Tag Archives: pastoral care

The most damaging counseling mistakes

This could also be called, “Lessons from Ignaz Semmelweis.” He was a fascinating man. He was the first one to suggest that doctors wash their hands between patients. He was ridiculed and soundly mocked, put down, and outcast for it. Everyone knew that sickness came for spirits, bad air, bad joojoo, or God’s curse. What did handwashing have to do with it? He’s just being worldly. There’s got to be Bible verses about the evils of medicine. Isn’t it “trusting in man” or something like that?

I used to think the same way. I was taught that anything learned about counseling from a (hushed gasp) secular counselor, or, the most shocking of all, the psychologist (!) was just one step away from inviting the devil to dinner. I heard of a sermon where the pastor said that anyone who goes to a psychologist is denying Christ and the sufficiency of scripture. Stupid hand-washers!

I say this to my shame, for I used to believe and counsel the same way, and have since repented of my ungodly, unbiblical attitude.

If we will put aside our pride and listen to the voice of simplicity, and just “wash our hands” we will learn from our mistakes and quit killing the souls of those who come to us for help.

Here are the biggest mistakes we still make – soul killers – in no particular order. By the way, for you “nouthetic” people out there, each one of these mistakes is a mistake because it contradicts scripture, not because unbelievers say they are wrong. I agree with you that scripture alone is our only guide. So let’s hear what it says. So here is my list. I suspect there will be more to come.

  1. We say, “It takes two to ruin a marriage”. Or “It takes two to fight”. No. The Bible nowhere teaches this. Abel didn’t cause Cain to sin. David didn’t provoke Saul. Jesus didn’t provoke Judas. Joseph wasn’t to blame for his slavery. Stephen didn’t cause his stoning. And on and on. In fact, David said, “I am for peace, but when I speak they are for war.” (Ps. 120:7). There is a difference between David and those who sought to kill him. They wanted him dead because they “were for war”, not because “it takes two to fight.” Quit making this completely unbiblical statement. It simply isn’t true.
  2. When we hear of pornography use, we say, “Are you satisfying him in bed?” This one astounds me. Everyone listen up: Pornography and marital sexuality are as different as night and day, dark and light, good and evil. One is an expression of our one flesh intimacy, an act of love and mutual dignity and honor. The other is assault. A man who assaults doesn’t learn how to not assault by being taught to assault his wife instead. Just stop. Porn is death, murder, darkness. It isn’t “sex with the wrong person”. It is as far from the love of marriage as death is from life. Just stop. Now read Ephesians 5 again – from the beginning, not just the “submit” part. Fornicators need Christ and repentance, not a “porn-star wife”. Sheesh.
  3. (Similar to 3) We hear of a man committing adultery, and assume it is because the wife isn’t loving him enough. This comes from a horrible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7. If you want to know what it really means, you can listen here. But, again, adultery is not simply sex with the wrong person. It is death, folly, madness – assault. The same applies, by the way, with the sexes reversed.
  4. When we hear the cry of the soul against injustices done, and we say, “You are just bitter.” Not only is this NOT the meaning of “bitter” in the scripture, the hatred of sin and the cry for justice is NOT sinful. It is what it means to be in God’s image. Jesus will not come in justice because he is bitter, but because he is just. We long for that day. We long to see our enemies destroyed, and justice reign. It is what Psalm 72 is all about. The promise of the kingdom is NOT that we should quit being “bitter” but that Christ will come with justice and righteousness in his hands. This is how we learn to put off anger, wrath and malice. Not by pretending that injustice is OK. You can learn more here.
  5. When someone is weeping, we assume that they are trying to manipulate us. Very common, but again, contrary to scripture. I am so glad that Jesus doesn’t treat us like that. Paul said to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Can someone show me the passage that says, “Beware of those who weepeth, for they are seeking to manipulate thee.”? Compassion with wisdom can only be taught by the Holy Spirit.
  6. We automatically assume that depression is a sin.  Depression is sometimes medical – an imbalance of chemicals.  Counselors, learn the signs of depression and get people to medical help if needed. But sometimes, our sighs and tears are just the proper response to living in a cursed world, far from the shores of the celestial city. We aren’t home yet, and sometimes that makes us sigh and weep.
  7. We make the same assumptions with every medical condition we don’t want to deal with. Chronic illness? Just laziness. Bipolar? Just rebellion. Adhd? Just a scam. Tourettes? Just looking for attention. They could stop if they wanted to. This one makes me want to scream at people.
  8. We assume that every problem that anyone can have can be fixed if we just find the right thing to rebuke them for.

