Counseling is a challenging ministry because there are so many variables. People are so different. They are in varying stages of life and have different levels of maturity. There are diverse issues that people are dealing with. There is the wife of 30 years who has just been abandoned by her husband for a younger woman; then there is the person who is suicidal, and the other is confused with homosexual thoughts. Marriage and family issues of all stripes and flavors abound. All this can make counseling a daunting ministry. The tensions, perplexity, and vast array of issues has left many pastors bewildered or afraid of counseling the flock. I recently saw a study that showed that a lack of confidence and help with counseling has been a major factor in pastoral burnout and eventual abandonment of the ministry.
I know the temptation and fear involved with counseling. “How can I help this person?!” I always need to remind myself of some basic truths. Despite the individual complexity, in reality it is a simple ministry. The goal is always the same: Christlikeness. God has told us in His final Word that the gospel is always the road to follow. We know some basic truths for all humans. Issues are related to the heart because we are worshiping beings. As someone has said, “Life is a moral drama played from the inside out.” The inner world (psyche), such as thoughts, plans, beliefs, choices, feelings and desires are expressed outwardly in word, thought, and deed (Mat. 15:18; Mark 7:20-21); therefore, we must guard our heart because it is the center of human activity (Pr. 4:23). All of us have wandering hearts. That is what sin does to people. It leads us away from our God. Knowing the basic problem and the solution before any counseling session definitely makes it simpler.
I must admit I still get intimidated. I must have a consistent and biblical anthropology (study of man) to not get lost in the counseling maze. The temptation is to forget solid principles and then wander in a wasteland of subjectivity. I must remind people and myself that they are who God says they are above anything else. So many have a psychologized view of human life that does not interpret or understand humanity through a biblical grid. God’s Word provides a solid rock upon which to stand and interpret and help.
I must always remember that counselees are just like me. The battle I am fighting is the same battle they are fighting. The wandering heart I have is their same problem. So, in this respect, counseling should be easy. If I know well the battle in my own heart and know how to fight sin there, then I will be ready to help others. The experience I most need is the daily battle against the world, the flesh and the Devil. An experienced counselor can help others fight the battle because he is practiced daily in the habit of dethroning idols and prayerfully making sure that God alone is on the throne.
Please continue to pray for us as we counsel and train counselors, so they can be competent and confident in helping people become more like Christ through the power of the gospel.
-Rev. Doug E. Leaman