Intro to Greek. Intro to Hebrew. Systematic Theology. Church History. New Testament. Old Testament. Advanced Greek. Advanced Hebrew. Live, Eat, and Breathe Greek. Live, Eat, and Breathe Hebrew . . .
You probably took all these classes and much, much more during your sleep-deprived, chaotic seminary days. Each came with their own list of a dozen books to read in about a week’s time, along with papers that you now read to your children on nights they’re having trouble falling asleep.
And now that you’ve graduated and entered the blessing of church ministry, you have probably found yourself in at least one situation in which, despite all those high-caliber classes you persevered though, you thought to yourself, Seminary didn’t prepare me for this!
Stay in the ministry long enough and you will have people in your office wanting to talk to you about marriage problems, rebellious teenagers, drugs and alcohol addiction, pornography, affairs, sexual abuse, physical abuse, incest, homosexual feelings . . . the list goes on and on.
And knowing all the ins and outs of the Greek word Paul used for “orgies” in Galatians 5:21 doesn’t seem to help.
Put simply, you will not be able to provide all the answers for every single issue that enters your office. You will not be able to take every single person’s hand, point them to scripture, pray with them, and will their problems away.
And that’s okay.
If three years (more probably) of seminary didn’t prepare you for all the issues that walk through your office door, one online article that can be read in a few minutes certainly won’t either. But to help you in your continuing education in all things under the title of “uncomfortable issues,” let me provide four quick points to help you find the most success in dealing with church members and others who need a great deal of counseling.
- Be a pro-grace church and pastor. Most likely everyone in your church knows the types of things you are against: divorce, homosexuality, drugs and alcohol, pornography, premarital sex . . . But do they know what you are for? Specifically do they know that you are a “pro-grace pastor”? Before you can even begin to attempt counseling people in any of the issues that many—yes, many—in your church are dealing with, they need to know that you love them with the grace of our amazing God and that they are free to unload on you, just another sinner saved by the grace of God.
- Be pro-active in building up a team of local professionals who can help. You may be extremely comfortable and well-educated to help a couple in your church having marriage struggles. But what about the pharmacist who is addicted to his own prescription drugs? Or the teenager struggling with his sexual identity? When you do need to end up referring people to seek more professional help, you need to already have someone specific for them to call. A local marriage therapist who believes in God’s plan for marriage. A family therapist who sees pornography as the evil gateway it is, not a harmless hobby. This will take time and perhaps a lot of trial and error on your part. But you would rather be the one who finds the errors in their ways, not your member who is dealing with physical abuse. Find the right team of professionals that you feel comfortable helping your congregation.
- Journey with them through the counseling. Your job is not done after you refer your deacon to the right therapist to help with his pornography addiction. If he is comfortable, attend sessions with him. If that doesn’t work, then find another way to show your continued prayer and support—a daily call or e-mail with an encouraging scripture, weekly or biweekly meetings to discuss how everything is going, attending monthly support groups with him. Just because you may not be the best help for someone, doesn’t mean you get out of helping them. The pastor and church needs to be willing to go through the valley with someone, no matter where that takes them.
- Continue educating yourself on the issues. Yes, it’s true you can’t be the go-to pastor for every issue. And maybe you found the perfect team of therapists to partner with you as you counsel your flock. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the clear. Keep reading up on the issues. Build up your library with books on all kinds of topics. Attend seminars and conferences. Sit in on college or seminary courses that actually deal with some of these topics that your school never offered. We can never learn enough or reach a point where we become content with our job description.
Kevin Harvey is the author of two books, his most recent being All You Want to Know about the Bible in Pop Culture. He also writes at BibleInPopCulture.com and can be found on Twitter under the handle @PopCultureKevin.