Affection and Pastoral Ministry

Wendell Berry writes about the way “morality, even religious morality,” is insufficient to motivate our care of the land. Knowing that we should live our lives in such a way that the land, and the people who live and work on it, are conserved and cherished is very different from actually doing it. The gap between what we should do and what we actually do is only bridged, in Berry’s mind, by affection.[1]

I think this equally applies to our concern and care for people.

We will have a hard time caring for those entrusted to us if we’re only relying on our sense of morality. We may visit the sick in the hospital, call someone who missed church, or send a note of encouragement to someone going through a difficult time because we know it’s what a pastor should do. But shouldn’t a pastor do other things too? Isn’t he supposed to preach the Word? And study to show himself approved? Shouldn’t he cast vision and lead people?

If he should do all these things, does he? Probably most of the time, but when he can’t because there aren’t enough hours in a day, what gets dropped? I think it’s the thing for which he has the least affection. Hopefully that’s not caring for people.

How can you determine if you care for people out of obligation or because you love it? Do you have a sense of “informed sorrow” for them? Is your imagination filled with a vision of what God might do in them if you give them focused attention? Do you love them?[2]


  1. Wendell Berry, “It All Turns on Affection,” in It All Turns on Affection: The Jefferson Lecture & Other Essays (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2012), 32–33.
  2. Ibid., 34.  ↩