Guidance

I once visited the Sunday School class of a Bible believing church. The study that morning was on Joshua 9, the story of the Hivities who came from Gibeon. Because they were afraid of the Israelites, they sent delegates requesting Israel to make a treaty with them. These delegates disguised themselves as travelers from a distant land outside the area Israel had been commanded to occupy. They wore old sandals and threadbare garments, carried old sacks and wineskins, and brought food that was dry and crumbly. They spoke only of victories that had taken place far in the past, not recent ones.

The teacher did a good job of reiterating the facts of the incident. Then he went on to apply it to us. Rightly, he showed that God had forbidden His people to make treaties with the people of the land of Palestine (Deut. 7:1-5; 20:16-18). Rightly, he pointed out that the people were deceived by failing to inquire of the Lord (Josh. 9:14), and rightly, he warned us of the deceptions of Satan in leading God’s people to violate God’s plain commandments. Then he asked, “How can a Christian know he is making a decision in accord with the will of God?” It was the question of guidance. The question was appropriate, and Joshua 9 has something important to say on this vital subject. His answer was something like this: “I asked my Christian friends and consulted some Christian books, and what I have come up with is that there are six ways in which you can know God’s will in reaching a decision.” Then he wrote the following six guidelines on the chalkboard:

  1. Scripture
  2. Prayer
  3. Advice of Others
  4. Circumstances
  5. Reason
  6. Peace

It is time Christians stopped following such advice!

Items 1 and 2, rightly understood, must stand. In his explanation of item 2, however, he did not properly tell us the place of prayer in the process of receiving guidance from God. His idea (a very common one, unfortunately) was that when you pray, you must be still and listen for some sort of answer from God. If that is true, why were the Israelites to consult the Urim and Thummim (Numbers 27:21)? Moreover, if God whispers answers in stillness, why bother with the other five items? Such replies would be better even than Scripture since they would be in English (we wouldn’t have the translation problem from Greek or Hebrew), and they would be directly applied to our individual situations. No, any such idea, even ideas of deep impressions or feelings received in prayerful waiting, must be eliminated, since they would render the Bible’s teaching either unnecessary or negligible. You would also face the problem of distinguishing impressions from God from those that arise out of your own prejudice.

Prayer to discover the Lord’s will should be that you may understand and use the Bible in a proper way. It should be prayer for ability and strength to do whatever you discover God wants of you as you study the Scriptures. We are not given the Urim and Thummim for our day, but we have been given an inerrant and infallible Book, which contains all we need by way of precept and example for living a life pleasing to God. All that is necessary to love God and our neighbor is found, in one form or another, in the Bible. Today we consult God by turning to His written Word.

What of the other four items the teacher listed? Is seeking the advice of others or looking at circumstances helpful when making a decision? Look at what happened to the people of God when they did just that. Joshua listened to advisers who investigated the claims of the Gibeonites, and sinned (Josh. 9:14). Looking at the circumstances—old wineskins, crumbly bread, etc.—was precisely what deceived them. Surely, their reasoning in the situation failed them. And their peace, or assurance that they were doing the right thing, was utterly false. Indeed, if the teacher had stayed with the Biblical passage itself rather than consulting his friends, he would have seen that the text is totally opposed to the notion that divine guidance is found by these procedures.

Consider the idea of “open doors” (another way to speak of circumstances). Suppose I apply for a visa to India and am turned down. That is a “closed door.” But what does that tell me? I can interpret it any number of ways. I can say, “OK, that means God does not want me to go to India; I’ll try somewhere else.” Or, I can say, “God is testing me to see if I mean business; I’ll go back to India if I have to swim!” Just what guidance does an open or closed door give? Absolutely none. The position of the “door” must be interpreted, and in the circumstances itself there is nothing to tell you just how to interpret it. So circumstances do not guide; they require careful understanding and are factors in decision making because the Bible applies to circumstances, but they are not sources of guidance. Some open doors lead to elevator shafts!

In the matter of advice from others there can be help, just as commentaries and other biblical expositions can assist in making a Scriptural decision; but that advice must be evaluated. Other’s opinions are no more valuable than, and can be just as misleading as, those of Joshua’s advisers who were deceived by the Hivites. It is not their opinions on what you should do that you want; what they can give you that is of value is help in discovering and in using Biblical principles that apply to your situation. Also, others may be of help in assisting you to understand the parameters of the situation about which you must make a decision. But when you discuss this matter with them and think about it yourself, be sure the problem and the situation are described and understood in Biblical terms.