And so we have turned into the most heartless bunch. Cruel, unkind, uncaring, fools. Heaping burdens of shame on those who come to us for help. It is no wonder that people won’t see pastors for guidance anymore. We forgot how to be compassionate. We look for the simple fix, when maybe we just need to listen, to stop and hear, to offer a kind word. Maybe point someone to Christ, who sweat great drops of blood, who was afraid,  who wept at the tomb of Lazarus – KNOWING that he was about to raise him from the dead.

Weeping doesn’t mean I don’t believe the promise; fear doesn’t mean I’m not trusting God; sadness doesn’t mean I am unthankful. These things mean I am human, just like my Lord. And he came to redeem this flesh and this blood. He suffered with every infirmity, and was without sin, to redeem me, body and soul. The day will come when every tear will be dried, but that day is not today.

So excuse me if I weep now and then. Don’t mind me if I get afraid sometimes. Don’t sing “joy, joy, joy” at me when the infirmities of the flesh are sometimes too much to bear. Yes, I know that God is good. Yes, I know that he is coming again. Yes, I know that all things work together, and so on. But right now I’m sad. If all you can say is “All things work together for good!”, then just go away.

These are some of my thoughts today. What are yours? What is the worst thing you’ve heard? It seems like I am missing some. I expect that this blog will be continued…

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Filed under counseling, Grief, Pastoral ministry

The Opinions of men

Recently, I saw that someone posted the following quote from Dr. Jay Adams:

In my opinion, advocating, allowing and practicing psychiatric and psychoanalytical dogmas within the church is every bit as pagan and heretical, and therefore perilous as propagating the teachings of some of the most bizarre cults. The only vital difference is that the cults are less dangerous because their errors are more identifiable.

I am sharing my response to this here – not because I have any wish to be controversial, but because I really think that it is time we as conservative, Reformed Christians, started to compare the words of our heroes to the scriptures and to the creeds. It is supposed to be what we do.

So here is my response:

Statements like these from Dr. Adams have caused more harm to the body of Christ than anything I can think of in the last 30 years.

“In my opinion” – the opinion of Dr. Adams has been elevated to creedal status, woe be to anyone who may question it.

Those who have dedicated their lives to the study of the human soul and to the easing of the suffering of so many millions are dismissed if they use “heretical” words like trauma, narcissist, abuser, pedophile…
Victims are cast out of the church and wolves are given safety within because we look for quick proof-texts, and refuse to do any soul-searching.
Those who have suffered unspeakable trauma and suffering are given 8 sessions with their pastor, not allowed to speak their story, given a few proof-texts and then cast out of the church for “bitterness”.

All because Dr. Adams had an opinion. This opinion is not backed up with any scripture, which is odd (since it is purportedly based on Sola Scriptura) but simply declared so to be.

So I would ask here – what scripture is used to cast everything with the title “psychiatric and psychoanalytical dogmas” into the bowels of hell? By what authority does Dr. Adams’ opinion supersede the creeds of the church?

Why is it, that in the ancient Heidelberg Catechism, which we all revere, we learn that good works are “not such as rest on our own opinions or the commandments of men” but are based upon the law of God, which is further defined as the Ten Commandments, – why is it now that Dr. Adams’ self-declared opinion is the criterion by which thousands and thousands of sufferers are allowed no relief, no second opinion, no question, and no other answers?

Some serious things that we should perhaps think about…

To back up my whole point, I am well aware that I am now going to be branded a dangerous heretic and anything I might say will be suspect from henceforth – because I dared to question Dr. Adams opinion.

How many of those suffering from real mental illness are allowed no relief because of this man?

How many have been beaten and abused and raped by their husbands and sent back home because of this man?

Those who follow Adams would have rebuked Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus for bawling like a baby.

I’m sick of it.

Yes, he said some good things, and some of his critiques were valid.

But he was just a guy. His opinion isn’t a creed. Speaking of trauma and narcissism and abuse and PTSD and depression isn’t heresy. It is naming what most of the Psalms are all about. We are created in the image of God, and naming things is what we do.

I would add a few things here:

When God created the heavens and the earth, he gave names to some of the things that he created. When he created man, he gave man the task of naming the animals. Men and women exercise their dominion as image-bearers of God by naming. Any study, any discipline, and lessons, first begin with learning the names of things.

