ACBC

The National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC), now known as the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC), has had a powerful influence in my life and ministry for over 35 years. As a young pastor, I looked forward each year to spending a few days with men who influenced the course of my ministry through their teaching and example. Bill Goode, Jay Adams, Tim Turner, George Scipione, Howard Eyrich, Wayne Mack, Lloyd Jonas, and Randy Patten were among the men who helped and encouraged me in ways they probably never knew. The friendships I formed with other pastors who were learning and growing with me remain a valued part of my life today.

Those who are regular readers of our little blog know that my enthusiasm for the organization began to wane about seven years ago, and will recall several blog posts from those days in which I expressed my disappointments. Last year, however, marked a turning point for me. I came away from the conference in Louisville with a renewed hope for the direction of ACBC. The leaders were beginning to address many of the concerns I had, and many loose procedures were being tightened up.

Last week I attended the annual ACBC conference in Jacksonville. In the same way I thought it was important to express my misgivings in the past, I think it is equally important that I now express my enthusiasm and gratefulness for the direction I now see ACBC headed. Let me note a few takeaways I had from the conference this year:

  1. Each plenary speaker was helpful and encouraging. I especially appreciated the keynote address by Heath Lambert. It was a clear and bold explanation of the need for a faithful, biblical, and uncompromising stand for the authority and sufficiency of the Scriptures. Well done Heath.
  2. Several initiatives were announced that addressed areas that have needed to be “beefed up.” Asking members to get more training in specific areas of counseling is a great step forward.
  3. First Baptist Jacksonville were great hosts. The music they led was wonderful.
  4. There was a great spirit of comradery among those who were present, much like the “old days” that I remember.
  5. I was struck, however, by these who were NOT there. There were no displays, and no representatives from organizations and schools that like to identify with Christian Counseling broadly. Now I doubt they were asked not to attend, but I want to think that those organizations that would be comfortable at an AACC conference, or who believe it necessary to “build bridges” to integrationists, concluded they would have little to gain by displaying at an ACBC conference. If our message at ACBC clearly communicates we are not of that ilk, it would speak well of us.

Now I would like to think that the powers that be at ACBC were so greatly influenced by my opinions and came to see the great wisdom of what I was saying that they embarked upon these corrections because of my vast influence. But I doubt anyone reading would conclude the same. Still, from my little corner of the biblical counseling world, I would encourage anyone contemplating pursuing certification to hesitate no longer. The certification process is a bit stiffer than in the past, but that is a good thing. I believe ACBC is an organization with which you can identify with confidence.

Counseling by Cliché

How is nouthetic counseling different from just coming along side of those who are struggling and building relationship and speaking into their lives?

This was the question that was put to one of our students as he explained to his church elders his goal to complete his studies with us and seek certification. Though framed many different ways it is a common question—why the need for formal training and formal counseling? Why can’t our church people just help each other with problems informally? Isn’t this just the “one anothering” the Bible talks about?

Let’s think for a moment about how your church accomplishes the tasks it believes are important. You believe studying and learning the Scriptures is important so you have organized a Sunday School and other learning opportunities. You meet at a set time, someone is designated to teach, and when you meet everyone understands the purpose of the gathering. The teacher has studied, is prepared to take charge of the class, and leads the students in a structured way to make good use of the time allotted.

What about your choir? You have a goal of presenting a Christ honoring anthem in a way that will facilitate the worship of your congregation. How is that accomplished? The choir meets at an appointed time, a qualified leader who understands music is placed in charge, and he uses the rehearsal time wisely to prepare the choir to minister the following Sunday. Would the choir be ready if rehearsals were done informally with a few choir members meeting at different times, in different places, and informally going through music of their own choosing?

In Corinth the church tried to have just these kinds of worship services.

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.   (1 Cor 14:26)

The result was chaos. No one was being helped and nothing was being accomplished. Look again at the specific question as it was posed to our student. It consists of three abstract clichés strung together and asked as though this was the preferred way to minister to those who are “struggling.” Come along side how? Speak what into their lives? How will you decide if you have built a sufficient relationship in order to do this “speaking?” Does this same church approach other important ministries with similar vague and ill-defined plans?

