Nurturing/ Teaching Courses
Counseling in the Church: A Pastoral Perspective
by Dr Alex Tang
We are living in a time of tremendous changes at a tremendous pace. A noted educational broadcasting specialist, Dr. Robert Hillard noted in the early 1970s that ‘ At the rate knowledge is growing, by the time the child born today graduates from college, the amount of knowledge in the world will be four times as great. By the time the same child is fifty years old, it will be thirty two times as great, and ninety seven percent of everything known in the world will have been learned since he was born.’
A good example is to consider the world that our parents are born in and the world we live in today. In a few decades, we have moved from bullock carts to 5 gear automatic gearshift V6 engine-automobiles, from radio to high definition television receiving transmissions via satellite and from living in an attap roofed wooden building to a high rise condominium. The adjustment required to adapt to the new world is so intense and frightening that it is a wonder that anyone can remain sane and well adjusted. The fact that most people do is a tribute to the inherent resilient that a loving God has designed us for. Unfortunately there are many who could not face the challenges of the new and ever changing world.
Henri Nouwen in The Wounded Healer describe the condition people in our generation are in;
1. The impersonal milieu – in our present society we are depersonalized. Often people complain of being ‘lost in a crowd’, being ‘just a number’ or being a cog in the vast machinery of life. This causes a feeling of lostness, disconnectedness and insecurity.
2. The fear of death – we often fear a impersonal death, in which we are not in control but we are swept along by the chain of events. It is this sense of helplessness that make us cling to material things, to the cult of eternal youth and health.
3. The fear of life – along with the fear of death is also a fear of life. Loneliness is the worst of human sufferings. Life is meaningless and endless drudgery if there is no people to relate to and to live for. Relationships with people are often too transient to depend on.
In an impersonal milieu with a fear of death and life, we often walk a tightrope between coping and loss of control. Most of the time we are able to cope but when we are under stress, we loses control. These stress may be entrance or exit events like death, divorces, relocation or loss of job. When we loses control, when our coping mechanism fails, we experience anxiety, depression, phobia, burnout and even suicidal thoughts.
II. Pastoral Care.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “ Feed my Sheep” thus starting the mandate of Pastoral Care.
Henri Nouwen writing in Creative Ministry, identified 5 component of Pastoral Care
To elaborate on Individual Pastoral Care, Henri Nouwen went on to write:
“ the education of pastors so that they might hear questions and
become aware of the fact that they are needed more than they realize – that
thousands of people are constantly asking Alfie’s old question: What is it all
about anyhow ? Why should we eat and drink, work and play, raise money and
children, and fight constantly a never-ending sequence of frustrations? Or to say
with the Yogavasistha: “What happiness can there be in the world where everyone
is born to die?”
Central to the component of Individual Pastoral Care is the care of the individual: in his/her inner life and spiritual growth, in his/her interaction with the world and in his/her coping with the stresses of life.
The pastor can be involved with his parishioners by prayer, by preaching and teaching, by fellowship through the community of the saints, by visitations and by counselling. Hence counselling is one of the many methods available to the pastor in carrying out Individual Pastoral Care.
Roger Hurding defined “Counselling is that activity which aims to help others towards constructive change in any or every aspects of life through a caring relationship, which has agreed boundaries and lays due emphasis on psychological mechanisms”.
He further clarified his definition :
1. In any or every aspects of life – this does not mean the panoramic survey of all aspects of human life but rather in dealing with any part, the whole will be kept in mind. The part may be a specific problem that is affecting the coping mechanisms of the parishioner or client.
2. Agreed Boundaries – such practicalities such as number and duration of sessions, as well as the overall aim of proposed counselling.
3. Psychological Mechanisms – this deals with inner conflicts, mixed motives, insecurities and resistance to change that govern most of our lives. It also includes self understanding as well as understanding that of the client.
When a pastor practices counselling, he is utilizing the insight and techniques of the various schools of counselling. An important difference from ‘secular’ counselling is the element of the supernatural. A pastor can call upon the resources of a supernatural God that is interested in the daily working of our life. He can also utilize the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as the gift of knowledge, gift of discernment and gift of wisdom in his counselling practice.
III. Secular and Christian Counselling
The ongoing debate on whether the pastor should use the ‘secular’ knowledge and techniques of the many schools of counselling and whether there is such a discipline as ‘Christian counselling’ continues.