Reason must be used in moving from the Scriptures to the problem as you apply Biblical teaching to your decision. But the effects of sin on the human mind have been considerable, and you must pray that God will enable you to interpret, to apply, and to implement His Biblical principles that converge on the issue at hand. Help from the consensus of commentators at this point, when it can be found, ought to be of some value too.

As for peace, let me clarify a passage that has been so frequently misunderstood and misused. That passage, to which the Sunday School teacher referred, is Colossians 3:15: “Let Christ’s peace have the final say in your hearts, to which you were called as parts of one body.” Because peace is to have final say or act as an umpire in our hearts, many have concluded that Paul is teaching that once we have peace about a decision we can know we have made the right one. Nothing could be more wrong. The passage has nothing to do with guidance or decision making. It has to do with love and getting along with other Christians as members of the body of Christ (cf. vs. 12-14 for context). When all is said and done, Paul writes, in the final analysis you must let the principle of peace among the members of the body control your words and actions. There is nothing whatsoever in the passage about individual peace. Your heart (the place where you think about such matters, and the source of your words and actions) is to be influenced by considerations of what will bring about and maintain peace among the members of the body. That is Paul’s concern.

Guidance comes from the Bible, prayerfully used. Circumstances affecting a decision must be evaluated with the Biblical parameters, and the conclusions of such evaluations must be stated in Biblical terms. The advice of others is to be sought, not for their opinions but for their assistance in using the Bible to help you make a decision that honors God. Your reason is not to be trusted and must always be subjected to the Bible at every point. Peace has no relevance whatsoever to the matter. Questions about other aspects of guidance, especially concerning the application of general principles to particular cases, cannot be discussed here. The Bible is the source of revelation from God and the only sure guide to pleasing God. Nowhere else can we find His inerrant Word: why then should we turn to other sources?

PARRESIA–The Church’s Need Today!

The Book of Acts ends with Paul awaiting trial, yet preaching the Word as he could from some rented quarter:

He preached God’s kingdom and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ with great boldness (parresia) . . . Acts 28: 31.

There is one word that runs through the entire book of Acts. It is that great Greek term parresia which here is translated “boldness.”  However, it is not the ordinary word for boldness.  It is a word that puts the emphasis not upon courage—though that lies behind it—but upon a particular kind of courage and boldness.

The word means “courage to speak without fear of consequences.”

Too many Christians (and preachers as well) lack this God-blessed quality which is why so little progress has been made in recent days in evangelizing a nation that is rapidly going down the drain. We complain about the fact that we have been remiss as a nation when it comes to truth, holiness and the like, but we are loathe to do what needs to be done about it, namely, to proclaim the one message that is capable of transforming a degraded society into one that pleases and serves God. Science won’t do it, technology can’t, politics is incapable, and only the Gospel has the power to do so. But if we remain afraid to open our mouths honestly and forcefully—as the preachers in Acts did—things will continue to go from bad to worse.

Read the book of Acts again, focusing upon this bold preaching of the apostles and others, and you will see how it was what made it possible for them to “turn the world upside down” as those opposed put it (Acts 17:6).  Actually, they were turning things right side up, but unbelievers always get things upside down.

On Being Nice

Question:  If you throw a rock at a pack of dogs, which animal yelps the loudest?

Answer:  The one that was hit.

I was recently reminded of this old riddle when I was asked during a Q & A session why Dr. Adams engenders so much anger among psychologists, integrationists, and even some who claim to be biblical counselors. In reality, the questioner was not seeking an answer so much as he was using the venue to take Jay to task for not being nicer and more accommodating. Still, I was glad for the “question” as it gave me an opportunity to make several points that I would like to repeat here.

First, for some, just to be told they are wrong is considered mean. Put yourself in the place of the “psychologist who is a Christian” (a better term than “Christian psychologist”). You have invested many thousands of dollars, years of time, and great effort in obtaining your academic credentials; you gain your livelihood from your psychological practice or teaching career; your standing in society rises from your expertise as a psychologist. Then along comes a guy who, no matter how softly and gently he may say so, tells you (and others about you) that what you are doing is illegitimate, harmful, and destructive. You have to either agree and admit the poverty of your profession or you have to defend yourself. Because your position is untenable, you are left only with attacking the messenger and complaining about his “tone.”

Second, the premise of the question is false. I know of a no more gracious and kind man than Jay Adams. I have been in the counseling room with him, seen him minister to grieving families at graveside, witnessed countless Q & A sessions he has held, interacted alongside with pastors who came to him for help with problems, and seen him minister to others during times of his own physical weakness and distress. I recently read through the transcripts of a symposium Adams had with a number of well-known integrationists. While one recent book takes Jay to task for not being more accommodating to these men, I came away from the read impressed by how patient he was with them.