Helping people deal with important problems in a biblical way that pleases God is far too important a task to do in such a haphazard way. It should be pursued aggressively, by people who are trained thoroughly, and done in a structured way so much can be accomplished as quickly and effectively as possible. Why should hurting people have to wait for a relationship to be built with a counselor before getting help?

Biblical counseling is not the only ministry going on in a church, but it is a vital one. Church members are taught and ministered to in a variety of ways, in various settings, and by many different people—all leading to the building up of the body of Christ. But when people’s lives hit the rocks (how’s that for a good cliché?) and they have problems that need immediate attention, what could be better than to have a cadre of well-trained men and women in your church who are ready to meet with them with the same kind of purpose and focus that your other church ministries are afforded? So much more can be accomplished—and much more quickly—if counseling is done “decently and in order” (1 Cor 14:40).

Forgiven, and then Counsel Others

David was forgiven! He rejoices over the Lord’s goodness for that forgiveness in Psalm 32.  But he doesn’t stop with celebrating God’s mercy. He also considers it an obligation to urge others to seek forgiveness for their sin.  Indeed, he seems to be obligated to help. So he counsels them:

I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with my eye on you I will give counsel.   Psalm 32:8.

But what is that counsel? We can read it in the next verse:

Do not be like the horse or mule . . . that must be controlled with bit and bridle (v.9).

Why mention that?

He says that these are needed to bring the animal to you. In other words, when one won’t come on his own to seek God’s forgiveness, he must be dragged along. And David is willing to do it!

He wants his reader to deal with their sin differently than he did. He counsels him to be willing to come readily to God and seek forgiveness.  David had to be stunned into submission to God by Nathan’s story. He wanted, therefore, to warn others that they need not go through the agony he had experienced when, mulishly, he wouldn’t come to God seeking forgiveness (see v. 4).

So, too, why not urge your counselees—forgiven of sin—to willingly counsel others as he did?

 

When Counseling, Also Don’t . . .

Yesterday we published Dr. Adams’ list. Here is mine. What would you add?

  1. Minimize your counselee’s problem. It was important enough to him to seek counsel.
  2. Tell your counselee that you understand what he is going through. You probably don’t. Tell him Christ does.
  3. Use psychological labels and jargon.
  4. Debate counseling models and methods with your counselee.
  5. Give homework that does not directly relate to the problem.
  6. Delay addressing his problem thinking you must build a relationship first. Build a relationship by addressing his problem.
  7. Adjudicate disputes between two people.
  8. Overwhelm your counselee with too much homework.
  9. Let your counselee’s emotions dictate the agenda.
  10. Let other things distract you during a counseling session.
  11. Fail to laugh and enjoy a humorous moment when appropriate.
  12. Try to make a point with a long list of verses. Instead, explain carefully the one or two verses that best meet the need.
  13. Fail to take good notes during the session.
  14. Charge your counselee for the privilege of counseling with you.
  15. Commiserate with a depressed person—help him!
  16. Excuse failure to do homework.
  17. Allow someone, whose own life is out of control, control yours.
  18. Have your counselee read Scripture during the counseling session. You read it TO HIM—clearly.
  19. Yawn
  20. Fake it. If you don’t know what to do next ask the counselee to pray for you as you study the issue during the coming week.
  21. Do another pastor’s work for him. Insist that your counselee’s pastor come along to the counseling session.
  22. Become angry with an angry counselee.
  23. Pity a pitiful counselee.
  24. Think more highly of yourself than you ought.
  25. Speak in abstractions, be concrete.
  26. Assume your counselee understands the biblical principle or passage you are referring to.
  27. Let your counselee settle for relief from the immediate problem.
  28. Give up.
  29. Settle for some substitute for church discipline.
  30. Promise absolute confidentiality.
  31. Ignore or gloss over doctrinal differences.
  32. Fail to secure commitments from your counselee.
  33. Confuse repentance with regret.
  34. Monopolize the conversation. Listen!
  35. Talk about a counseling case with someone who has no reason to hear about it.
  36. Fear litigation because you have obeyed Scripture.
  37. Back down when you should stand firm.
  38. Fail to handle the Word carefully and honestly. Do your exegesis!

