A few weeks ago, I wrote a series of posts on Counseling and Confessions (here). Another thought to consider, and one which I have been asked, is "who" should counsel? We live in a day when so many churches and/or pastors "farm out" counseling to professionals. Now, at the outset, let me say that I have a nuanced view on this. I have this view partly because I have experience in both worlds (serving as a pastor, and having worked in a Christian counseling center that was not under the direct auspices of a particular local church). The other part of my view is influenced by the fact that, while I have served as counselor in a outpatient counseling center, I have through the years come to believe that, while often helpful, counseling outside the church should not be the first go to option. In fact, I have a strong desire to see counseling occur regularly within the local church body. I have a desire to see pastors shepherd and counsel beyond a few pre-marital sessions, or a one time "I can only meet with you once, and then I have to refer you" mentality.
I think counsel is and should be robustly theological (refer to the above-mentioned posts). I also believe that so many issues are clearly addressed in Scripture, and yet so many are going to persons who are not grounding counseling in the Scriptures for assistance . I believe that there is a place for particular believers to get advanced training in counseling, and for that counseling to complement the work of the discipleship ministry of a local church, and to complement the shepherding that elders/pastors are performing within the body. However, this will take a two-pronged approach to accomplish. First, pastors must see themselves as counselors. No, they don't need another masters degree in counseling or psychology (and even here, we need to be wise and discerning--a degree in psychology may be a very unhelpful thing in the hands of a person who is not theologically astute) necessarily, but they need theologically-rich training in pastoral care and counseling. Why do we have so many seminary degrees that only offer one class in counseling? Secondly however, more and more lay persons who desire to counsel, whether as a vocation, or as a ministry, need solid theological training. Time and time again I have seen professional Christian counselors, outside the auspices of a local church, offering soul care, and what amounted to pastoral care, with no real theological mouring. And what's worse, the wisdom of this age, masquerading as psychological theory has been given, even when it is in direct opposition to Scriptural commands, precepts or principles. What is the way forward?
In my humble opinion, I suggest the following:
*We need pastors who view their work as those who shepherd in the Word, not those who build empires by utilizing the next big thing. How can we criticize only the field of counseling when we see Christian counseling clinics popping up, when in some ways, the church has given up it's role in counseling?
*Ministerial students really and truly need to study the field of practical theology, and they need theologically rich training in counseling.
*Seminary students, don't view your counseling courses as "fluff", but as needed training.
*Pastors, we need to be trustworthy. Bottom line, we need to ask ourselves why so many people don't trust their pastors with their "stuff". It cannot all be only their perception. Do we take time to listen? Do we avoid gossip about our people? Do we choose purposely to not "use" our people as examples in sermons? Do we seek to avoid at all costs the damaging of our people in the name of church empire?
*We need some persons within the body who study both theology and psychology at the graduate level. We need to be able to interact with all that psychology as field has to say, in order that we may sift the truths therein (common grace) and reject the errors therein.
*If counselors counsel outside a particular church, consider (when appropriate) getting a release to talk and involve a pastor in the work of counseling. Counselors, perhaps there is a need to refer counselees more regularly to their pastors.
*Let's make the body of Christ, the church, a place where 'counseling' (dwelling in the Word together) is so much the norm, that many of our counseling needs are taken care of within the body.
*Let's also affirm that God has used many "outpatient counseling centers" in the healing of persons, and while we want to increase the church's role in counseling, we don't want to denigrate a person's possible previous growth, or God's use of one Christian in the life of another--persons not in the same church. (If you are reading this post and you have seen a Christian counselor outside of your local church, this is not an attack on what the Lord has done in your life).
There isn't sufficient space to discuss all the ink that has been spilled trying to inform this debate. Nor can I encapsulate every Christian counseling theory or paradigm (Biblical Counseling, Integrationist, Christian Psychology, et.al.) Where do I stand? I value my training in theology and the time I spent studying counseling and psychology at the graduate level, even if I am divergent from so much of it. As a paradigm, I find so much of value within Biblical counseling--although, I very much appreciate Eric Johnson's Christian Psychology contributions, and am aided therein. Where I stand is less important however than the central aim of this post--we need the church to be a counseling body; we need pastors who counsel...truly counsel; we need Christian counselors to view the church as the true, Christ-give authority--counselors who are theologically trained--and we need true pursuit of Biblical truth.
For starters, pastors, why not get some extra training?:
www.ccef.org or http://www.biblicalcounseling.com/
Counselors, why not start with some confessional review (or first time exposure, either one)?:
Pastors, and counselors, why not further counseling training with a theologically robust foundation?:
And, the above is not an exhaustive list of options. Let us rejoice that the Lord heals His people, and that we have the opportunity to see that more and more within the body of Christ--