Third, often his readers fail to understand his goals when he writes. Consider Competent to Counsel. Adams’ goal was to rouse his reader to action. The church had forfeited its responsibilities to minister to hurting people and had embraced a worldly approach to counseling. He wanted to stand in the way and holler, “STOP!” He could not do that without condemning the practice and urging a new course of action upon his reader. Had CTC had the tone employed by some writers today in the biblical counseling movement in which authors merely make suggestions, allow for nuances, see “both sides”, and offend no one it would have had no impact. The few copies that would have been printed would today be languishing in dusty obscurity on some library shelf and there would be no ACBC, CCEF, INS, or Biblical counseling programs in our seminaries.

Fourth, Adams’ readers often fail to also understand his intended audiences. Most of Adams’ books were written to help pastors and counselors. They are largely didactic and Adams labored over them to be clear and helpful. Other books, and especially his booklets designed to be used to give to counselees, are intended to minister. These are warm, pastoral, and kind. Examples are his How to Handle . . . series of pamphlets, Christ and Your Problems, How to Overcome Evil, and his wonderful but not well known series of three booklets written for those who have lost loved ones. A third category, however, are those things he has written to those who should know better. They are intended to make people think through what they believe, or are doing, and urge them to change. These, of course, have a different “tone.” In these he uses our Lord’s approach with Nicodemus:

“How is it that you are a teacher in Israel and you do not understand these things?”

Jay Adams has indeed thrown a few rocks in his day. It is instructive to note who yelps the loudest.

Hating Evil

People often speak of the fear of the Lord and, thereby, mean different things.  “Fearing” God is a large concept embracing many aspects of faith.  One of these aspects is mentioned in Proverbs 8:13

To fear the Lord is to hate evil.

Indeed, the latter is a pretty good index of the former: how much you hate evil probably tells one how much you fear God.

To hate evil is not merely to hate evil that you see around you—that is all too easily achieved.  Genuine hatred of evil most of all begins with hatred of evil within yourself.  Is your hatred of evil genuine?

Judge Not

Most savvy Christians know that the prohibition to judging in Matthew 7:1 has to do with wrong judging, and not with judging altogether.

“I didn’t know that!”

Sure. In John 7:24 Jesus commands us to judge a righteous judgment. And, here in Matthew 7, he explains that he is speaking about the one who does not first take the log out of his own eye before he removes a splinter from another’s. That comment presupposes he will judge once he has dealt with his own sin.

“I guess I hadn’t connected that rightly.”

Yeah. But there are a couple of other things in the passage that also ought to be noted.

“Like what?”

Like v. 6.

“What has that verse got to do with the subject?”

Everything.

“Please explain.”

Gladly. Here’s what Jesus said: “Don’t give what is holy to dogs; and don’t throw pearls before pigs; otherwise, they may trample them with their feet and turn on you and attack you.”

See, that has to do with judging too.

“It does? Can’t see how.”

Well, for one thing, if you want to obey it, you will have to first determine who is a dog or hog!

“So?”

So, that’s judging.

“OH! I gotcha.’”

It’s none of our business to judge the actions and words of unbelievers; we have enough to do to rightly judge our own. Paul said, “What reason would I have to judge those who are outside [unbelievers]? Isn’t it those who are inside [Christians] that you are to judge?”(I Corinthians 5:12,13).

“Wow! That’s pretty clear, isn’t it?”

Very clear. But that’s not all. Jesus said that if you give valuable advice when trying to judge unbelievers (your dogs and hogs) they’ll not be able to assay its value and trample it underfoot, or turn on you because it wasn’t what they thought it was.

“Oh. Oh! I see that it can be dangerous to deal with such people.”

Proverbs has a powerful way of saying the same thing: “Whoever reproves a mocker gets insulted, and whoever corrects a wicked person invites bruises!” (Proverbs 9:7).

“Had no idea about such things. You mean he might punch me out?”

Literally or figuratively, yes.

“Woof!”

Yep. Lots of people who don’t have a biblical perspective, get angry over such reproof. It’s time we started focusing on those things in the church that need cleaning up before we take on the unsaved who can’t appreciate the value of biblical teaching.

“I can see that.”

Teaching is not Lecturing

Back in the 50s when I attended Johns Hopkins University, I remember vividly a professor on the first day of class saying to us, “Now I don’t care whether or not you pass this class. All I’m required to do is to present the material and it’s up to you to get it or not.”

