Stories of pastoral counseling

August 1st, 2014

If I preach inspiring sermons, teach like Paul, and have the wisdom of Solomon, but I don’t have love, my ministry is nothing. If I bring in hundreds of new members and don’t have love, my ministry is nothing. If I offer pastoral counseling and don’t embody God’s love, my ministry is nothing. Offering help through pastoral counseling is our privilege—a reward in and of itself. But pastoral counseling is always messy, because it’s about helping real people with real problems in real time. And therein lies the peril. How can you help and not be pulled into the turmoil? How can you pull someone up out of the mire and not get dirty yourself? But therein also lies the opportunity.

Too many pastors believe that pastoral counseling is something where you can just sit back and let the other person talk. How hard can it be to listen anyway? But it is. It is hard to hear the pain that people endure and in inflict. One young person, who I know from times past, confessed to underage drinking. She felt so guilty and just wanted an authority figure to say she was still okay, but also, by the way, not to tell her parents. Then there was the man who walked out on his estranged wife as she threatened suicide, which she committed immediately after he left. And, of course, there are people who confess to all manner of sin, only to later accuse the pastor of inappropriate behavior as an act of revenge.

But then there are the other people, those who genuinely appreciate your counsel and support. It can be quite satisfying to see people get better, and most do. To offer hope and healing, wisdom and guidance, can be a rewarding part of ministry, as long as we don’t get too carried away with ourselves or try to go at it alone. We need to be prepared and equipped with cautionary tales and solid resources about how to maintain our own accountable discipleship.

This issue of Circuit Rider details some of the dangers, toils, and snares of pastoral counseling, but also the rewards and opportunities to help you help people reclaim a right relationship with God, others, and self. As United Methodists, our goal is to help others find and stay on the road to perfection.

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