The Pastor or a Counselor?

The part of my job I love the most is teaching/preaching. This includes the lesson preparation process with the study that goes along with it. I love the discovery and organization of truth into a life-changing presentation that clearly communicates the very word of God.

A close second to what I enjoy about being a Pastor is what you might call “mentoring” or perhaps “counseling.” I love it when people come by to talk about the Bible. I know many pastors who have degrees in counseling. So I ask this question, “is the Pastor meant to be a ‘counselor?'” My answer to this is “sorta…”

The point of a counselor is to listen to you and help you make decisions to make your life better. They help you to feel better about yourself and to improve your individual situation. They meet with you on a regular basis and they keep what you talk about in the strictest confidence.

The role of a “pastor-as-counselor” (I think) is different.

The “Pastor” is a shepherd (ποιμήν) of a flock, so while he does care about individuals, he has to keep the whole congregation in mind. He will help individuals, but never at the expense of the whole. He will go after the lost sheep, but he always returns to the 99, and it’s a lost SHEEP he goes after, not a wolf or a goat.

If you confide in your Pastor, and in the process share something that might harm others in the church if kept secret, the Pastor (in my opinion) has an obligation to share this information. This is why Pastors have got to have a proven track-record of the highest trustworthiness.

For example, someone might have an addiction to pornography, or be addicted to sex, or have an unhealthy picture of marriage/relationships that they’ve not yet brought under the lordship of Christ. The pastor has an obligation to tell women to avoid him (if that man is still seeking to date women in the church against the pastor’s advice).

I definitely believe the Pastor should be trustworthy, and able to keep a confidence, but it’s the Pastor who decides what level to share with others. He has to balance the individual with the protection of the congregation. He’s not an individual counselor, he’s not a theological tutor, he’s a Pastor.

He can give you advice, but if you’re not a member of his church (and never intend to be), then you’re kinda wasting his time and you’re probably just looking for some free “Christian counseling” at the expense of the church who pay’s the Pastor’s salary.

The answer to your problems is probably not to “tweak” little things, but it’s to put Jesus Christ at the center of your life.

I guess I’ll just speak for me, but I’m not all that good at helping individuals, who do not have Jesus Christ and His Word as central to their lives, make their lives better.

I can’t tell you how to make your marriage better, raise your kids better, make your job better, or in general make yourself more happy… what I can do is encourage you to live a gospel-centered life. I’m sure there are little tricks or practices that you can put into place to help these things, but I’m not really all that interested in learning them or helping someone do them if they are not going to first make Jesus the most important person in their lives.

This kind of inquiry usually presents itself in the form of “pastor, I’m in a bad situation and I need advice to fix it…” This is almost always the result of a decision, or a string of decisions that have created a lifestyle in at least one area of life, that reveals Jesus is not at the center of your life.

There may be some quick answers of “do this…” or “do that…” that may alleviate the immediate tension, but outside of a paradigm shift towards gospel-centered life, I don’t really know how to fix these kinds of situations, and I don’t really see it as a ministry I’m called to. I’m not in the ministry to make people’s lives a little bit better, I’m called to make disciples of Jesus. People who seek to put Jesus at the center of their lives as best they can, and to spend the rest of their lives getting better at it. That’s the (or at least my) “answer.”

So, if someone is not yet a Christian, but they are seeking the truth, I enjoy greatly talking with them about life and the Bible.

If someone is a Believer and they are trying to put Jesus first, I love to sit down (sometimes for hours) to help them make Christ-centered decisions to bring their lives more in-line with God’s Word.

BUT if someone, who is not all that connected to God, wants the answers to “fix” their immediate pain so they can go on their way continuing to ignore God’s Word and God’s church… I think I’d rather put an ice-pick in my head.

Here’s the tricky part. I believe that having Jesus at the center of your life will give you the best life possible, but your motivation matters. You can’t say “okay, I’ll put Jesus on the throne of my life, as long as he fixes my problems.” In fact, making Jesus central to your decisions will likely create many problems, but you will have the best (though not the easiest, and not the most pain-free) life possible. You need to put Jesus first because you want Jesus, not just because you want what you think Jesus will give you.

The truth is this, whether the Pastor tells you this or not, we cannot really help you if you are not committed to trying to put Jesus first. In fact, if you have not put Jesus first in your life and in your family, it might actually hurt you for us to pretend to give you advice to “help” you in that way.

Put Jesus first, seek His kingdom and His righteousness first… once you do that, we can help you with the rest. God’s Word is not simply a guidebook of dos and don’ts, it’s the story of God and His people. The Bible cannot help you make your life more pleasant, but it can show you how to be counted among His people.

Make Jesus your Lord, keep Christ in the center of your life, live the Gospel. Everything else is details (and we can help you with the details).

About John Harris

I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.
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