In our most recent post, we covered a few areas of danger that befall those who offer counsel in any type of setting, but particularly those in a church setting. In this post, I wish to address two main issues.
First, I want to clarify that I do not believe that all counselors are operating contrary to the Scriptures. Neither do I believe that those who seek the counsel of a professional counselor are or should be automatically considered to be in sin against God. Further, I understand that not all pastors or elders are willing to address subjects that they feel is beyond their knowledge in a particular area.
The issue that we are seeking to make clear is that for a believer, the very first recourse should be to the Word of God, not what the latest so-called Christian psychobabble has to say about the problem being addressed. In addition, the first recourse for the pastors or elders should not be the Yellow Pages under the heading of Counseling, but should be the Word of God.
Professional counselors have taken off in popularity and sadly, the role of pastors and elders means that too often they are failing in their God-ordained responsibility to care for the sheep. Pastors and elders, we are commanded to feed the sheep. This does not mean just for 45 minutes on a Sunday morning and maybe an extra 30 minutes on a mid-week Bible study.
It is imperative that we bring ourselves back to the ministries that were found under the leadership of men like Richard Baxter who would spend hours a week discipling his flock either in his own home or in their home. Yes, this is work, but being willing to disciple others is the only way we will know the hurt, the pain, and the straying of our flocks. It is rank foolishness to think that our people are perfectly fine without any attention during the remaining 166 1/2 hours per week that they are in the world. I am saddened when I have heard pastors say, “I didn’t know they were even struggling in that area!”
Granted, while much of the responsibility for this lack is on the shoulders of pastors and elders, there are times that church members do not want us to get that close. However, I am convinced that this is due to a lack of teaching on the importance of continued discipleship. By our actions and by our teaching, we sometimes are guilty of allowing those who are in fellowship to think that worship is what we do on a Sunday morning between 10:30 – 12:00 noon.
So, the heart of the problem facing the church today is not necessarily professional counselors. Although that can and continues to be a problem in many instances, the biggest problem is that believers in our churches are seeking help outside the confines of the local assembly. The church collectively is to be there to assist in bearing the burdens of one another.
Another difficulty comes when the professional counselor is operating outside the confines or strictures of a local church setting. This means that the person who is being counseled is now no longer accountable for their sin and their testimony before their brothers and sisters. They can hide behind an individual with a professional degree who is bound by confidentiality not to divulge any information to others. Thus, when a marriage is breaking down, a daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock, or a child finds themselves dealing with an addiction, the church and leadership can no longer help because they are often completely unaware of the problems.
Let’s now proceed to the second concern.
One person commented about the pitfalls of online or social media and asked for further thoughts. Just as it is wrong to think that worship is only what we do on Sunday, it is also wrong to think that there is only a danger in counseling if we are face to face with an individual.
A standard definition of counseling is – The provision of assistance and guidance in resolving personal, social, or psychological problems and difficulties.
Counseling is not black and white and neither are the settings in which counseling can be accomplished. This can take place in person, at a coffee shop in an informal type setting, over the phone, through text messaging, emails, or even Instant Messaging via a social media like Facebook.
Pastors, it is true that many in our congregations are probably using a wide variety of social medias in order to communicate with one another. While this post is not meant to belabor the futility of solving problems on Twitter, MySpace, or text messages, there is something to be said for the deplorable conditions that dictate to us that we can somehow accomplish much counsel or disciple through the means of 140 characters or less at a time.
Further, I am not decrying the use of social media formats for connecting with friends and family, there is a pitfall that has taken far too many down the path of ruin. It is a path and a pitfall that could have been avoided had the individuals who found themselves trapped been more careful to begin with.
Before I elaborate, let me reiterate what we say we already believe about marriage. Marriage is designed by God to be a complete covenant that focuses on God and is solely between one man and one woman. Men/pastors/elders/teachers/leaders, this means that every area of our life should be like an open book to our spouse. Too many are walking a very thin line that delineates between what is hers, what is his, and what is theirs together. This is a wrong and dangerous answer.
Let me make this very plain and simple. My wife and I have identical passwords to all of our computers and have the same passwords for each of the online social media formats with which we engage during the week. We have made a deliberate decision that each one of us cannot seek to hide contacts or messages from one another. If I have to fear what my wife would think about my online conversations, then I am breaking my marriage vows to have her in my heart and no other til death us do part.
If there is a reason that I find myself having to communicate with a female via email (as an example), my wife is fully involved. This not only protects the person to whom I am writing, but also protects us. There are times when I have been asked for pastoral counsel or advice, but just as I refuse to counsel a woman alone in my office, I have the same standards even when not face to face. This means that I also have made a point not to spend time alone using Instant Messenger with a woman who is not my wife.
Brothers, I cannot stress this enough, YOU MUST GUARD YOUR HEART! You must protect the wife of your youth. How can we possibly express concern over our children failing to guard their thought life if they see us spending time with somebody to whom we are not married. Men, we cannot fall into the trap of being willing to share confidences with another woman for it will eventually steal part of your heart away.
Sisters, I implore you as well to be careful with social media. It can prove easy to spend time sharing thoughts and concerns with a friend, but far harder to to keep from eventually sharing your heart. There is no part of your marriage problems that I need to be personally aware of if I am required to keep that information from my wife.
While I am covering this area, I believe it is not just Twitter, Facebook, or MySpace that is the problem. Areas that involve RPG’s (role playing games) or MPG’s (multi-player games) are detrimental to both your time as well as the well-being of your heart. You will be forced to interact in a fantasy world that will require you to share things that come from your own personal situation.