When Counseling, Don’t . . .

  1. Counsel women alone
  2. Counsel drunks; wait till they sober up
  3. Counsel someone being counseled by another
  4. Counsel without access to a phone, desk, writing materials, etc.
  5. Counsel people who set down conditions
  6. Counsel when a person refuses to do his homework
  7. Counsel by telephone
  8. Counsel by separating spouses from one another
  9. Counsel people so drugged that they can’t reason
  10. Counsel young children; counsel their parents
  11. Counsel unbelievers; evangelize them
  12. Counsel a Christian who will not accept Scripture as a Standard
  13. Counsel on succeeding days, unless absolutely necessary
  14. Counsel without giving homework
  15. Counsel unrepentant persons, who ought to repent, until they do
  16. Counsel during the 6-week period prior to the checkup
  17. Counsel if there is any question of an organic problem
  18. Counsel when a person will not come regularly for counsel
  19. Counsel until you have a PDI properly filled out
  20. Counsel heretics or cultists; evangelize them
  21. Counsel unless a person is willing for you to use the Scriptures
  22. Counsel people who denigrate others when told not to over and over again
  23. Counsel blame-shifters who will not admit it after adequate discussion
  24. Counsel people who insist on running the session their way
  25. Counsel people to return to liberal churches

This list is preliminary. Many other items could be added. There are possible exceptions to some of the items in the list. Donn will be posting his list tomorrow. What would you add to our lists?

There Are Ways

There are ways and then there are ways! How something is done can make all the difference. Sometimes, when people read books about counseling, the cold print seems to indicate coldness of attitude on the part of the counselor. Especially can this be true when it is necessary to hold a counselee to his responsibilities before God. But it is important to know that the “necessity” just mentioned is two-fold.

  1. It is for the counselee’s benefit
  2. God requires it

Now, as I said, in making that point, it all depends on how you do so. There is a firm, rigorous adherence to the Scriptures that is absolutely essential to good counseling. There can be no compromise about this: what God requires, must be insisted upon. That is on the one hand. However, that insistence can be made in a spirit of loving care and concern, or in the spirit of the proverbial schoolmarm, using the hickory stick.

Granted, with recalcitrant counselees, verbal hickory sticks may be appropriate on rare occasions. But only when one digs in his heels and refuses to do what he knows that God requires. But even then, there is no need for the counselor to be harsh. Indeed, if he has half a heart, he will be crestfallen, will even plead, and will grieve if the counselee turns away from the truth.

He knows also that God’s people are “destroyed for lack of knowledge.” That means he will bend over backwards to be certain that every counselee knows precisely what God’s word teaches about his situation. He would have no one walk away from counseling ignorant of the biblical facts. This is not because he wants to cram the Scriptures down throats, but because he knows that in that book lies all the hope that one could ever have for solving his problems.

At every turn, in every situation, then, he is to exercise patience. His is to be a shepherdly care, at all times exhibited in honoring the Lord by ministering to His sheep. Whenever he fails to understand this and, instead, develops a cold, professional, white-coated manner, he has departed from his God-given role. Neither rudeness, roughness, austerity, nor complacency becomes a shepherd. He goes to length to save and restore all who stray.

So—let’ have no more of this effrontery! Let’s have no more false accusations hurled! Let’s have a true picture presented—please?

Let the Sunshine In

I’ve lived in bleak wintry weather in the hills of W. Pennsylvania. I’ve shoveled snow two feet deep in Kirkwood Missouri. I’ve had my fill of strong winds and bitter cold blasts that go right to the bone. I’m thankful that at last I’ve been able to escape those things.

Sure, it can get cold here in South Carolina. In the winter the temperature can drop below freezing many nights—but the days are usually in the 40s and 50s. And then . . . right in the middle of winter . . . there can be one, two—or even a week—of 60-70 degree weather that suddenly descends like a blissful summer day. Plants are deceived into thinking its summer and begin to bloom—only to have their blossoms suddenly destroyed by a hard frost. Sweaters are once more exchanged for coats and jackets: suddenly, it’s winter once again!