Larry Crabb classified the various approaches Christians adopt toward psychology into 4 groups:
1. Separate But Equal
The advocate of this position is that the Scriptures deals with spiritual and theological problems involving Christian belief and practice. In areas of medical, dental and psychological disorders, it falls outside the preview of the Scriptures and should be dealt with by the respective professionals.
2. Tossed Salad
This approach advocate the mixing of several ingredients. The counsellor who is a Christian will want to add to his therapeutic arsenal a working knowledge of relevant biblical concepts and supporting verses. It adds scriptural concepts to psychological thinking.
3. Nothing Buttery
This approach disregards psychology altogether. Their basic tenet is Nothing But Grace, Nothing But Christ, Nothing But Faith, Nothing But the Word.
4. Spoiling the Egyptian
This approach involve screening secular psychological concepts to determine their compatibility with Christian presupposition, discharging those which is not compatible while adopting those that are.
Most of Christian counselling schools of thought adopt a ‘Spoiling the Egyptian’ approach. They believe that ‘all truth is God’s truth’ and hence could see no reason why ‘secular’ knowledge should not be used in Kingdom work.
The roots of the 4 major traditions of psychotherapy – humanistic-existential, dynamic, cognitive-behavioral and family systems – are deeply embedded in certain worldviews which are not Christians especially about the nature of the person and the concept of God. Often these major traditions have well established and scientifically researched pool of knowledge.
Table 1 shows some of the Christian approaches to counselling. Many of them uses the “Spoiling the Egyptian” concept.
Table 1 : Examples of Christian Counselling
This list is by no means comprehensive and complete. It does illustrate the many forms of Christian approaches and each Christian counsellor seek to apply his understanding of the Scripture and secular counselling principles to his ministry.
Those practicing the art of counselling can be broadly divided into three groups :
1. The ‘secular’ counsellors and psychotherapist in their professional offices.
2. Counsellors who are Christian and practice ‘Christian’ Counselling outside the church, in Counselling Centre and offices outside the church. The group are like the parachurch organisations.
3. Pastors and lay leaders who are practising counselling in the local church.( pastoral counselling )
IV. Counselling in the Church ( Pastoral Counselling)
Although counselling in a pastoral setting has a lot of similarity with counselling is other settings ( Counselling Centre, Counsellor’s Office ), there are also differences. The person who does the pastoral counselling is usually the pastor though lay leaders and trained lay counsellors can also do the job.
1. The Context of Pastoral Counselling
Pastoral Counselling as seen as a component of Individual Pastoral Care as discussed earlier. This in turn is part of the Pastoral Ministry.
2. Definition of Pastoral Counselling
David Benner described Pastoral Counselling as “Pastoral Counselling involves the establishment of a time-limited relationship that is structured to provide comfort for troubled persons by enhancing their awareness of God’s grace and faithful presence and thereby increasing their ability to live their lives more fully in the light of these realisations.” Contrast this definition with that given by Roger Hurding, a Christian Psychiatrist given earlier. The emphasis in pastoral counselling is on God and spiritual growth.
3. Role of Pastoral Counsellor
People approach a pastoral counsellor with different expectations than those in other setting. The pastoral counsellor represent religious authority figures which implies religious values and belief and are expected to bring Christian meanings to bear on their problems. They often expect a directive type of counselling. More so in an Asian context where there are great respect for authority figures.
4. Goals of Pastoral Counsellor
The goal of pastoral counselling is growth in Christlikeness. This implied not only helping the counsellee in the various spiritual disciplines but also in working out their spirituality in their everyday ordinary life. It includes their emotional life, their coping mechanisms and their self image. Anthony Yeo listed 5 goals of helping:
1. To provide a supportive, accepting and empathic relationship so as to help the person feel comfortable in seeking help and not feel that it is wrong to have a problem.
2. To help reduce the level of anxiety a person has when confronted with a stressful situation.
3. To help the person accept responsibility for his problem and to deal with it.
4. To enable the person to explore possible approaches in dealing with his problem and to equip him to cope with any future problems he may encounter.
5. To help build a sense of worth, significance and security so that the person may be able to adjust and adapt himself effectively to his day-to-day living.
The goals of helping is noticeably different from that of long term counselling or psychotherapy where there is intended personality changes.
5. The Resources of Pastoral Counselling
Compared to other forms of counselling, pastoral counselling is unique in that it has the use of religious resources : prayer, Scripture, the sacraments, anointing with oil, the laying of hands, the exercise of spiritual gifts and devotional/religious literature.
