This is a refrain heard all too often from the lips of pastors who have accepted from the Christian establishment that counseling is a specialty requiring much specialized education to perform. Most of such pastors have been exposed to some counseling training which is, in the main, secular counseling or psychology with an added Christian emphasis. Indeed, that same attitude has been adopted by Bible colleges where counseling is many times relegated to master’s level study. Today many, if not most, major seminaries offer degrees in counseling which are found worthy of securing a state license which entitles the bearer to collect third party payments. This, despite the fact that ministers do not have to be licensed by the state; they are to be ordained by the church. A moment’s reflection will cause one to see that such counseling qualifies as a business practice rather than a spiritual ministry, though some ministry takes place while the person receives a humanistic designator for the malady which qualifies for insurance payments.
Let’s look at counseling from the standpoint of spiritual ministry. If a person seeks counseling who is not a Christian, a pastor or Christian counselor worthy of the name would endeavor to lead the person to the Lord Jesus Christ without proclaiming himself (or herself) to be an evangelist.
And, one would expect some of the more blatant behaviors to change when such a conversion takes place. However, when a believer approaches a pastor with major emotional disturbances combined with unacceptable behavior, there are pastors who would routinely refer such people to a local Christian counselor or psychologist. The former, the lost person, gets a spiritual answer; and the latter, the believer, gets a referral! Many pastors are programmed in this direction since they do not claim to be a counselor. It is my considered opinion that there is something wrong with this picture!
The counseling I endorse, and the method I pioneered and developed, would more logically be called discipleship or spiritual direction. It has also been labeled as sanctification teaching, the Keswick message, etc. Following such an approach, one is much more interested in the stage of spiritual growth that the seeker may have attained. The mental/emotional/behavioral aspects of the person’s life are important but they are considered to be symptoms–not the problem. This being the case it is much more appropriate and profitable to direct the individual in resolving the spiritual dilemma than to spend much time and effort and, frequently, money in addressing or doing therapy with the symptoms. To resort to the former analogy involving evangelism, the spiritual director could lead such a believer directly to the Cross much the same as leading a lost person to the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit makes the believer’s death and resurrection with Christ an experiential reality, some of the symptomatology will be greatly alleviated; and the Foundation (the only foundation) will be laid for the resolution of the remainder. Of course, this is assuming that symptoms are not organically induced. Once the problem, the flesh or self-life, has been addressed and the Cross has become a reality, it is timely and appropriate to deal with the issues that caused the person to seek spiritual ministry. The more time spent before directing a person to the Cross, the more likely it is that some form of therapy will have taken place.
Such therapy tends to strengthen the flesh or self-life rather than leading the person directly into resurrection life and addressing what remains as the symptoms of the old life.
When a believer is sufficiently desperate, one interview can be sufficient for the person to find radical victory; succeeding sessions can then be used to show the person how the Cross can deal with whatever remains from a life lived in the strength of self or the flesh. But, the pastor or lay person providing such spiritual direction would not be considered as a counselor or even a full time spiritual director; any believer who has been to the Cross in this sense should be able to lead another there to find victory over the ravages of the flesh, or simple defeat as the case may be.
When considered from the standpoint of spiritual ministry, it would seem foolhardy at best to be routinely referring such people to specialists in approaches developed by the world system with some scriptural principles appended. It is tragic that soul care has been ceded to the world, at least by default. True, neither evangelism nor discipleship may be the primary calling or emphasis of the pastor. However, most pastors would not refer a person seeking to be saved to an evangelist to lead him to Christ. It should be just as unthinkable for a pastor to refer a believer who is a candidate for the Cross to a Christian counselor or therapist; he should be able to lead such a person to the Cross and victory or have a group of men and women in the body who are available to perform such spiritual ministry.
With all of the above being said, I don’t believe a pastor has the time for such spiritual direction with many people. He must do enough of it and see the results that the Holy Spirit gives if he is to see the necessity of providing training for members of the body who will be routinely used in this capacity. Since we have seen believers with less than a high school education be mightily used of God in this manner, I am not talking of “pie in the sky” but state of the art methods which can be taught quickly and easily to believers who have experienced the Cross in their own lives.
The truth of our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection (Galatians 2:20 and Romans 6: 1-14) has been vitally involved in every major awakening that the world has ever known. However, it has all but dropped out of the teaching of the church today which has been the reason that the world system developments in counseling and psychology have taken root and flourished in our churches and educational institutions. That being the case, the church in the main is leaning on the arm of the flesh rather than opt for spiritual ministry–professional counseling or psychology as opposed to spiritual direction. It was good enough for the first century church, and I have found that it is more than adequate for the 21st century church!