I’m a big fan of 9Marks and their resources.  I have found them consistently helpful and accessible.  This book, The Pastor and Counseling, is no different.  Deepak Reju [Pastor of Counseling at Capitol Hill Baptist in DC] and Jeremy Pierre [Biblical Counseling Professor at SBTS] team up to write a fantastic book.

Counseling is an unavoidable element of pastoring.  I’m profoundly grateful for a great seminary education at SBTS, and also organizations like ACBC that stress the centrality of biblical counseling. Pastors, we aren’t giving advice.  Our people are coming to us for instruction in the Word of God and the application of it to their problems.  BUT, this is not without compassion.  This book succeeds on both ends of that spectrum.

And as the Word of God centers on Jesus Chris, so then must our counseling.  Jesus Christ is the means of change. Jesus Christ is the goal of change. [18]

The book is logically divided up into three main sections:  concept, process, and context and also has a few handy appendices in the back.

Right away, the authors challenge us pastors to make sure we are not having a “pulpit-only” ministry.  Ours is a personal ministry as well.  We identify with the weakness and sin of people, speak to God on behalf of the people, and speak to people on behalf of God. [28]. We have to get involved.  Yes, it is messy.  Yes, there is drama. Yes, it will take time.  But…that’s the nature of compassionate biblical pastoring, kids.

So, where to start?  This book offers three initial goals:  Address the presenting problem, display the relevance of the gospel [it’s always relevant!], and help people grow in Christlikeness.  “The main confidence of the pastor is that if a person belongs to Christ, God has pledged himself to the task of renewing him or her.” [38]

Aaaand there it is.  Transparency time.  As a pastor who counsels, this is the elephant in the room in all biblical counseling sessions…”IF a person belongs to Christ…”  Biblical counseling doesn’t “work” unless you are a Christian. I’ve had more failed counseling cases then I’d like to admit, but all of them were because people weren’t made new in Christ or refused to submit to the authority of His Word.  This is one of the biggest challenges in pastoral ministry, how to help people who are up to their ears in the misery of sin, yet refuse to submit fully to Christ.  I was curious to see how Reju and Pierre addressed this.

But getting back to the meat of the book – how do we actually do this?  The authors answer that question with three basic steps:  You listen to the problem. You consider heart responses.  You speak the truth in love. [49]

All of this requires a relational connection grounded in mercy, love, and respect.  I appreciated how practical and honest the authors were as they explained this – sometimes that is hard when you “are dealing with folks that are shifty, egocentric, foolish, arrogant, or just plain infantile.” [61].

Once the relational connection is established, explore the concern [listen well and ask good open-ended questions]; display hope [one of your primary jobs, there is always hope in the gospel!]; and set expectations. [homework, next meetings, etc.]

In the meetings that follow – get updates, follow up on homework, continue to explore the concern, and offer redemptive remedies. This will be the bulk of the rest of your meetings, but second to “is this person a real Christian” – how we actually do this is the biggest challenge.  The authors rightly point out that it requires patience.  We can all see the behavior is wrong, but what is motivating the behavior, the inner heart workings, are not immediately known.  This takes time to draw out.  We can’t simply “tell them what their idols are and then admonish them to worship God instead.” [76]. This is the great temptation for us pastors.  Why aren’t they getting it?!  “And we urge you brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” [1 These 5:14]. I sincerely appreciated the authors emphasis towards the compassion we should have and felt adequately convicted.

But…there has to be balance.  This too was well covered.  “Consider the 80/20 rule.  The person you’re helping needs to be responsible to do 80 present of the work in any given counseling session, with you guiding him or her with good questions, a few Scripture texts and appropriate advice.” [86] Amen.

The authors also took this opportunity to remind the readers of a few important considerations. Primarily of which is “Is this person saved?”  Again, due to the importance of this question, I would have liked to have seen this broken out into a full chapter…or even a full book.  [Anyone?!].  We will also be called to ministry to the unbelievers, and there is a tremendous evangelistic opportunity in it for us – but there needs to be more practical application of how that relates to counseling from the word of God to someone to doesn’t submit themselves to it.  #EndSoapbox

That brings us to the final meeting.  Sooner or later, you have to figure out when to end meetings.  Counseling can either have a positive ending, or a negative one.  Hopefully, it’s obvious that the positive ending would be that real, lasting, biblical change happens. Buuuut…that’s not always the case.  Dare I say, I think it’s probably the minority due to the effects of sin.  Sometimes counseling has a negative ending.  There is no change, they aren’t interesting in actually applying the 80% effort, they don’t trust you, they need more help than you can offer [90-91]…and what wasn’t mentioned that I wish was which is probably bigger than all of them – “they really won’t submit to the authority of the Scripture because they aren’t legit Christians.”    Sadly, after a negative ending we usually never see them again…until a few months or years later when the problems didn’t actually go away and they return for help.  This leads to the final section, how do we create a culture where helping others is in the DNA?

Pastors, we are the primary shaper of the church’s culture. [104. I just actually got scared typing that.]  “The way to glorify God is to make disciples. This task should be in the departs part of a pastor’s value system.” [105 – Giant AMEN].  The authors point out a few key expectations to lay down.  Membership – does your church have a high value on biblical church membership?  Equipping – are our people being equipped by the pastors/elders for discipleship through teaching and modeling? Third, connecting.  You have to actually be with people and encourage your people to be with each other as well.

Sometimes, despite doing all of this “right” there still are times where you may need to refer out to another counselor, or even medical “professional” help.  I sincerely appreciated the authors bold stance on this, as I’ve personally walked thru a few very painful seemingly “dead end” counseling situations and can see new hope springing from a fresh counseling perspective with someone else.  The authors provide a helpful overview of this sensitive topic, but emphasize the centrality of God’s Word.  “A guy with a Bible is not enough.” [122]. Pastors/elders:  we need to actively guide any referrals and resist the temptation to just pass someone off because we are tired.

This book was extremely encouraging to a tired soul who has walked through many difficult counseling situations.  I recommend it to all pastor and elders diligently laboring in God’s church for His glory as we walk beside our brothers and sisters in Christ.

 

 

 

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