To a very large degree, pastors have to take the blame for their members’ fear of coming to them for counsel. Here are a few reasons given by counselees as to why they would prefer to go to a “professional” counselor rather than to their pastor.
My pastor is not really trained to counsel. By this the Christian is saying, “My pastor has not equipped himself to help me with my problems.” Indeed, many pastors will tell their members when they come for counseling, “I am not really a counselor, let me give you the name and address of this counselor, this person will help you.” At this point, the pastor sends his sheep to someone else to care for. However, there is one thing that he does not send: his paycheck. The
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Why Christians Don't Go to Their Pastors for Counseling
sheep can go, but the check stays.
Pastors ought to tend their own flock and not send them off for someone else to shepherd. When a person joins a church, there is an implied covenant between that person and the church. The church says, “You have an obligation to support this church with your attendance, service, and tithe. In return, the church will provide you the care and discipline a child of God can expect from the church of Jesus Christ.” And then, one day, the member says, “I have been supporting this church for some time now, fulfilling my part of the covenant, and now I need some special care (and possibly discipline) from the church. Now it’s time for you to do your part. Help me with my problem.” To which the member hears, “Go somewhere else for help. We don’t do that here.” Pastor, this is a terrible response, worse; it is a sinful one! You have broken the covenant. You stand before God and your members, as a Covenant breaker, a most serious offense in Scripture. Instead, let me suggest that you get prepared to do this essential work of the ministry. How? Get involved in a training program for Biblical counselors.
The pastor is too busy to be bothered with my problems. So, how did the sheep come up with that idea? Simple, this is the message they are receiving from their pastor. “I am too busy for you.” What a terrible message! Stop sending signals to your people that say, “Don’t bother me with your problems, I’m busy.” Very often, these signals are sent as a defense mechanism. It is not that the pastor is too busy; it is that he simply doesn’t know what to do and these signals keep people from coming for help, help that the pastor instinctively knows that he is not capable of providing.
The pastor will tell others about my problems. All too often this is a very real concern. Pastor, if you do not keep the confidences of the people of your church, they will not trust you, and rightly so. First, do not use problems that you have dealt with in your church congregation as illustrations in your sermons. Not only will the counselees be able to identify themselves in your stories, others in the church will as well; and, on top of that, your counselees know that others can identify them in the story. You simply cannot do that if you hope to minister to your people in counseling. Second, do not tell others in the church about the problems you address in counseling. If these “others” are not a part of the problem, or a part of the solution, it is none of their business. In other words, don’t gossip, and don’t slander your people. In one church I am familiar with, there is a standing joke that if you want to catch up on church gossip, go to the pastor for counseling. While in “counseling” the pastor will “share” with you all the problems of everyone else in the church. What a horrible reputation!
The pastor will never forget my sins (I’ll never be able to live it down). Again, all too often this is indeed the case. There is a considerable self-righteousness in this attitude. It does not seem reasonable that those men in the ministry, who have been forgiven so much, should have such a hard time forgiving others. Often, however, that is what happens. Although God puts our sins behind His back, and as far away as the East is from the West, very often Christians find that these sins never leave their own minds. The counselees, knowing that they will always be second class church members if the pastor becomes aware of their sin, will make it a point to never let the pastor know of the deep down embarrassing struggles that they wrestle with. This is poor pastoring. The pastor is the first person a member should look to if they are gripped by sin. They should instinctively understand that he would care and truly love them. They need to know that their pastor will help with their problems, and not hold it against them after the problem has been resolved. How do you ensure that the members of the congregation will have that attitude toward your ministry? One, tell them from the pulpit; two, demonstrate it one person at a time.
I may be put out of the church. Although some people do fear this, in reality, this is not a serious probability. That is because church discipline is unheard of, and apparently not believed in, by most churches. Church discipline is a God ordained function of the administration of the church and is ignored to the detriment of the holiness of the church. This is a sin!
One of the first things that you as a pastor, and your church, should do is make a major change in this area and begin to institute church discipline, as needed.
As a practical note, most churches with congregational polity (government) find church discipline impossible. The very act of church discipline would publicly align one half of the church on one side of the issue, and the other half on the other side, quickly precipitating a church split. This is far less of a problem with presbyterian polity. Is there a solution? I think there is. A church with congregational polity should encourage the congregation to pass a resolution divesting itself of all matters of church discipline, putting them solely into the hands of the “board.” This will allow these issues to be handled privately by the leaders of the church. If the board reluctantly finds it necessary to put a recalcitrant member out of the church, then, after the fact, the board simply notifies the congregation that a certain member was put out for “not hearing the church” as stated by Matthew 18. They need know nothing else about the matter.
But, second, the church family must understand that all problems properly resolved in counseling never become a matter of church discipline. The purpose of counseling is restoration, not condemnation.
My church does therapy; I need Biblical counsel. Recently, a young lady asked the resident counselor of a church how she deals with the lost person that requests counseling. The church counselor responded with genuine confusion at the question. Eventually, she stated something to the effect that she does therapy; she doesn’t cram the Bible down their throat. It matters not at all to her if the counselee is saved or lost. Her counsel is the same either way. In working with marriages or other problems of living she uses the methods and solutions learned in her study of psychology and counseling. This is what she was hired by the church to do.
Pastor, if your people come to you and your church seeking the meat of God’s word, and you respond by feeding them the husks of the teachings of God-hating infidels, then may God have mercy on your soul!
Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard, They have trampled down My field; they have made My pleasant field A desolate wilderness. (Jeremiah 12:10, NASB95)
My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: “As I live,” declares the Lord God, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.” ’ (Ezekiel 34:6-10, NASB95)
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