6. The Limitations of Pastoral Counselling.
There are limitations to pastoral counselling and this must be recognised and addressed. Mental and behavioural disorders should be referred to the psychiatrist. More difficult and prolonged emotional difficulties may need the help of a professional counsellor or psychologist.
Most pastors and lay counsellors are very busy people. Counselling can take up a large proportion of time. Hence counselling sessions must be structured in terms of time ( usually 60 minutes) and sessions ( usually 5 ). Counselling sessions may also be scheduled at certain time of the week.
Pastoral Counsellors are not trained psychologists or psychiatrists and should recognise their limitation. Knowing when to refer is as important as knowing how to counsel.
Conflicts arise when the Pastoral Counsellor wears different hats –and that creates a problem when he/she relates to the counsellee in other settings ( church, place of business or leisure ).
Counselling in a church is very different from counselling in other centres because of the framework in which it is being done. The presence of a supernatural God is always present in counselling in a church and the goals of counselling is always related to a relationship with this God.
V. The Counselling Process
The counselling process is the technique in which to obtain information, identify the problem and to formula a plan of action. In this way, it is closely related to the medical model of treatment which involve:
1. History Taking
2. Physical Examination
3. Provisional Diagnosis
5. Final Diagnosis
6. Treatment Plan
For the counselling process in the church, I would like to use the acronym CILI PADI. Cili padi is a small very spicy pepper available in Asia and is a favourite of local cuisine.
C ore counselling skills
I nformation gathering
I nformation assimilation
P roblem definition
A ttempted solution
D esired changes
I ntervention plan
1. Core counselling skills
Most of the books on counselling will emphasis how important the personality of the counsellor is to the counselling process. However one should not neglect to mention core counselling skills because no matter how ‘good a counselling personality’ one has, it will not be effective without some counselling skills. The core counselling skills are:
1.1 Verbal skills
It is important that a counsellor know how to ask questions in order to get as much information as possible . It is possible to be trained in the interview techniques as doctors are trained in theirs. One example is PRISCO
R eflecting feelings
O pen and closed questions
1.2 Non verbal skills
This involves body language which will influence the client to be more relaxed and to facilitate the counselling process. It is intended to communicate care , trust and concern. One example of non verbal skills that can be exercised are SOLER
S facing the person Squarely
O adopting an Open posture
L Leaning forward
E maintaining Eye contact
R being Relaxed
1.3 Spiritual gifts
The supernatural dimension in counselling in the church gives additional tools to the counsellor. In churches who theologically accept and practice the Manifestation of the Holy Spirit like the Pentecostal, Charismatic and the Third Wave churches, the spiritual gift of knowledge, spiritual gift of wisdom and the spiritual gift of discernment give added insight into a counselling sessions especially in information gathering. It must be cautioned that not everyone has these gifts or can exercise them correctly.
2. Information gathering
With the core counselling skills in use, the aim is to elicit as much information as possible from the counsellee. The idea is to build up as complete a picture as possible of the counsellee: the major influences in his past and his presence, his interaction with other people and major life events that he has experience. Making a genogram is often helpful.
Listening is the most important aspect of counselling. Counselling is also called the ‘listening art’. Michael Jacobs has issued 7 guidelines for Listening;
1. Listen with undivided attention, without interrupting.
2. Remember what has been said, including the details ( the more you listen and the less you say, the better your memory ).
3. Listen to the ‘bass line’ – what is not openly said, but possibly being felt.
4. Watch for non-verbal clues to help you understand feelings.
5. Listen to yourself, how you might feel in a described situation, as a way of understanding – empathy.
6. Try to tolerate pauses and silences that are a little longer than usual in conversations ( and avoid asking lots of questions to break silences ).
7. Help yourself and the other to feel comfortable and relaxed with each other; keep calm even when you don’t feel calm.
4. Information assimilation
Information gathered from the various sources must be collaborated. What the counsellee said must be reviewed in the light of subsequent statements and their body language to ascertain whether the information received is correct and relevant. Accurate information is vital for subsequent problem solving.
5. Problem definition
Once the information collected is assimilated or analysed, the counsellor must be able define the problem. Problem definition should be at two levels:
1. The immediate problem ( felt needs ) - what is bothering you now
2. The underlying problem ( real needs ).
Once the counsellor has identified the felt needs and real needs, he/she can go
onto further aspect of problem solving.
6. Attempted solutions
What the counsellee has done to solve his/her problem can give vital information on how must the problem is bothering them. Desperate problems called for desperate measures. If the counsellee is not to bother to find a solution, the information is important too.
