Pastoral Counseling in a Pandemic

If you have arranged your pastoral ministry to avoid regular missions into the jagged and rocky places in people’s lives, then you are not shepherding like Jesus. The grimy, sweat-streaked face of a pastor is but an image of the blood-streaked face we all love.”

The Pastor and Counseling, 34.

As a team of elders, we just finished reading The Pastor and Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need. We chose this book weeks before the Coronavirus had become a known threat, but, by God’s providence, we finished reading it together this week as the impact of the virus continues to intensify. What follows is not necessarily a review of the book, but rather some reflections on the concept of pastoral counseling especially in such a time as this.

In this season of ministry in particular, opportunities for face to face interaction have been limited and our sermons are being preached to a camera. If we are not careful, we can forget the faces on the other side of that camera. Our churches need more than our live stream. They need our prayers, our counsel, our real relational presence through which we communicate and apply God’s word personally. In the coming days, our precious members whom God as entrusted to us will face fear, anxiety, grief, doubt, and doctrinal dismay. They will need the word of God both in the context of public heralding and personal counseling. To help us think through that task, here are several reflections on The Pastor and Counseling.

Pastoral Counseling is a Miracle

You are not equipped for the task at hand. Accept it. No seminary class, no book, no podcast, or conference has prepared you enough for the conversations and the pastoral counseling that lies ahead. This is true of all pastoral ministry, but it is especially true on the outset of the most devastating pandemic in over a century. But, pastoral ministry has never been about your ability. In fact, pastoral ministry has always been a miracle. It has always been about the chief shepherd, the source of wisdom, knowledge, and ability, miraculously working through under-shepherds like you and me. We toil according to the energy God works within us (Col. 1:29). We counsel only with wisdom we have been given (James 1:5). We are simply stewards of words that God has passed down to us (1 Cor. 4:1-2; 1 Pt 4:11). Pastor, do not fear the needs of your church members. God aims to display his power and wisdom by miraculously using someone like you to share his word of comfort and guidance to his people in such a time as this. Faithful pastoral counseling is always a miracle of God’s grace so appreciate it as such. Pray for wisdom. Pray for the special anointing of the Spirit. Pray that his loving and compassionate voice would be heard through your feeble attempts. Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15:7). Ask for the chief shepherd to embody your shepherding.

Pastoral Counseling Should be Biblical

Our church members do not need witty sayings or popular cliches. They need roots that strengthen as they deepen by the spring of God’s fountain of truth. They need the word of God applied to their lives in such a way that the no storm or wind can topple over their fruit bearing tree. For 2,000 years, Christian pastors have counseled the people of God with very little resources outside of the Bible. We must admit that we are not experts in psychology, rather we have been charged by God with one primary task, “Feed my sheep.” This happens in the preaching moment, but it also happens in the phone conversation, the email we write, or the letter we send. What we need in crisis moments is not less theology, rather we need more theology. We need a sovereign God with a big plan who is not surprised by COVID-19. We need a robust understanding of evil in the world, suffering, and God’s ability to use even the bad of this world to serve his good purposes. We need the fullness of the trinity, with God’s fatherly love, the nearness of the Spirit, and the resurrected Jesus. The kind of counseling we are called to in the coming days is a constant, gentle, confident turning the eyes of our congregation to the truth of the unchanging Scriptures.

A Pastor and his Bible can do a world of good to a struggling person.

The Pastor and Counseling, 129.

Pastoral Counseling Should be Communal

There is more counseling to be done then one man can do. There is more conversations to be had then even a team of men can have.

If you labor as though the spiritual well-being of every member directly depends on you, you will eventually fold under such an impossible burden. God in his wisdom assigned the task of discipleship not to a single man, nor even to a team of men, but to the entire church

The Pastor and Counseling, 103.

Pastors equip the church so that the church can build itself up (Eph 4:12-16). We exist to make disciples who make disciples. We preach this and we long for our churches to live this. Church ministry is every member ministry. This is always true, but it is especially true in light of pandemic. We need church members who call church members. We need every spirit-filled word-saturated Christian to pursue the one-another commands. When one falls prey to anxiety, another wages war on their behalf with the sword of God’s word taught and admonished. This is God’s good design. Pastor, as you provide counsel and comfort to many during this season, urge the church to join you in the work and trust the Spirit of God in them to do what you have been training them to do all along. The church was built for this.

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