Sadly, I’ve belonged to churches that believed pastoral counseling could only go so far before referring someone to a professional counselor (meaning a counselor trained to use psychology). The acknowledgment that some problems stretch beyond a pastor’s paygrade seems humble until you realize that such actions call the sufficiency of Scripture into question.
Regular readers know I love 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (ESV)
Generally, I quote this passage to substantiate the sufficiency of Scripture, and doing so doesn’t wrench it out of context. But have you ever stopped to think that Paul wrote this epistle to Timothy, in part, in order to remind Timothy of his responsibilities as the pastor of the Ephesian church? He wanted Timothy to regard Scripture as his means of effective ministry.
Your pastor most likely spends a fair amount of his time counseling people. Sometimes he may be tempted to think that a situation is way over his head. When he feels that way, hopefully the Holy Spirit will remind him of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 so that he will dig into God’s Word for wisdom.
Whether we seek counsel from our pastors or not, we need to be praying that the Lord will help them in their counseling ministry. Specifically, we need to pray that the Lord will protect them from any temptation to turn to psychology, and that He would lead them to the appropriate Scriptures for each situation.
Occasionally, a pastor really won’t be able to handle a counseling situation. While those circumstances should be few and far between, we should pray that he knows counselors within the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. ACBC counselors depend on Scripture rather than psychology to address the needs of their clients.
For the most part, however, your pastor should assume the responsibility of counseling his flock. And he should rely on Scripture for wisdom.
Scriptural wisdom, first of all, applies Biblical principles to the counselee’s needs. In marriage counseling, for example, a pastor would determine why a spouse uses anger, and will point to verses about patience and self-control. He would assign homework on practicing these disciplines, encouraging the counselee to pray for God’s power to resist the sin of anger.
A pastor also needs to discern when someone is leaning on him instead of on the Lord. It can be flattering when someone depends on him for guidance, and that flattery can make him forget to constantly steer that person back to Christ.
Your pastor may excel in counseling people. I sincerely hope he does. But please pray for his counseling ministry to remain firmly rooted in God’s Word.