Two years ago in San Diego, God might have used us to help save a pastor’s marriage and ministry at our very first Pastor Date Night. A pastor’s wife anonymously asked this bold question: “Honestly, what would you do if your husband was counseling a woman regularly and she is now texting him at our home?”
Here is a summary of what Janet and I told those 50 ministry couples, and hundreds of couples since then.
Pastors are primarily equippers, not counselors.
Janet answered her first: “I’d be mad as heck and I’d fight him on it.”
Then she added, “And Mark is going to tell you why…” Thanks babe.
I told the pastors their job is to find for women the counseling help they need, not to be the counseling help they need. In my opinion, a male pastor should meet only once with a female member to assess the situation (with his spouse in the room or assistant outside his open door). After this first and only meeting, he should connect her with either a female church member for encouragement or with a Christian counselor.
No pastor wants to shortchange a church member, but are you really called to help every member with every problem (Ephesians 4:11)? Some pastors are licensed counselors, but most are simply Bible-thumping equippers like me.
Help both spouses or neither.
When either spouse wants to talk to you about the other, they are often looking for a referee, not a pastor. Meeting with only one spouse about a marriage problem will often close the door on helping the other spouse later. Talking to only half the team looks you have chosen sides. Helping only one person in a marriage is like treating only half of a diseased body.
My firm approach has often led to getting both of them to agree to meet with me, instead of just one. I don’t expect everyone to agree with this approach, but it has worked well for me over the years.
Practice counseling policies consistently.
I have made it clear from the pulpit that I don’t counsel women. Opportunities to make an exception have been numerous over the last 30 years, but I do not think this is a good issue to decide on a case-by-case basis. Janet and I both hold a Titus 2 position on same gender counseling and mentoring, which is both old fashioned and unpopular.
I answered the call to be a pastor, not a judge.
Too many ministries and marriages meltdown after a well-intentioned pastor tried to console a hurting female. There are inherent dangers to this mixed gender pastoral care that sometimes are not obvious.
Immediately after the Pastor Date Night mentioned above, the questioner identified herself to Janet and thanked her for resolving an ongoing argument she had been having with her pastor-husband. He had been counseling several female church members. That night God led him to cut-off all the female counseling.
That pastor and his wife were laughing and holding hands as they went to their car. I am praying that this post will have the same result for some of you.
What God has joined together, let no one separate. Mark 10:9 CSB