But those few days of warmth! How they lighten the load. How they cheer the spirits. How they anticipate things soon to come in February, when the tulips appear and the jonquils grow tall. “Summer,” those days say, “is just around the corner; don’t give up hope!”

How foolish it would be to me to close the shutters when the winter sun shines brightly and warmly, saying, “This isn’t the way winter is supposed to be!” That’s the way that, conceivably, some weird, foolish person who was not raised up in the South might respond. But what foolishness it would be! Let the sun shine in! Enjoy the way it heats the home, driving down heating bills! Fling open a window and breathe the fresh balmy air that fills the house as it replaces that which has become stagnant within.

Let the news reports of blizzards in the North, Midwest, and Northwest have little effect on you. Let the bitter cold freezing TV reporters shivering while muffled from head to toe not squelch your enthusiasm for the relative warmth of your 50 or 60 degree day! Go on outside, work in the garden, get things ready for spring—that long period between winter and summer that corresponds to that equally long span of time and weather that divides summer from winter here in the South.

Summer in winter! Think of it. Unusual? Not at all. That’s the way that it is with God’s providence. Just when the trials that come seem no longer endurable, when cold shivers of doubt begin to run up your back, when frost covers your plans, when heavy clouds of despair gather in mass—just then God sends the warming truths of His Word to dispel the frost, melt the snow, crack the ice. Suddenly, like summer in winter, the sunlight of His truth shines through, breaking the clouds to bits, rescuing you from the desolation you feared looming on the horizon. No! You will not give up! How can you, when God Himself met your greatest need in Christ, surely He can meet even this one-no matter how like hardened ice it may seem.

God does not leave His children in the lurch! They are not “His chosen frozen!” He is always there—even behind the clouds. He is there in the sleets and snows of life; he is there on the frozen tundra. He is there ready to send the warmth of His loving care into your frigid existence. He is there!

That is the message of hope that Christian counselors have to bring to those who come weary from trudging through the drifts of sorrow and pain. Theirs is the work of opening the shutters to drive away the shudders! Are you interested in helping others View the sunlit warmth of God’s Word? Would you like to see the ice melt in the lives of those frozen with despair? Believer, you can do so. There are few things as exciting as seeing lives dreary and cold brighten in the heat of God’s glowing truth. Again and again, the joy of witnessing the melting of marriages grown cold, the thawing of frozen relationships, the softening of frosted souls, is the lot of biblical counselors. What joy to see the sun shine in!

We will be glad to help you enter into this joy. You too can be a counselor bringing the warmth of God’s blessing that alone drives away the chill of life’s winters. You can join those who regularly bring summer to winter as you help desperate believers experience God’s Son-shine!

Think About That

Lots of thoughts occupy the minds of counselees when they come for help. Some are hopeful thoughts; some doubtful. Some are confused; some are harmful, some downright hateful. Unless a counselor is aware of this fact, he will go on talking blissfully as if there were nothing to bother one’s self about. But that isn’t true. Early in counseling, he will want to coax these thoughts out so that he will know which to encourage and which to discourage. Moreover, he may have to deal with them before he can go further. You can’t deal with people abstractly as some, today, try to. Where there is doubt, for instance, he will have to make it clear to his counselee from James 1 that he shouldn’t expect God to answer prayer if it persists. That’s concrete, personal counsel. Faith must replace doubt. He knows that if it doesn’t nothing the counselee does can be expected to last. James also says that the person who doubts is like a wave that continually takes on different formations, the next never really the same as the last. James goes on to explain that a doubtful person is “unstable in all of this ways.” If that is so, nothing he does will be certain to last. Both his words and his ways will fluctuate; he cannot be relied upon.

So, it will be absolutely essential for your counselee to replace doubt with faith. Of course, the faith we’re speaking about is faith in the promises of God—not faith in the counselor. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. It is, therefore, important to use and fully explain those biblical promises that counter the doubt that fills his mind.

