I imagine you or someone you know has said or thought one of the following statements regarding the issue of counseling in the life of a pastor:
- When I signed up to be a pastor I didn’t sign up to be a counselor!
- I just do not have the time to counsel anyone—I’m busy enough as it is!
- Counseling is for the professionals.
- Seminary didn’t equip me to counsel.
- My job is to preach the Word, not to counsel.
- I’m not gifted in the area of counseling.
- I don’t counsel. I delegate that to someone else.
In recent years I have become intimately aware that my “job” as a pastor is not merely relegated to the preaching of the Word in corporate worship, but is also to be worked out in the lives of the people I serve. Further, I would submit to you that the Scriptures expect not only pastors, but also all Christians to counsel one another with the Word of God (Romans 15:14; 2 Timothy 3:15-16). This expectation is seen repeatedly in the Scriptures with thirty-eight “one another” statements that all Christians are commanded to live out.
WHAT IS COUNSELING?
Counseling could easily be defined as intensive discipleship. More specifically, counseling is the Spirit-empowered process of one Christian humbly and compassionately coming alongside another Christian to give words of encouragement, loving admonition and/or practical help toward the goal of becoming more like Jesus (Romans 8:29; Ephesians 3:14; Colossians 1:28).
BIBLICAL WARRANT FOR THE PASTOR-COUNSELOR
Here are several passages where we can glean some counseling practices that aptly describe the role and responsibility pastors have as counselors:
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
- Despite Paul’s not using the word “counsel” or “counselor,” I believe he is prescribing to leaders in the church (namely pastors/elders) a mandate to preach the gospel publicly as well as privately in people’s lives. The private ministry of the Word (i.e. counseling) is nothing more than the intensive discipleship of other Christians concerning their specific issues.
- As Paul highlights the perilous circumstances in Ephesus, he is conveying the seriousness of the responsibility that the Ephesian leaders have in knowing the Word, knowing the sheep (not in a superficial sense but in a personal manner able to address the issues of the heart), defending the truth from false teachers, as well as equipping the flock to know and defend the truth.
- Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders not only to pastor their own hearts, but also to exude that same intentionality among the flock that the Spirit of God had set them apart to care for. A shepherd spends time with the flock; a shepherd knows the flock and as the shepherd comes to know the flock he realizes there is much work to be done.
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”
- The work that is to be done by pastors is described as presenting all believers as mature or complete in Christ.
- This is hard work. In fact, Paul uses the words “toil” and “struggling.” Pastoral ministry is an arduous task and not for the faint of heart. Pastors all too well understand that pastoral ministry is a difficult work that is never-ending.
- Perhaps the most encouraging truth we see in these verses is that we work to see believers grow up in Jesus with God’s power and presence in our lives–we don’t do it alone!
In the next post I’ll walk through how biblical leaders can aim their counsel at the heart, while also detailing how God’s Word is the tool by which we shepherd the flock of God.