Pastor, You Must Counsel

My first job after seminary was for a small Christian publishing house. Editing tasks and even some writing were in my job description. We only had about 15 employees, and we did it all: writing, editing, layout, printing, collating, binding, shipping, sales, and conferences. From start to finish we published our own curriculum. And twice a year we shut down production to do inventory; the entire staff participated. Everything had to be counted by hand; it was exhausting and boring work. I hated it. It took a long time, didn’t seem to yield visible results, and I didn’t understand it’s importance. It certainly seemed like it wasn’t a necessary part of my job description.

Sometimes pastors look at counseling like I looked at inventorying. It’s hard work that seems to yield few results, and it doesn’t seem like a significant part of their job description. And, therefore, many pastors don’t counsel. Their hearts sink a little bit when a member wants to meet with them and they suspect they want counsel. They would rather refer them to a counselor outside the church or assign another pastor the counseling task. While a counseling pastor can be a great hire, I will argue that lead pastors should still counsel. I want to make the case that every pastor—especially lead pastors—should counsel.

So, Pastor, why should you counsel your members?

Because ALL Christians Should Counsel

Romans 15:14 (ESV) I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.

Jay Adams titled his first book, Competent to Counsel, from the phrase in this verse, “able to instruct one another.” He points out that the Apostle Paul was not addressing the leaders of the Roman church. No, he was talking to the average Christian in the congregation. Every believer is able to admonish/instruct/counsel another. It’s part of one-another ministry.

So if this is one way that believers minister to each other, then it’s also a way that pastors minister to their members—other believers. Most believers will do it informally, but pastors have the privilege of also doing formal counseling.

Because Counseling Is Shepherding

Acts 20:31 (ESV) Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

In Acts 20 Paul has already claimed that he ministered in large and small groups (20:20). Now Paul claims that he did one-to-one ministry. A pastor that doesn’t counsel isn’t really shepherding his flock. Counseling is one way that you shepherd. You’re called pastors—that is, shepherds.

And shepherding is hard work. Jesus thought so.

Matthew 18:12–14 (ESV) What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

A shepherd doesn’t say, “I’ve got 99 sheep; that’s enough.” If you don’t want to counsel, you don’t want to pastor. Counseling is one way that you pursue the sheep that runs.

Deepak Reju says, “What’s presumed here is both that the sheep view their pastor as approachable and that the pastor deliberately affords time in his schedule to get down into the weeds of life and walk alongside the sheep.” [1]Bob Kellemen and Kevin Carson, Biblical Counseling and the Church: God’s Care Through God’s People. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 49.

Shepherding is not really done from the pulpit. It’s being approachable; it’s rolling up your sleeves and working in someone’s life. Counseling gets you down with the sheep; it gives you opportunities to love your sheep—to do some tender shepherding. Do you have time in your schedule to mix with the sheep? Yes counseling is hard and time consuming, but it’s also what a shepherd does.

Because Counseling Helps You Know Your Congregation

For about 15 years of my life I was in churches that had at least yearly evangelistic meetings. A full time evangelist would come and preach each night for about a week. It occurred to me at times that this evangelist really didn’t know our community and our church since he swooped in for a week and then left for the next church. He would tell us night after night to invite our friends and relatives when too many of us weren’t even admitting we were Christians to our friends and relatives. He would sell a Scripture memorization system he published when most men in the church weren’t even reading their Bibles regularly, much less memorizing them.

The pastor that counsels people in his congregation will know his congregation. He’ll realize their marriage concerns; he’ll know their struggles with children and teenagers. He’ll know what it’s like at work for them. Since your counselees are normally a cross section of your congregation, you can extrapolate what you learn to your entire congregation. Don’t be the pastor that thinks preaching affords him an intimate connection with his congregation. Those guys in the ivory tower are often respected for their exegesis, but not for their relationships in the congregation.

Because Counseling Improves Your Preaching and Teaching

The more you counsel, the more you know people. The better you know people, the better informed your preaching is. Some have said that preaching involves exegeting the passage and also exegeting your people. Counseling helps you exegete people. It’s more likely that your lessons and sermons will reach the hearts of your people; they will be more applicable. Your illustrations will communicate truth better because you actually know where your congregation is spiritually and what types of struggles they have. Your illustrations and applications will have punch.

Because Counseling Humbles You

Many pastors are encouraged by listeners’ comments after their sermons. People come by and express appreciation for that sermon. “Pastor, that’s exactly what I needed today.” It’s great that God’s people can be so thankful and kind, but a steady diet of compliments can deceive a pastor into thinking he’s a far better communicator than he actually is. Or he can believe that he’s actually more important to God’s work in this congregation than he really is.

In general people don’t tend to grow as fast as you, the pastor, think they should. And counseling reminds you that the Spirit, the Scripture, and the Church are far more important resources than you are.

David Powlison says you should work with some slow-movers when you are the lead pastor. Counseling people whose growth seems painstakingly slow can increase your patience, and it also humbles you. Why? Because you aren’t that great at teaching truth. You labor over it with this person, and they continue to struggle. They don’t get it, and they don’t get it easily even when they are being tutored by the pastor. Preaching without counseling can fool us into thinking that we communicate Scriptural truth really well. Sitting down with a struggling couple can remind us that unless the Lord builds the house, we labor in vain.

Because Counseling Builds Relationships

When you retire or move on to another ministry, your people will probably not remember any particular sermon you preached. And that’s true even if they generally appreciated your preaching. But some will remember how you counseled them at the worst time in their lives. You were there when their child committed suicide. You were there when their marriage was in shambles. You were there when they got the dreaded cancer diagnosis. And you showed them from Scripture how God wanted them to live. Hopefully your church will appreciate your ministry, but some… some will know you tirelessly met with them until they were growing and thriving. And they will be some of your closest relationships.

Pastors, you’re missing out if you’re not counseling people in your congregation. Never get so busy that you offload that responsibility entirely to other people in your church or someone outside of your church. You need to counsel your people.

References

References
1 Bob Kellemen and Kevin Carson, Biblical Counseling and the Church: God’s Care Through God’s People. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 49.
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