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.