Sadly, more and more marriages are ending in divorce because men and women have foolishly failed to see the dangers of spending time alone with someone of the opposite sex. This is true whether face-to-face or in a chat room or any other social media format. If you do not guard your heart from all attacks, then do not be surprised if you end up losing the battle.
Pastors and elders, while social media can be used to further the message of the gospel, we must seek to warn our brothers and sisters of the dangers lurking in the electronic world in which we live. The dangers are very real and cannot be avoided. May the Lord help us to stand firm and resolute in a world that cares not one little bit whether our marriages or ministries survive.
Thank you for this article and for clarifying your position on professional counselors. As someone who is currently seeing a Christian counselor, and has seen counselors in the past, I am extremely grateful for the services they provide and don’t know where I’d be without the help they offer.
I agree that the church should be the place where most counseling should take place, but in my experience, most churches seem to completely overlook and/or disregard this desperately needed service. And I have yet to find a church where discipleship and accountability are taken seriously, even though I’ve been crying out to God to find such a place. It seems nearly every church I walk into is more like a social club than anything else, and this grieves me.
As far as getting counseling from elders or pastors goes, I personally have never felt comfortable going to any man for counseling, whether in church or in a professional setting. I believe women should counsel women, and men should counsel men. I think the additional danger to a pastor counseling a woman is not just the fact that they are opposite sexes and prone to temptation, but the fact that his position can cause the woman to improperly idolize him and therefore not question his counsel, and his own ego can be inflated from this position of authority. (The case of Jack Schaap is a good illustration of this, as discussed in previous articles. I personally believe a “one pastor” church model is unbiblical and so often contributes to such tragic outcomes.)
Proper counseling should always be done with the awareness that counselors (even pastors) are fallible, sinful human beings just like the rest of us, and therefore all advice and counsel should be weighed against the Word of God. Although I’m grateful for the counselor I’m seeing, I don’t idolize her or take everything she says as gospel truth. I read my Bible as well and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Anyway, these are just some of my thoughts on the whole issue of counseling.
A.H., thank you for stopping by. Sadly, you are correct in that the church and pastors have failed their people whom they have been tasked by God to protect, feed, and care for. Many years, we made the decision that a church that does not practice discipline, discipleship, and accountability is not a Biblically practicing body of believers.
Yes, the ideal would be for women to counsel women and men to counsel men. However, the Scriptures are clear that while the older women are to teach the younger, it is also imperative that we remember that the spiritual oversight of the flock is given to men to be the leaders. As you may have read already, but just to clarify, I do not believe that any pastor has the right nor the responsibility to counsel a woman on his own. This should be done, at the very least, by the pastor/elder and his wife working together at all times.
I agree with you as well that a “one pastor” church is not a biblical model for a church to follow and that this is one of the big problems found in many circles. The results are becoming painfully clear what happens when a church moves away from biblically mandated patterns.
“A.H., thank you for stopping by. Sadly, you are correct in that the church and pastors have failed their people whom they have been tasked by God to protect, feed, and care for. Many years, we made the decision that a church that does not practice discipline, discipleship, and accountability is not a Biblically practicing body of believers.”
Mark, first of all great message and much needed. There is one more thing I think is critical to this conversation is that is the lack of true relationships in the institutional church system is so contrary to the early believers who shared their lives together abounding in genuine love for each other. The early elders led from among the sheep, and their lives were open testimonies to the younger saints, not as “clergy” men exalting themselves over the body. Th false clergy-laity divide produces, well.. a divied in the body of Christ.
I think it is sad that I was closer with my friends when I was an unsaved drug addict then when I was saved and in the clergy-laity church system. Yours is another example of our desperate need to get back to the new testament pattern. I know it is on the heart of many today to so including yours. In that context, where the saints really know and love each other, it is very easy to counsel those in need. I have some very religious family members who called us a cult because we fellowship house to house and were so close with the brothers and sisters, sharing our lives together in prayer, meals, study, evangelism throughout the week. These same family members (a couple) marriage was falling apart and they had to go outside their local church to get counseling. The husband stopped going and the wife kept going and meeting with this man alone. Things haven’t turned out good.
To get back to the OP, after many years of marriage the Lord broke my heart that I was not loving my wife like Christ loves the Church. I had to go to her and repent of things from years ago, habits, attitude, bad decisions that affected our family and hurt her, etc. The Lord put it on my heart that everything else had to be secondary (evangelism, work, free time, etc) and I needed to show her that I love her every day and not take her for granted, that I needed to stop grumbling about her shortcomings and recognized I had failed the Lord a million times for every time I felt my wife had failed me. In short I needed to humble myself and serve her as my Lord Jesus humbled himself to serve me. The results have been no less than radical as the Lord has breathed new life in our marriage and strengthened our walk in him together.
God bless you Mark, love your heart for the Lord and His people.
Thanks so much for your encouraging words. Yes, it is a tragedy that many find fellowship to be better or more consistent outside of a body of believers. Might just have to add an article on that as well as the clergy-laity problems that plague our churches.
I am thankful for your thoughts on how the Lord has worked in your heart and in your marriage. One of the things that has been most beneficial to us has been the time we served in Liberia, West Africa. There were many things that we learned are just NOT important.
Every blessing to you,
I am truly touched by this post and the responses.. you have hit the nail on the head…