What is true of doubt is true of any and all thoughts that debilitate counselees. These must be countered by God’s unfailing Word. But of course, the Word must be used concretely so that it may be mixed with faith, as we read in Hebrews. So, you will need to pray for your counselee as you open the Scriptures to him. Pray not merely that God will bless him as part of the body of Christ, but that the Spirit will so use His Word and that it will displace whatever it is that stands in the way of belief that leads to biblical action.

Counseling—because it involves concrete thoughts and actions—is perhaps the best antidote to that run-away biblical theology that falsely teaches application is unbiblical. Not only do biblical writers themselves apply Scripture concretely to those to whom they preach and counsel, they do so with great power (Cf. the exemplary application in I Corinthians 10!). What those who only want to talk about the “history of redemption” fail to realize is that there are always two strains running side by side in that history. There is what God is doing in history over the large, long-range scope of things, but there is also what He is doing in the lives of those involved-those who live in the milieu of that history. A clear example of this harmony of the whole with the part is found in the last chapter of Genesis where Joseph speaks of how God ordered his personal history 1) for his good and 2) to save a whole people alive. The theocratic, covenant people from whom the Messiah would come. To fail to recognize God’s hand simultaneously at work in both spheres—the personal and the corporate—is to fail to interpret the Bible correctly. And a failure to help people. Because of this failure on the part of those who see only the larger picture, perhaps there is no greater antidote to falsely using the Scriptures than to be forced to deal with the wayward thinking and living of individual counselees. Moreover, the providential working of God in Joseph’s life, again, points to the way that God deals with individuals. Providence, a principal doctrine daily in use by biblical counselors, shows how God cares and blesses His church as a body, but also every individual in it.

Jesus is not much of a Messiah, if He is viewed only as the One about Whom history speaks. No, He is a Messiah about Whom history speaks as a saving and providentially-working Savior Who changes the lives of His people—even settling their doubts, giving the faith, and enabling them to live for Himself. Just think about that!

Rent – a – Pastor?

One of the greatest challenges of the ministry is that of time management. There are always more things to do each day than there is time to accomplish them. Few pastors have escaped the thought at the end of a busy day that he could have been a better steward of the hours God had entrusted to him that day. In this posting I would like to humbly put forward a proposal that could revolutionize a pastor’s ability to free up time and, if implemented fully, would make the struggle for more time a thing of the past. I know I have set the bar pretty high with such a claim but please, read what I have to propose carefully and don’t turn me off until you have heard me out (and please, read this through to the end to get the full impact of my suggestion).

Let’s begin with one of the most time consuming activities on the pastor’s plate—hospital calling. It often comes as an interruption of the normal schedule. People do not experience serious medical problems on a schedule. Yet, when they experience them, you want to be there to minister the comfort and encouragement that only the Scriptures have to offer. It is important work. Unfortunately, making one’s way to most large hospitals through busy traffic, finding a parking place, navigating the maze of hallways and staircases to find the right room only to find your patient has been taken away for tests can be frustrating. In such cases, it is usually a better investment of time to simply wait until your patient’s tests are completed rather than fight the traffic to return later. After you are finally able to spend ten minutes with your church member you leave to make your way to the room of your only other hospitalized church member, who is in the hospital on the other side of town.

Not only are the logistics a problem, often your people will be experiencing life threatening illnesses. Comforting the family and ministering to the patient can be an emotionally draining experience for the pastor. It is difficult to shut those emotions off after such a visit in order to focus on the other responsibilities of the day. Entire days of the pastoral schedule are easily lost to this one activity.

Here is my proposal. Instead of the pastor making special trips to the hospital to minister to one or two people, the churches in each city should get together and employ one man to do all the hospital calling for each church at once! No wait, hear me out. This one man would only have to make the one trip and could visit 20 patients rather than 20 pastors making 20 trips to visit one patient each.