The scripture gives us the outlines, the framework, the first principles. But because we are image-bearers of God, we are called to use wisdom and give things names as we study them.

Classifying biblical concepts is not being “worldly”. It’s called wisdom, and it is what we are called to do. I thank God for those who have spent their lives studying and classifying human behavior. The bible says that Jesus knew the hearts of men, and answered accordingly. We don’t have that ability, because we are finite. So we are called to listen, to classify, to stop our mouths, to hear what others might have to say.

But that takes work. It is a lot easier to simply classify all opposition as heretical, cult-like and evil and be done with it. But this keeps us steadfastly bound to our ignorance and happily immune from loving our neighbor.

God would have us reach outside our little bubbles and see that there is a huge world out there that cannot be explained by Christianized behaviorialism. Skinner is not the gospel, no matter how you baptize him.

Think about it.

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Chantry, Hezekiah and Chloe

When thoughts collide…

Last week I was preparing for my Sunday School teaching on Hezekiah and the siege of Jerusalem. As I was preparing, I was struck by this message from Isaiah to Hezekiah:

Because you have prayed to Me against Sennacherib king of Assyria, I have heard (2 Kings 19:20)

Hezekiah was in bad trouble. Sennacherib had conquered the whole world, and he was unstoppable. He had now surrounded Jerusalem and gave Hezekiah the terms of absolute surrender. There was no strength left in Hezekiah.

And Hezekiah took the letter demanding his surrender and laid it on the altar of God, crying out to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and telling God the problem. He spoke honestly and directly.

God delights when we call upon him. God takes pleasure in our prayers, when we speak to him honestly and directly. When we are in trouble, and when we are weak and helpless, fearful and doubting, in pain and in distress – God would have us tell him about it. He is our God, and we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:
15 And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me. (Ps. 50:14-15 KJV)

But this goes against the culture of most churches. If you have been following the Tom Chantry trial, you see what so many people have suffered. People aren’t believed, they are silenced, when they complain about mistreatment or abuse, they are told to be quiet. To be thankful and put off their “bitterness” and their “complaining spirit”.

And so people are being groomed to take abuse and mistreatment, and put on the happy face. Let’s all play happy families. Only sinners are in trouble. Only sinners complain. Only unthankful people are unhappy.

But Isaiah didn’t rebuke Hezekiah for being bitter or for complaining. Hezekiah was in trouble, and God heard him because he spoke the truth to God.

And while I was thinking about that, I was also thinking about the household of Chloe.

For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house  of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. (1 Cor. 1:11 KJV)

If Paul had been a modern church planter, 1 Corinthians would never have been written. Instead, Paul would have rebuked Chloe’s household for gossip and bitterness.

How many of you have heard these?

“Now, Chloe. Have you gone through the steps of Matthew 18? I don’t want to hear about this.”

“This is just gossip. You need to repent of your bitterness.”

“We are right in the middle of a fund-raising campaign for the saints in Jerusalem. We can’t have this negative talk and gossip going on. It will hurt the Jerusalem Famine Ministry.”

“Chloe, have you spoken to a man about these things? In fact, it isn’t even your household. You need to go submit to your husband and let the men handle it. When women usurp authority, all sorts of gossip and complaining start happening.”

“I know the man who you say was sleeping with his step-mother. He’s a good man. Remember that he is innocent until proven guilty. I know everyone is talking about it, but we really need to get a handle on the undisciplined talk before it destroys a good man’s name.”

“Chloe, I can’t hear this unless you have two or three witnesses. No, the children don’t count. No, the women don’t count. No, those men don’t count. They’re just bitter.”

And on and on it goes.

Aren’t you glad that Paul wasn’t a modern Big Eva guy?

“I hear that Paul is coming to Corinth! Did you get your tickets yet? I hear he will have another epistle to the Thessalonians on sale in the foyer. His conferences sell out every year!”

I thank God for the pastors that are far more concerned about truth than their reputations or their bank accounts!

Hezekiah spoke the truth and was heard, even though he was surrounded by Assyrians. Chloe’s household spoke the truth.

It was when David finally spoke the truth to God that God heard him (Psalm 51).

In fact, all of the Psalms are about speaking the truth to God. Tell God what is going on. Tell God the truth.

And find a church that is more interested in the truth than in the cover-up. That is more interested in the health of the sheep than the hurt feelings of the wolf. That is more interested in being faithful to God than in their reputations and bank accounts.

