There’s far too much counseling going on in the church today.
I don’t mean there is not a place for church pastors and elders to provide counsel when appropriate for those church members who need it. That is certainly an important part of pastoral ministry and wise pastors and elders who provide this important aspect of pastoral ministry will guarantee their flocks will be healthy.
Still, it is interesting to note that the New Testament nowhere refers to this as counseling. For example, in Romans 15:14, the KJV uses the word admonish to describe it and sees it as a function all the members of the body must be prepared to render to each other. Admonish is translated from the Greek word noutheteo which is also translated by the English word warn in Acts 20:31. There, Paul is exhorting elders to follow his example of warning the saints about the entrance of false doctrine into the Church. He sees it as an important aspect of the ministry of elders to provide such pastoral warnings.
This differs greatly from the normal approach to counseling we see operative in the Church today, which borrows heavily from the secular world. It is biblical counseling where the Word of God lovingly and firmly confronts people. The term confronted should not be taken negatively. In an online article entitled Biblical Counseling: Nouthetic Counseling the author says the following about confrontation:
“There is an authoritative element in the term confrontation that rightly conveys the idea that biblical counseling has something of importance to say. Because he counsels on the basis of the Scriptures, the counselor’s stance is not that of a mere consultant, but rather that of a servant of God acting as a prophet, speaking forth the Word of God that applies to the need at hand. The idea is that the counselor uses the Bible to instruct and guide the counselee. The counselor is not to beat the counselee over the head with the Bible, but show the counselee the guidelines set by God for dealing with life’s problems.”
One of my spiritual fathers, a fulltime elder in a church I served at in Michigan who did much pastoral counseling, refused to refer to it as counseling. He often reminded us younger pastors that we don’t counsel but teach and exhort. Either we are dealing with someone who doesn’t know the Scripture and therefore needs to be taught, or else we are dealing with someone who knows it and isn’t doing it, in which case they need to be strongly exhorted to begin obeying the Word. This is a far cry from the endless counseling sessions many pastors and elders conduct where answers are sought to people’s problems with little or no reference to the Word of God.
Why does much pastoral counseling in the Church today follow the pattern of secular counseling? For one, there has been the wholesale substitution of secular psychology for the ministry of the Word of God. Richard Ganz explains it quite clearly:
“Many Christian psychologists believe that the therapies based on a secular mind-set are not only valuable, but indispensable. In truth, what has taken place is not integration but substitution, the substitution of secular psychology for the Word of God” (The Dangers of Integrating Secular Psychology and Christianity, Daniel Tomczyk).
As the authority of Scripture has waned in the Church, it is not surprising that psychology and other secular approaches to people’s problems became integrated with the Gospel under the guise that “all truth is God’s truth.” Much of this counseling is based on the fact that people are ‘victims’ who are not responsible for their condition rather than sinners who must repent and receive grace in order to live properly. Biblical counseling differs from secular counseling in that our entire goal in counseling is to help the person grow in his or her sanctified living. It is not to solve people’s problems per se, but to help them to become obedient, fruit-bearing disciples.
Paul spells this out clearly in the Colossian letter when he identifies the goal of his ministry this way:
“Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28).
His ministry is rooted in the presentation of a Person through both warning (noutheteo) and teaching (didasko) with a goal to help everyone who receives the Gospel to attain maturity in Christ. We need to ask ourselves: Is our ministry rooted in the presentation of a Person, calling on every man and woman who hears us to submit completely to that One who died and rose on our behalf?
One of the most majestic titles of Jesus in the Hebrew Bible (rarely referred to except at Christmas), is found in Isaiah 9:6 where Isaiah refers to Him as the ‘Wonderful Counselor.’ By this title, Isaiah recognizes that Messiah will have a special ability to give counsel to those who are troubled and afflicted. The adjective wonderful implies that he does this in a way that is surprising and wonderful.
I remember a conversation I had with my spiritual father whom I alluded to earlier. He had pushed hard for the church he served to replace the topical studies they had with in-depth studies of the four Gospels. The church agreed and many home Gospel studies began to be held in their place. Afterwards, I moved away from there. On a trip back to Michigan I was visiting him in his office when he made the astounding statement that he believed the counseling load had dropped forty or fifty percent. When I inquired what he attributed that to, he said without hesitation, it was the fact that so many were now studying the words of Christ. His exact words were “When people are listening to the Wonderful Counselor they don’t need much human counseling.”
Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones made a similar observation in his book Preachers and Preaching. He said that he found the more expositional teaching of Scripture he did, the less need there was for pastoral counseling. The reason is clear: As people hear Scripture taught, they are instructed by it and thus have little need for human counseling. Rightfully understanding the Word of God and obeying it provides people with everything they need to live the Christian life.