Sadly, we live in an age where counseling features little in pastoral ministry. The reasons for this are many, but I want to point out just a few.
First, we live in a litigious society. Counseling is a two-edged sword that can produce good results or it can result in a person suing the counselor because of what they have heard. This problem is compounded when pastors and churches absolutely refuse to counsel because they fear what might happen.
Second, the introduction of counseling degrees has placed the responsibility for the spiritual care of church members into the hands of paid professionals that normally operate outside the structure of a local church context. This means that those who are entrusted with the “care for your soul” are often relinquishing part of a vital ministry that can make a huge difference in the person being counseled.
Third, when there is counseling, there must inevitably be some form of discipline that must be enacted. Whether this is self-discipline, one-to-one, or in extreme cases where the problems must be addressed by the elders and the local church, discipline is just as necessary as counseling. Biblical counseling is the means whereby we are able to assist those in our midst to grow in the grace of God.
Fourth, quite possibly the biggest issue that is being faced in the church today is that pastors have failed to teach their people in the complete sufficiency of the Word of God. Oh, the Sunday School lesson or a sermon every now and then might state that we believe this, but the outworking of our lives show something completely different. We will often search the internet, browse the newspapers, or visit the local Christian bookstore for the latest and greatest self-help manual. Yet, the answers to all that pertains to life and godliness is to be found in the Word of God.
When we relegate how we are to live our lives and how we are to address the issues of life apart from the Word of God, then we will only prove to the world that our use of the term Sola Scriptura is but mere lip service. Therefore, instead of addressing the heart issues that underlie what is wrong in our lives, we pay a professional to help us feel better about ourselves or to build up our self-esteem.
The bottom line is that we should not be surprised when the brothers and sisters in the congregation continue to struggle if they are being sent to a counselor. It will be a rare counselor that reverts automatically to the Word of God to show the real issue is the depravity of the heart and rebellion against a thrice-holy God that drives the problems we find in local churches. There are further problems that arise through the lack of local church connection. If the counseling is not working and sin is not being addressed, then the elders and local church will often have no recourse to enact discipline for the purpose of restoration.
We recognize that the realm of counseling covers a wide array of sub-topics – drugs, marriage, family, child, sexual dependency, alcohol, etc. Sadly, I fear that many think that only a professional and often highly-paid individual can possibly have the answers to whatever is wrong with you or your family member. The normal scenario means that an individual who needs help with make an appointment to see a counselor. The moment arrives when the individual walks into the counselor’s office and the counselor normally wants to know how you are feeling or what kind of emotions are you struggling with. A counselor will not tell the person being counseled that they are a sinner and they are in need of a Savior. They will probably not tell them that it is out of the mouth that the heart speaks and that whatever is hidden in the recesses of your heart will often come out with whatever addiction or problem the person is facing.
People become dependent upon drugs, alcohol, sex, pornography, self-harm, etc. because their hearts are not right with God. The automatic answer is not Ritalin, Valium, or a host of other prescription medication. The answer is not finding others who will build your self-esteem and make you feel valuable again.
As more and more address their concerns outside the confines of the local church, pastors often grow discouraged as they watch people come and go. They will watch as various individuals face growing problems within their marriages or with their children. As the problems mount, the pastor wrings his hands hoping that somebody can offer assistance. They then go to a counselor and countermand much of what the pastor should be declaring as the truth of God’s Word. When the individual or family thinks that their problems are solved, they find they have no need of the church and attendance drops off drastically.
When a counselor is the go-to-person instead of the elders, the leadership will struggle with how to provide spiritual guidance or even know how to pray. When marriages end in divorce, a child ends up pregnant or they commit suicide, the leaders will have to be faced with the reality that the answer was always available. And either God’s Word is sufficient for all things and is our guide to life, or it is but another self-help manual that is good for some and not for others.
Lord willing, there will be more to come as I address some thoughts on the dangers of counseling found within the local church.