Pastoral care and counsel—that is what we are considering. It is the word counsel that leads to some confusion and differences of opinion. With that in mind, here are a few myths I have heard.
1. Counseling is for the professionals.
This myth suggests that counseling is a professional term and can only be done by professionals. Better to think of counseling as wise, helpful conversations. Professional counselors might bring experience, which we certainly value, but at their best, professionals are having wise, helpful conversations. They bring no particular magic.
When you remember the people who have helped you in your times of need, you probably think of friends, family, and others who love you. These have always been our go-to helpers because they bring wisdom with humility and love.
2. As a pastor, you don’t have time for counseling.
The thought of extra hours to a packed schedule might be enough to make you cry. The pastoral care needs in a fifty-person church are probably too much to bear. Even the pastoral care needs in your own family might seem overwhelming.
The reality is that you cannot care singlehandedly for every soul in your church. You need members who are equipped to help other members. Meanwhile, your goal is to be increasingly loving, skillful, compassionate, wise and prayerful in the conversations you already have. You can do a lot in five minutes of listening and three minutes of praying together.
3. You can’t counsel because you aren’t a good counselor.
Some people have more native gifts in knowing and helping others. But what might this myth actually mean? You don’t love people? You don’t listen but prefer to talk? People don’t want to talk with you? Probably not.
It means that sometimes you feel inadequate to help. Every people-helper believes that at some point, and this is a good thing. Inadequacy is right next to humility, and humility leads you to ask others for help and prayer, which are among the best things you could offer. Dazzling insight is rarely what helps others.
4. Good preaching eliminates, or at least curbs, the need for counseling.
This sounds right, in theory. Preaching that identifies the struggles of daily life and illustrates how to bring those struggles to Scripture is invaluable and necessary. But in practice, good preaching leads to more counseling.
Good preaching reveals our hearts, shows us our spiritual need, and enhances a church culture of openness. Hearers discover matters that have been covered up, and they don’t even know where to start, but they do know that a church with this kind of preaching is a place where they can speak with someone.
5. Christians don’t need counseling.
This is an old myth, and most pastors don’t really believe it. But many congregants still do. Or perhaps we could say that most of us approve of other people seeking help, but we don’t want to seek help ourselves because it would show weakness or it might even suggest that Jesus is not sufficient for us and, as a result, sully God’s honor.
Our need for help, however, is essential to our spiritual welfare. We come to Jesus as people in need, and we continue in Jesus as people in need. We also know that Jesus meets needy people through both his Word and other people.