Saturday, September 22, 2012

Christ in Pastoral Counseling

While the world benefits from psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and marriage and family counselors, no one can take the place of Christ’s pastoral shepherds, appointed by the Lord and empowered by the Holy Spirit, spending countless hours calming the anxious, encouraging the depressed, binding up the emotionally wounded: Maria, Bill, Antonio, Ming, Abdul. Through his pastoral ministers, Christ reaches out in every culture not only to save people from sin and set them right with God, but to help them grow psychologically and spiritually, creating in them a sound mind and responsive heart, a relaxed body and serene spirit, edifying them with enough maturity to love others as they learn to love themselves and God.

 During my seminary years, a classmate of mine I will call Jeff developed suicidal urges; his study of the Bible had left him with the impression that he had too many sins for God to forgive. Though there was a professional counselor on staff, this student chose to confide his soul-pain to a professor of Old Testament, himself an ordained minister. What struck me was how the professor took time out of his schedule to shepherd and nurture Jeff, even to the point of visiting him in the dorm at night to make sure he was okay. After several days of being watched over, Jeff’s depression lifted. He told me that the professor’s faithful caring had penetrated his emptiness, opening an inner door through which he experienced God’s love.

Churches offer a natural home for personal development throughout the lifespan. Many ethnic backgrounds, all types of personalities, and every form of relationship add to the richness and complexity of local churches. And if there are biases regarding class or gender, the Holy Spirit empowers the Word of God to challenge and change them. The church is like a living organism, where the Trinity lives and breathes, awakening individuals to their full potential in Christ, stirring motivation that draws them forward, offering hope when difficulties overwhelm. Here pastoral counseling delivers the service of repair and recovery, providing confidential one-on-one or group sessions specifically designed to explore what troubles someone, what baffles or frustrates them, to the end that their lives are clarified and they are set on a path of healthy growth.

 The unique revelation of God in Jesus Christ, the Son sent by the Father to take away the sins of the world, reveals that Christianity’s whole purpose centers on a proactive faith, inviting God’s people to discover and actualize ever-greater depths of his love, peace, and joy. While Scripture paints in bold strokes God’s plan of salvation and the struggle between good and evil, the Bible was never meant as a handbook on personality theory or psychopathology. For that we need the information that behavioral science provides, just as God blesses humanity with the applied sciences of dentistry, optometry, and medicine.

Skilled pastoral counselors combine sound biblical principles with scientific psychology, bringing together a depth analysis of people’s problems with an effective treatment strategy—a process that  includes psychological as well as moral and spiritual dimensions.

My vision for developing pastoral counseling and coaching is two-fold:

1) To provide pastors and churches with a perspective on human growth that integrates trustworthy psychological principles with orthodox Christian faith, and helps pastors enjoy pastoral counseling.

2) To provide pastoral counselors with competent theory and techniques for therapeutic intervention across a wide range of human needs, while discerning when a referral to a licensed therapist is indicated.

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