7. Desired changes
The goal of counselling is often achieved if the counsellee in involved in the counselling process. Hence it is important that the counsellee wants to make the desired change. It is the counsellor’s role to match the desired change with the felt and real needs of the counsellee.
8. Intervention plan
Once all the information are available, the counsellor should formula an intervention plan. This plan should be:
1. Goal Specific
At the beginning of the intervention plan, the counsellor and the counsellee should come to an understanding of what the goal of the counselling sessions should be. The goal must be specific and be written down. It must be measurable.
2. Time limited
It must also be specify the number of sessions needed to achieve this goal. Normally most goal can be achieved in 5 sessions. The counsellee must be aware of this. Otherwise a lot of time can be wasted in small talk.
3. Changes must be documented and checked
Steps taken to achieve the goal must be documented. Each positive step in the process can be used as an encouragement. Each assignment must be checked. An old Navigators maxim states that ‘people do what you check, not what you ask’.
Counselling in a church setting has an advantage that directive counselling using Scriptures can be done. In fact, most counsellee expect it. It again must be cautioned that sensitivity and discernment must be employed in using this approach.
5. Utilising available resources and people.
Also in a church setting, other resources and people can be called upon to help in the counselling process. Community life using the principles of Family Therapy can be a very powerful tool.
6. Prayer and Gift of Healing
Prayers, anointing of oil and the laying of hands are also resources that is available to the church counsellor. Those with the gift of healing may exercise the gift when the opportunity arise. Much has been written about ‘inner healing’ and spiritual warfare.
The counsellor must be ready to refer the counsellee to other professionals should the need arise. He/she must have a good network of other counsellors, health professional, psychologist and social works that he can refer to. The counsellor must be willing to admit there are the limitations to his/her practice.
Pastoral Care or Soul Care has a very long tradition in Christian history .It starts from the time of the Acts Chapter 2 church and continues into today. Throughout the ages it has evolved into many shapes and forms but the central goal remains the same – that of shepherding the Lord’s flock. Pastoral Care involves caring for the individual and community; meeting their spiritual, emotional and physical needs. As time goes on, the individual components of Pastoral care become well defined and more organised. It became apparent with the Protestant Reformation that Pastoral Care is not the sole responsibility of the priest or pastor but can be shared amongst the laity. More and more people became involved in Pastoral Care.
With the Age of Reason, the Church lost it stranglehold on the thinking of people. Intellectuals like Voltaire began to explore outside the boundaries of the church teaching. Humanism and materialism were born. With these this new worldview came new ways of doing things, new approaches to human emotional and mental health. Sigmund Freud opened the way to exploration of the mind and new therapies to heal its ailments. He was responsible for the professionalisation of counselling. Psychotherapies and various new approaches to psychology were discovered.
In the 1920s, the Church suddenly awakened to the fact that there is a whole new challenger to its role in Pastoral Care. Its initial reaction is to condemn the new modules of treatment. Soon it began to assimilate. Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE ) was begun. The Church has always been able to assimilate the world, to baptise its works and turn it holy. Consider the Church’s role in banking, land ownership, economics and politics. In our own time, consider the assimilation of research methodology and marketing in the Church Growth Movement.
Now counselling has come of age. It is practised widely. There are as many Christian counselling techniques as there are Christian counsellors. Some of them work within a church setting. Most work outside the church setting in offices and clinics.
In this Post Modern Age where pluralism rules supreme, where there are no role models and constancy in human relationship, there will always be a need for counselling. Counselling especially Christian Counselling and Counselling by Christians must developed and meet the needs of the time. That ultimately is Soul Care.