There are a number of benefits to this arrangement. First, your church member would receive wonderful, expert care. Think about it. You only visit two or three patients each week but this “hospital services provider” would be visiting scores. Such a man would soon gain a significant amount of experience and expertise and would become quite proficient at knowing just what words to use, what Scriptures to turn to, and what kind of demeanor to employ in the various circumstances he encounters. You want your people to receive the very best care possible don’t you? How much better to have them ministered to by an experienced veteran of hospital calling than by someone like yourself who would only be doing it several times a week?

Second, this would not only relieve you of a great deal of lost time, but also of a large measure of pastoral angst. Why should twenty pastors in one city go away from hospitals with heavy hearts over the sorrow and grief his people are experiencing when all that can be placed on the shoulders of one man who has experience coping with that kind of heartache? Pastors could go about their other activities without having to carry with them the burdens of their church members.

I know, I know, you are thinking, “Our church struggles to meet the budget each month now, how can we afford to take on the additional expense of a part time ‘hospital services provider?'” Ah, this is the genius of my plan. It would not have to cost the church anything for this service! Since it is the individual church member, and not the congregation as a whole, who is consuming this service you simply charge each patient for the hospital call along with his other hospital expenses. This does two things, it puts the hired minister on piece work, thus motivating him to make as many hospital calls as possible each day, and it enables the church to accomplish this ministry without any added expense to the overall church budget.

“But doesn’t that just add an additional financial burden to those your sick church member is already shouldering?” Not necessarily. In many cases, if you can list a medical code on the patient’s chart that describes what was accomplished during the visit, you can trick . . . er, I mean persuade the insurance company to pick up the tab. It is a win/win arrangement for all involved.

This arrangement does not have to be limited to hospital calling. How about funerals? Death often intrudes upon a pastor’s time without warning. Good and profitable activity often has to be set aside to deal with an unexpected death. Again, why not partner with an outside “funeral ministry provider” who can stand ready to deal with deaths in all the churches in town? Again, this man, because of his experience, would be much better at providing comfort to a family than you—and you would not have to interrupt your carefully arranged schedule to deal with it. You would know your people were receiving the very best care and you would be free to keep to your prearranged schedule. Furthermore, since this is a service that is provided to just one family and not the church as a whole, the family consuming the services would be asked to pick up the tab for these services. It could simply be added to the bill the funeral home presents to the family.

How about weddings? Dogpatch had a colorful character by the name of Marryin’ Sam. Why shouldn’t every city have a “wedding services provider?”

In fact, this paradigm can be applied to the chief pastoral time consumer of all—sermon preparation. Why should every pastor in town spend countless hours pouring over books week after week preparing sermons that will only be preached once? As a conscientious pastor you want your people to be as well fed from the Word of God as is humanly possible. Are you really the best person to be preaching to your people? Most churches now have video projectors installed in the auditorium. Why not obtain video taped sermons preached by the very best preachers in the land, a “preaching services provider,” and present them to your people? John MacArthur is a better preacher than you are. Why not have him preach to your people each week? This will insure that your people are receiving the very best instruction from the Word and will free up countless hours for the pastor during the week.

OK, by this point you are either too angry with me to proceed or (more likely) you have figured out that all this has been tongue-in-cheek . . . sort of. But let me pull my tongue from my cheek and propose one more pastoral responsibility for this paradigm—counseling. I propose that all the churches in town band together to support a “counseling services provider” where all their people could be sent who are in need of counseling. It would save each individual pastor countless hours and the counselee would be better served by going to someone who is an expert. This “adjunct” minister would then charge the counselee for his services and the pastor (and church budget) would be free from such a burden.

But wait, you probably recognize that this is not a new idea at all. It is, instead, a common practice. Does it really differ from my other proposed applications of the paradigm?

One question that arises pertains to the name and identity of these “counseling services providers.” One such “counseling services provider,” makes this suggestion:

“Rent-a-pastor” (is) a possibility but it certainly lacks gravitas. Pastoral “partner” is ambiguous. Academia has a position called “adjunct,” which might capture the relationship . . . (These) independent counselors could function as adjunct ministers . . . They may not be full-time members of a counselee’s local church, but in essence, they are temporarily secunded to the church staff. Whatever the designation, independent counselors could be seen to function as part-time ministers hired by your church.

