I have often compared my natural counseling ability (or should I say, desire) to the Geico commercial with the former drill sergeant throwing a tissue box at the client on his couch. You may be thinking, “Wow, that is a terrible attitude for a pastor to have.” And I would agree with you. That is why I said, “my natural counseling ability (or desire).”
In God’s grace, he called me to pastor a church. You cannot pastor and ignore the responsibility to counsel the people of God. The very nature of shepherding is one of gently leading the people, and this often takes place in one-on-one or group settings of counseling through decisions, grief, doubt, depression, fear and restoration from sin in a pursuit of holiness. By nature of my calling I have had to embrace counseling others and have, through much prayer, come to enjoy meeting with the people God has sent to my church to shepherd.
It is truly a joy to sit in a room and walk with God’s people through counseling.
My calling as a pastor is not the only way God has warmed my heart to counseling. He has also allowed me to find much understanding of, victory over and healing from my own sin and sin done towards me through counseling. Lastly, God allowed me to marry a woman who is now a counselor. Every week she sits with around 20 people (some who are followers of Jesus and some who are not) and she helps them understand, overcome and find healing through the power of the gospel as well.
Because of these three situations (being a pastor, having gone to counseling and being married to a counselor) I am often asked who I would recommend as a counselor or what kind of counseling I would recommend.
There are three standards that I look for in a counselor in order to ensure that the counseling experience is both faithful and truly helpful.
The first two standards are essential in all counseling relationships and situations. The last one is essential for some counseling situations.
As a pastor, I know that ultimately my wisdom and my words are flawed. On any given day I can give terrible counsel. I also know that my words are never authoritative. However, as a believer in the inherent, infallible, and authoritative Word of God, I can trust what scripture says to speak to the sin, hurt, and brokenness of any person on any occasion. The Bible does not give bad advice. It never counsels poorly. Therefore I believe that if a counseling session is to be faithful and truly helpful it must be saturated in scripture.
Note: Just because scripture is used in a counseling session does not mean that scripture has been used rightly. I’ve heard far too many people use scripture out of context, twist the meaning and wrongly apply it which can cause more damage than good. Therefore, one must be a true student of the scriptures in order to rightly apply the scriptures to the counseling situation. I support rightly interpreted and rightly applied scriptures in counseling.
All counseling needs are in response to the brokenness caused by sin in our lives. Sometimes that sin is our own and sometimes that sin is that of another, but there will never be a counseling topic that is not the result of sin. Before sin there was no need for counseling. Before sin there was no judgement, no abuse, no violence, no harassment, no abandonment, no selfishness, no trauma, no death, and no shame. Adam and Eve had no marital conflict before sin. Sin is the cause of all brokenness and hurt in our world.
Therefore, the only answer to any and every counseling need is the gospel. It is true that you can learn techniques to manage your stress and anxiety, and it is true that you can learn better communication and listening skills with your spouse, and it is also true that there are times someone may need medicine or another intervention to bring stability in order to further deal with the brokenness that is present. However, one should never look to medicine, communication skills, stress releasing techniques or similar treatments as the answer for the counseling need. These are only tools which help to manage symptoms while the cure is being applied to the root of the issue; sin.
Ultimately the gospel must be applied to the life of the client in order to heal the root and bring eternal change. Therefore, I believe that in order for a counseling session to be faithful and truly helpful it must be gospel centered.
Note: If there was no need of counseling before sin, then there will be no need of counseling after Jesus returns either for he will make all things new. There will be no more sin and without sin, there will be no more brokenness. Praise God my wife will have to change careers in eternity!
I said that the first two standards are essential in all counseling settings. In other words, whether you are seeking counseling from a friend, a pastor or a professional counselor, I would suggest that you must find someone who is scripture saturated and gospel centered to encounter truly faithful and helpful counseling
I also said that the third standard is essential for some counseling situations.
There are some situations that I, as a pastor, am not fully equipped to speak into. Someone who has experienced extreme trauma (perhaps from war, sexual abuse, or a tragic death) will likely need someone more experienced and more equipped than I am to provide their counseling. There are counselors who are professionally equipped, whether that is through clinical counseling training or biblical counseling training, who better know how to listen for the right things, ask the right questions and apply the right treatment so that Bible saturated and gospel centered counseling can be applied to the heart of the person.
My wife has often said that her clinical training in counseling provides her the tools to apply the truth of the gospel to the deepest roots of the person rather than simply applying the gospel to the branches.
Therefore, I believe that for some counseling sessions to be faithful and truly helpful, the counselor should be professionally equipped to apply the gospel to the root of the need.
Note: I would caution against going to a professionally trained counselor who does not saturate their counseling in the truth of scripture and find the ultimate cure for all issues in the gospel. All the professional training in the world will not provide true life-change for the soul if it is separated from the truth of scripture and the life of the gospel.