The word "pastor" derives from the work of tending sheep: a pastor is one who cares for sheep. The term came into the Christian understanding of the ordained ministry because of the frequent references in Holy Scripture to God as a shepherd of the people of Israel and Jesus as the Good Shepherd. A priest is a pastor for his or her congregation in the sense that he or she cares for the people, protects them and directs them, and feeds them with spiritual food in the Holy Eucharist. Similarly, a bishop is a chief pastor because she or he has oversight of all those pastors who care for the people committed to their care. There are certain ambiguities in the term now that the church is much less agrarian and rural than in previous times. But the term "pastor" and the related work of pastoral ministry are deeply important for the Christian tradition of ordained ministry.
The work of pastoral care has always been deeply important in Anglicanism. It has been seen as the first work of the parish priest and of the bishop in a diocese. There have been times when pastoral care has been neglected on a wide scale. Those times have in turn provoked a demand among Christian people for a revival of pastoral care, as in the Wesleyan and evangelical revivals of the eighteenth century and the catholic revival of the nineteenth century. Each of those revivals has resulted from a sense that the church and the ordained ministry of the church have the care of God's people as their first responsibility, even while the form of that care may vary in time and place.
In the church today pastoral care takes many different forms. For example, spiritual direction and pastoral counseling are both specialized forms of pastoral care that require specific training and responsibility. In the Episcopal Church there is great interest in enhancing the pastoral work of the bishops of the church for both the clergy and lay people of their dioceses. There is also great interest in developing the ministry of the laity for pastoral care.