I suppose he meant well—trying to motivate us to study by that approach— but it was clearly not the Christian approach to teaching.

The original terms for teaching and learning found in the Old Testament are so closely aligned that to remove the one from the other is to destroy both. In Scripture, the teacher is one who facilitates learning; not one who merely lectures, leaving the learning entirely up to the student.

If you teach, you will want to remember this fact. God holds you responsible to so work at the way you communicate His truth that there is no reason (short of his own resistance) why a student doesn’t learn what you have to say. It is your task to teach people; not lecture about subjects.

That means you must work hard at becoming a good teacher—one who has spent time not only gathering facts, but also discovering how best to present them so that those who hear cannot mistake what God says in His Word. Too often, in Christian higher educational institutions there is much of the same attitude that the “teacher” at Hopkins had. Too often the goal is for accuracy in presenting truth—and that’s all!

We train youth who need help learning God’s truth (while unlearning error)—especially when they come to us from the watered-down, secularized, paganized, “education” that they receive in our public schools. This is a double task that requires extra effort on your part. To teach such persons well requires knowledge not only of data, but also of those persons to whom we communicate it. It requires special concern, extraordinary effort, and meticulous care to see that our students truly “get it.” If you consider yourself a “lecturer,” then consider again.

Students will come with minds that have been marinated in continuum thinking—nothing is right or wrong, true or false—ideas are on a continuum somewhere between such poles (if, indeed, they are even recognized). In contrast, you must attempt to inculcate an antithetical mindset in which they will be taught absolutes such as saved/lost, true/false, right/wrong, heaven/hell, etc. This biblical approach to life will clash with theirs, and it will take extra effort on your part to help them make the paradigm shift involved.

Because of such matters, Christian teachers carry an additional burden. We must not glean our teaching methods from the world. Rather, each must develop those approaches to teaching God’s truth that neither add nor subtract from it, and in such a manner that they rejoice in it! That, indeed, is a great responsibility. Are you prepared, and ready to bear it?

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!

The Write Way

I’ve been writing a book. In order to do so, I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching, studying, and digesting materials from the Scriptures and commentaries. I wonder, sometimes, when other people write. how they do it. With me, it’s hours of commitment to work, prayer, thought discussion. I couldn’t do it without these.

Yet, when I read some of the materials that are published today I wonder—did people spend much time on this book, pamphlet, article, or not?

Writers, please give us something to sink out teeth into when we read it—please?

I have picked up (and put down), purchased (and regretted I did) any number of books that probably shouldn’t have been written. The titles are great, but the content doesn’t measure up to them. How about some really good stuff?

What do I look for in a book? Something I didn’t know before I read it that makes it worthwhile reading. Something that challenges my beliefs, views, etc., and makes me think. Something that let’s me know what problems people are facing that, perhaps, we could do to help them deal with. I could go on; I won’t. I will say this: when you write, please make it substantive.

“I Never Talk About Religion or Politics”

That’s what you hear people say. But times have changed; now all people want to talk about is politics.

It isn’t as popular, however, to talk about religion today—unless derogatorily. Frankly, I hope the era of excessive talk about politics will soon recede and men and women will once again talk about religion. There once was a time, older people told me, when, after a Dwight L. Moody campaign in Baltimore, streetcars filled with people singing hymns could be found rolling along throughout the city. It was because Moody suggested that something be done to reach sailors at the harbor of Baltimore, that Port Mission was formed—a mission at which I worked one time, evangelizing young children, and out of which we held street meetings for the populace. There was a day, then, when religion—not just any religion but the religion of Jesus Christ—was a chief matter of discussion. May such times reappear!

What can you do to help that transformation of this secular country to take place? You can begin to speak more about Christianity wherever you are. Things have changed so that in many communities people don’t even know their neighbors. They are isolated from them at times when they can simply talk. People used to sit out on their porches on a summer evening, visiting and chatting with each other. Now, they spend time in front of an HD wall TV in air-conditioned comfort. Progress? Electronically? Yes. Socially? No. What came naturally, yesterday, must be done deliberately today. It is necessary to “make time” to do what just “happened” in past eras.

So, what shall we do? Well, it will take creative new ways to bring about what once were “givens.” It will mean thought, effort, and dedication if we are ever to bring about conditions where people, in mass, begin to congregate around discussions of the faith. Perhaps you can be a catalyst in your community. For starters, you can talk more to more people in more places about Jesus Christ. Perhaps you can become a “community organizer”—not for some political cause—but for the Lord!

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?

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