors could be called upon to support those in the church when the need arises.   This model fosters having a culture of care rather than a program of pastoral care. 

So regardless if you are a spiritual mentor, coach, peer, or pastor these strategies will be helpful in how you can feel confident and intentional in your support sessions. 



My background is as a clinical mental health social worker with over 15 years of working in community mental health and addictions.  Intake paperwork is the norm for me.  However, when I shifted to working in a church the concept of having intake paperwork was foreign. 

Some don’t like the concept of paperwork prior to counseling.  It can feel too formal, or clinical or make people uncomfortable.  

And caregiving, in the context of ministry, is often very informal and usually done in the community.   But I think it’s valuable to do some sort of screener prior to the meeting even if it’s just asking a few questions over the phone.  Let me explain why. 

In clinical settings, there is often a multi-page intake screener when an appointment booking to speak to a counselor.

At the time of booking or perhaps in the waiting area an intake screener is completed.  Questions about the reasons why they are there, what supports they have already tried and the goals of the meeting are all asked.  

By doing intake paperwork the individual seeking support is encouraged to reflect on the main issue, process what they have tried to do in the past, and focus on what would be a successful outcome of the appointment.  This is a significant amount of self-reflective work being done before the meeting even starts.  

When the counselor has the paperwork prior to the meeting it gives them the opportunity to get in the right mindset and identify what the person’s goals are.  

Working with youth is very different from working with couples as it is with those who are struggling with mental health.  When counselors information ahead of time they can begin to collect resources, tools, and strategies that might be helpful for the person.  

I believe that an intake screener is so valuable that I would suggest that even those who are doing informal peer support have some sort of prepared questions of clarification when someone asks to meet them.  

This alone gives you a heads-up about the nature and purpose of the conversation.  It’s a good idea to ask what they want to meet about and how they hope you can help.

Having standard questions either on paper, in an online form, or asked verbally will help both the person seeking support and you the caregiver offering support. 

It will also help prevent sessions from extending to be 2-3 hours long because the person “just needs to vent”.  When support sessions are this long they no longer helpful and they are exhausting for the caregiver.

The length of support sessions depends on the environment and capacity of the person seeking support but should not be longer then 45-60 minutes.  

This is beneficial to both parties and by having some sort of screener identifying the reason for the meeting and the goal,  you create parameters for the conversation to stay in.  




When someone asks you, How are you feeling today? Your automatic response is to say “fine”.

But what if you’re asked the question, From 1-5 how are you feeling today?

Now, in order to answer that… you need to stop, think, reflect, evaluate and answer.  Likely giving a much more accurate answer than “fine”

When you’re supporting someone you are walking with them as they navigate really difficult emotions, feelings and thoughts. Things that are often hard to describe and even more difficult to measure.  

It’s common for people to only be able to identify 5-6 types of emotions. sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust.  So describing what they are feeling can be really challenging.   

Choosing a number to represent how someone is feeling is a lot easier than describing an emotion.  Numbers are neutral, emotions are packed with baggage.


By using scales in our support work we are able to do 3 things:

  1. Expand vocabulary to describe emotions and feelings. 
  2. Shift from vague subjective descriptions and apply a measurable figure. 
  3. And thirdly we are able to more accurately assess where the person we’re supporting is at in their journey. 


Numbers have an assumed relationship with one another. 7 is larger than 6 but less than 8.  So this allows your conversation to go deeper by asking why they choose 7 and not a 6 or 8 or what would trigger them to drop to a 6, or uplift them to move to an 8.  

 You are no longer just identifying subjective emotions, but getting a better understanding of where the person is at.  This allows you to see if the person is declining and needs further support

Another type of scale I like to use is colors.  Like numbers, it simplifies the process of describing emotions.  By using a green, yellow, orange, and red scale people can self-identify where they are at.  

I often describe green as feeling really “good-to-go” with positive energy, and excited about life, and red as being in crisis obviously with yellow and orange somewhere in between.   

However, when I was meeting with a young child I asked them to describe how they are feeling in a color and they choose purple, a mix of red and blue and they went on to describe what blue and red meant to them. 

