A representative of a state ministry agency, which provides counseling services, explained to a group of local pastors how his agency could partner with the local association of churches to provide counseling, once a week, by a counselor from another city. As he described the various types of counseling cases he frequently encountered, one pastor was led to exclaim, “Wow! Who counsels you after hearing about all these people’s troubles?” The counselor responded, matter-of-factly, “I go to my pastor.”
This episode reveals common misconceptions about biblical counseling and about a pastor’s role in it.The good thing about it was that someone realized that church members need counseling. The bad thing was that pastors were too eager to hand off the responsibility for counseling their own sheep to an outsider.
There are many reasons why any given pastor might decide to refer the counseling needs of his congregation to others: a lack of time; a perceived lack of ability and training; or even a preference to spend time and energy doing the more “glamorous” tasks of ministry, such as preaching and evangelism.
Let’s face it: biblical counseling does deal with people’s troubles, which are frequently ugly and reveal sinful hearts, and counseling can take an extraordinary amount of time and energy.
There will be times that the pastor must delegate counseling to others in his church, and there will be times that the pastor needs to enlist the help and support of more experienced, more specialized counselors. But the bible is clear that the counseling task is the responsibility of the pastor (and elders) in the context of the local church. The counseling task is part of the discipling ministry of the local congregation. Stated negatively, various problems arise for the pastor when the counseling ministry of the local church is delegated to outsiders:
1. He proclaims the power of the gospel to save on Sunday, but denies its power to sanctify on Monday. In other words, the image that the congregation — and the world — gets is that the pastor is confident that the Scriptures are sufficient to make men saved, but is not quite so confident that the Scriptures are sufficient to make men holy.
2. He abdicates one element of shepherding the sheep and gives it to an outsider. Regardless how confident the pastor is in the outside counselor’s abilities, biblical foundation, and biblical method, it remains the fact that the pastor has no authority over the outside counselor who is not a member of his congregation. This can have serious implications for shepherding.
3. He avoids knowing the sheep as he should. If the only communication between the pastor and the sheep is the preaching on Sunday, and other formal teaching times, then the pastor naturally will not know the particular issues his sheep face, and won’t be aware of where spiritual warfare is taking place. The role of the shepherd is not only to provide grass to the sheep, but to tend wounds and mend broken bones.
There are, of course, ways for pastors to keep biblical counseling within the church as much as possible, and many benefits accrue to a church’s attempt to be faithful in this area. Look for that discussion in an upcoming post.