For this free lance counselor, the term “rent-a-pastor” well describes such an individual and is rejected only because it is not sufficiently weighty. The problem with recognizing a “counseling services provider” as an “adjunct” minister is that he is no such thing! It is correct to note it is an academic model, but it certainly is not a biblical one. The biblical model is one of a shepherd who cares for the sheep that have been entrusted to his care, sheep for whom the shepherd must give account (Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 5:2). Tragedy often ensues when others, who do not own the sheep, are hired to care for them (John 10:12-13).

“But there are some very real problems that hiring a ‘counseling services provider’ does solve,” you say.

Well, let’s look at some of those problems. First is the problem of time. Counseling does take time, lots of it. But it is the ministry of the Word of God, the very thing the pastor has been called to do. Why would he choose to farm it out and not hospital calling, preaching, or funerals? Is the ministry of the Word of God to individuals across a desk a lesser important task than these others? We all have the time to do what is important to us. If the ministry of the Word of God to the flock God has entrusted to you does not rise to the top of the pile what does? What exactly are your priorities, Pastor?

“But I am not sufficiently trained for counseling. A ‘counseling services provider’ is better trained and has more experience.”

I have two responses when I hear such talk. My first is, “Well, why aren’t you sufficiently trained? You invested years in seminary education as well as thousands of dollars to learn to preach and pastor a church. Why did you not prepare yourself to counsel as well? What exactly did you think you would be doing as a pastor?”

My second response, when I hear pastors protest that they are not sufficiently trained, is “Oh yes you are!” Any pastor with solid biblical/theological/exegetical training is 97% of the way there. He is already miles ahead of anyone whose qualifications consist of a psychological degree or a license from the state to do counseling or social work. In addition to a theological education, well prepared pastors also took courses in homiletics in order to better prepare themselves to minister the Word from behind a pulpit. In the same way, a bit of additional training in how to minister the Word from behind the counselor’s desk is also in order. If this training was not obtained in seminary it can easily be secured from other sources these days.

Counseling is the ministry of the Word of God. It is pastoral ministry. Would you consider contracting others to do your praying for you, your Bible study, your preaching, your comforting, or your oversight of the flock? Then why would you be willing to forsake your God given responsibility to minister the Word of God in the counseling room and farm it out to others?

Reasons

There are always reasons behind every action. What they are and how they impact Christian counseling is important to understand. That is why so many counselors attempt to “dig out” these reasons. But the task isn’t always quite so simple as some suppose. The first reason why is because we cannot know what is in another’s heart (the inner source of outer actions). That is clear from such passages as 2 Chronicles 6:30 and the like. So, what can a counselor do to discover (as fully as possible) what it is that motivates a counselee?

First, we can ask him. Biblical counselors are not Freudians. Freudians always suspect a wrong answer to any such question asked of the counselee. They believe that down deep inside, in the unconscious, lies the true answer—and it is unknown to the counselee, who will answer by rationalizing his words and actions. Since we believe that we ought to “believe all things” as Paul instructed in his hymn on love, we begin by asking, and then trusting, the counselee. More often than you might suppose, he will hit the nail on the head. When he has difficulty getting it out, we may need to help him do so. Of course, in bringing forth the truth we must always be careful not to “feed” him suggestions of our own which will shape his answer. Before all else, check the first answer on his PDI (Personal Data Inventory) before you attempt any other ways of obtaining the answer you are looking for. You may have to ask further questions about what he has written there, if it isn’t altogether clear but. Again, you should be careful not to add your own ideas to his answers.

But what if he lies? Counselees sometimes do. How do you discover the truth? One way, which presupposes that you take his word for the truth, is to assign homework that is based upon his answers. If he has lied, and your homework is to the point, at the following session, you will discover that he has either done incomplete, poor, or otherwise inadequate homework . In investigating “What went wrong that this wasn’t done properly?” you will often uncover the truth. Homework built on erroneous assumptions will fail. That is the reason you will soon be able to uncover either the lie or the truth (since the lie doesn’t work). Both pieces of information will give you a good beginning from which to move.