These conversations are very valuable.  You begin to hear about triggers, stressors, and warning signs.  In this context, people often identify strengths or supports that they are using that they would otherwise have difficulty identifying when asked directly.  

In describing why they chose that number or color people are often able to bring great insight and begin to point out their own barriers and strengths.  

Using numbers or colors to describe emotions is a strategy that allows you to shift the conversation from venting to action.  It allows you to assess if they need further support or a referral.  It gives you something to measure if you are meeting with the person on a regular basis.  


People seeking support can fall into two different categories. 


    1. They have been struggling for a while and things have been building up and once they meet with you it’s like they can’t hold it in anymore. And once they start to share it’s hard for them to stop.  And you can find yourself in a meeting where they talk non-stop for an hour or more.
    2. They come to see you because they know something is wrong but they can’t put their finger on it.  Or perhaps someone else told them to go and to get any information out of them it’s like pulling teeth.





I want to offer a strategy that will help you put parameters on the conversion if the person is venting or draw information out from a person if they are closed off. 

There are 7 components to well-being.  

      1. Physical – our physical health, needs like sleeping  and eating
      2. Social – our need for relationships, boundaries, and having fun
      3. Occupational – our need for purpose,  or things like a routine, daily schedule, and small achievable goals
      4. Emotional – our need to express feelings, and have rest
      5. Spiritual – our need for an active relationship with Christ.  forgiveness, and, hope
      6. Intellectual – our need for growth and development of skills, gifts, and learning
      7. Environmental – our need for a safe, supportive home and community


In general, most people can manage when one of these areas is struggling.  It’s stressful but manageable but when two or more are affected, this is where we find people seeking out support as these seven areas are interconnected. 

This reminds me of the scripture about the body being knit together or in 1 Corinthians 12: 26 where it says if one part suffers the whole suffers. 
I realize that these scriptures are speaking of the church, the body of Christ.  But I would like to draw on the thought that what happens in one area will impact others.

When your physical health is suffering, say you were experiencing chronic pain, after a while your social needs are impacted because it’s hard to participate in activities.  Then if things don’t improve you begin to struggle emotionally.  And so on. 

Suffering in one area of life is likely going to impact other areas. 

And this is what is happening when someone is venting or verballing vomiting at a support session.  Many areas of their life are being impacted. but they are having difficulty describing it.  

In these cases, I draw out these categories as circles on the page and talk about each area.  This makes it easier to identify what is going on in their life.  

This allows you to guide your conversation and focus on one area without feeling the pressure to solve all the problems.  

For those who don’t want to talk at all, drawing out the 7 circles gives you 7 topics that you can inquire about.  More often or not, one of those areas is struggling and you can have more of a productive conversation once it’s identified.  

While 7 components can guide your conversations to discover where to focus.  Also, I apply the phrase “dig where the ground is soft”. 

What this means is if someone is overwhelmed and doesn’t know where to start  Dig where the ground is soft.  Don’t start with the hardest area, but start working in an area that is easier and they feel more confident in.  

Because remember when I said all the components are connected?  It also applies when there is healing. Where there is growth in one area, other areas of life are strengthened.    

Another reason why discussing the 7 components of wellness is a great tool is because it offers a lot of ideas for homework.

Support sessions are usually check-in points for reflection, talking about the next steps, and receiving encouragement.  The real work of improving your life is outside of the support sessions.  And so you can create homework or goals to work on based on the 7 components they have identified.

I’ve been told that very few pastors have received training on offering pastoral care.  Even when they have it’s been focused on theology or theory and while I think this type of training is essential.  Of course, we want good theology and practices based on validated theory. 

I think it’s also important to learn strategies and tools that will help you navigate pastoral care sessions and give you the tools to support people rather than just be a safe place to vent. 

I hope these three strategies, implementing an intake tool, using number or color scales to assess and the 7 components of wellness to guide the conversation, assist you to get the most out of pastoral care meetings.

Download your free Pastoral Care intake form

This free editable intake form will help clarify the purpose of Pastoral Care sessions.
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