One of the most frequent and often unnerving tasks for the pastor is counseling. Anxiety levels often rocket when pulled to the side and someone whispers, “I need to talk to you”. Pastors want to help and welcome the opportunity to be available but instantly the unnerving questions of “what will they say and how will I respond?” runs through the mind like a pinball machine.
There are five principles to consider when engaging in pastoral counseling.
Keep your counseling public. That does not mean always in an open-air place where anyone can walk up and interrupt the conversation or not keeping confidentiality in counseling sessions. Keeping your counseling public means that counseling is conducted in a room with a window in the door. The public side of counseling ensures that appointments are not kept off your calendar and that your wife knows about the appointment. Not the details of the session but that there was an appointment. This is especially crucial for the health of a pastor’s marriage and church when counseling women.
Know your limits. Many pastors have some level of formal training in biblical counseling but most pastors are not trained to be counselors. A great pastor knows his limits and when to seek further help.
A good general policy to establish and explain at the first meeting is when a counseling situation requires more than three deep level conversations then outside help will be sought together. Outside help could be a marriage conference, someone in the church who has dealt in a healthy way with a similar situation and even someone who is solely trained in biblical counseling. This is the loving pastoral step to take.
Gather as much training as possible, read as many books as available and but know your limits.
Listen. Pastors are really good a talking, not so good at listening. In a counseling session it is important to learn to listen and based on what is heard practice asking open-ended questions. Often in counseling sessions the counselee just needs to hear their thoughts out loud in a safe environment and will frequently come to conclusions on their own after articulating the issue.
Learn to ask open-ended questions to help explore why they needed to come talk to you.
Point to the scripture. In the counseling session listen and think narratively. While hearing their story ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind what story, what person, what situation, or even what principles in the Bible does this person’s situation most connect with?
When that has been brought to mind by the Comforter share the story or the passage with them. Once you’ve shared the story or that passage ask two questions. 1) Does that story relate to your situation? 2) Tell me why it does, or tell my why it does not.
A great service is done for the kingdom in biblical counseling when the Bible is lifted up as the authority for our lives.
Pray. Even if the conversation feels that it resolved nothing, pray. Pray for them, commit to pray for them. It is greater to speak to the Father about men then to speak to men about the Father.
Pastoral counseling can easily become complex. The kingdom is greatly served when we keep boundaries, know our limits, and drive people to the Word and prayer.