Soli Deo Gloria
1. Alvin Toffler Future Shock (New York : Bantam Books, 1970 )
2. Henri Nouwen The Wounded Healer (New York : Image, 1979 )
3. Henri Nouwen Creative Ministry (New York : Image, 1978,1991)
4. Roger Hurding The Bible and Counselling ( London : Hodder and Stoughton, 1992 )
5. Larry Crabb Effective Biblical Counseling ( Grand Rapids,Michigan: Zondervan, 1977)
6. Stanton Jones & Richard Butman Modern Psychotherapies ( Downer Grove: InterVarsity
7. Gary Collins Helping People Grow (California : Vision House, 1980 )
8. Jay Adams Competent to Counsel ( Grand Rapids, Michigan : Zondervan, 1970 )
9. Paul Tournier A Doctor’s Casebook in the Light of the Bible (London : SCM Press, 1954,1974)
10. Gary Collins How to be a People Helper ( California : Vision House, 1979 )
11. Michael Jacobs Still Small Voice ( London : SPCK, 1982,1993,1997 )
12. Anthony Yeo Counselling a Problem-Solving Approach ( Singapore : Amour Publishing, 1993)
13. Susan Tang How to Deal with Your Broken Heart ( Sabah : Station of Life, 1997 )
14. David Benner Strategic Pastoral Counseling (Grand Rapids, Michigan : Baker Books, 1992)
15. Anthony Yeo A Helping Hand ( Singapore: Times, 1981 )
16. Dwright Carlson Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded? ( Downers Grove, Illinois : InterVarsity Press, 1994)
17. Michael Jacobs Swift To Hear (London : SPCK, 1985 )
18. Roger Hurding Roots & Shoots (London : Hodder and Stoughton, 1986)
19. Gary Collins The Biblical Basis of Christian Counseling for People Helper (Colorado : Navpress, 1993)
 Dr. Robert Hilliard, quoted in Alvin Toffler Future Shock (New York:Bantam Books, 1970 ) p.157
 Henri Nouwen The Wounded Healer (New York : Image ,1979 ) p.51-70. Here Nouwen use the example of a patient named Mr.Harrison who was admited to a hospital to illustrate the present condition. It is a condition of helplessness, frustration and hopelessness.
 Henri Nouwen Creative Ministry (New York : Image , 1978,1991)
 Ibid p. 48
 Roger Hurding The Bible and Counselling ( London: Hodder and Stoughton , 1992 ) p. 63 Most Christians has no problem with this definition. The difficulty was to accept the ‘psychological mechanisms’ in the definition. Others would question the techniques used in counselling .
 Larry Crabb Effective Biblical Counseling ( Grand Rapids,Michigan: Zondervan, 1977) p.31-56 Larry Crabb gave a detailed description of his classification using diagrams and examples.
 Stanton Jones & Richard Butman Modern Psychotherapies ( Downer Grove: InterVarsity Press,1991) p. 31
 Gary Collins Helping People Grow (California : Vision House , 1980 ) gives a good overview of the various approaches to Christian Counselling. Other books that gave in-depth review of the various are
Nouthetic Counselling – Jay Adams Competent to Counsel ( Grand Rapids, Michigan : Zondervan , 1970 ); Dialogue Counseling - Paul Tournier A Doctor’s Casebook in the Light of the Bible (London :SCM Press , 1954,1974); Biblical Counseling – Larry Crabb Effective Biblical Counseling ( Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1977); Discipleship Counseling – Gary Collins How to be a People Helper ( California: Vision House, 1979 ); Still Small Voice – Michael Jacobs Still Small Voice ( London: SPCK, 1982,1993,1997 ); Problem Solving Approach - Anthony Yeo Counselling a Problem-Solving Approach ( Singapore: Amour Publishing , 1993)
Surprising there are not many female Christian counsellors. The only book I have come across dealing with counselling is Susan Tang How to Deal with Your Broken Heart ( Sabah: Station of Life, 1997 )
 David Benner Strategic Pastoral Counseling (Grand Rapids, Michigan : Baker Books,1992) p. 32
 Anthony Yeo A Helping Hand ( Singapore: Times , 1981 ) p. 112
 This problem is especially acute amongst Christians where everyone is supposed to be well and should not have any problem. Believer of the Health and Prosperity has a lot of problem with this.
Dwright Carlson Why Do Christians Shoot Their Wounded? ( Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press , 1994) discussed the issue well.
 Anthony Yeo Counselling a Problem-Solving Approach ( Singapore: Amour Publishing , 1993) p. 103 . Anthony Yeo uses the acronym PADI to define his approach. This author has expanded it without his permission to a CILI PADI approach.
 Ibid p. 43
 Ibid quoted Egan p. 51
 Michael Jacobs Swift To Hear (London : SPCK , 1985 ) p. 13. This is an interesting little book detailing the mechanics of good listening and appropriate responses. It even has exercises to train in listening.
 The Navigators is a parachurch organisation that specialises in one-to-one mentoring discipleship.
 Roger Hurding, Roots & Shoots ( London : Hodder and Stoughton, 1986 ) gave a good outline history of counselling and psychotherapy. Gary Collins, How To Be a People Helper ( Nashville: Vision House,1976 ) in his chapter, Counseling Past and Present also gave comprehensive history up to the late 1970s.
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