We need more pastors that want to know the truth about your marriage, your families, your fears and your doubts and your struggles. This is what the church is for. God is not interested in the happy façade. He wants the truth.

Listen to Chloe. You just might learn something.

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Bad Listeners

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:” (James 1:19)

Yesterday I was watching old reruns of Monk. I don’t know if you remember the show about the OCD detective. Tony Shalhoub is brilliant, but that really isn’t what this post is about.

Anyway, one scene in the show was the detective interviewing a witness in her home. While she was trying to tell him what she saw and what she experienced, he was extremely distracted. The items on her coffee table were out of place and disorderly. Monk, suffering from OCD, couldn’t hear a word she said until he rearranged all of her knick-knacks.

I’ve been thinking about that. Why are pastors such horrible listeners? Yes, I am talking about you – particularly Reformed pastors. This is a critique of my own tribe. I also have struggled with being a good listener, so these things are coming from my experience.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone and they weren’t listening to anything you were saying? You can see the exact moment they shut down. They have already figured out what they were going to say, and anything else you might say is not relevant. I think it is a problem for pastors. We are really bad at listening.

Why are we such bad listeners?

I have a few suggestions:

  1. We are OCD with theological error. We completely miss someone’s trauma, but woe to the uninformed that uses the word “potluck” (you mean “pot providence”) or “My father was a good man” (THERE IS NONE GOOD; NO NOT ONE!) Just like Mr. Monk, if all of the theological ducks aren’t neatly lined up to our liking, we shut down. Seriously, when was the last time you allowed a theological mistake to just pass you by. Even the attempt to “let it go” causes our muscles to twitch, our words to stammer, our eyes to water…
  2. We forget to remember that Jesus was moved with compassion for the multitudes – like sheep without a shepherd. Are you compassionate enough to actually let someone tell you their story – even if it makes you uncomfortable, even if you don’t know what to say, even if it takes several hours? Jesus was moved with compassion. So should we be.
  3. Most of us heard Jay Adams tell us that after 6 or 8 sessions you have a discipline problem. We feel this urge to rush through, tell people what they need to do and move on. Depressed? Get over it. Still depressed? Church discipline! Angry at your rapist? Quit being bitter. Get over it. Move on with your life. We are convinced that we HAVE to give the solution, give the cure, tell them what to do to make this uncomfortable feeling stop. But only a fool answers a matter before he hears it. Listen first. Then speak. It’s what the Bible commands.

I was at a church years and years ago. There was a young man visiting. After the service, I was talking to a couple of the elders and this young man came up to us and asked “Is there a grocery store around here? I need some food”. The elders looked stunned, and then said,

“We don’t shop on the Sabbath Day.”

Really.

This is what I mean. Where is the compassion? Where is the discernment?

Be compassionate. Be educated. Be like Christ. Listen.

The hardest thing for a pastor to learn is this: You don’t have to talk all the time. You don’t have to have answers all the time. You don’t have to fill the air around you with a miasma of ignorant pious slogans. You don’t have to correct everyone that is wrong.

But you do have to listen. And you do have to be compassionate.

Let’s practice:

“Potluck, potluck, potluck, potluck.

“He’s a good man. He’s a good man. He’s a good man.

“God loves everybody. God loves everybody. God loves everybody…..

“Last Sunday I went to a restaurant…”

 

Let it go. There is a time and place for correcting theology, but remember that we would be in a far better place to do that if we first learned how to listen.

(By the way, Jay Adams was wrong here. Most people haven’t even gotten to the real issue until the 6th  session. They start out by seeing if you are trustworthy and willing to listen. If you shut them down the first session, they won’t come to you with the real issue. I believe that this is a major reason why nouthetic counseling has been so disastrous with trauma and assault.)

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The Pastor’s Great Struggle

13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Pro 18:13)

I have had fellowship with many pastors. I also am a pastor. I have had lunch with pastors, talked with pastors, and have even at times tried to reason with pastors as pastors have also tried to reason with me.

There is one particular sin that I see in myself and continually fight against. I think it is probably endemic among pastors, to our shame.

We don’t listen.

We think we do. We nod and go Mmmhmmm a lot. But if the story goes on to long, we want to finish it. If the problem is clear in the first three words, we want to give the answer and get on with things. This is also  my great shame, for which I continuously repent.

We thought we were validated by the early nouthetic counselors: The problem is sin; the solution is repentance. There. Don’t waste any more of my time. I already told you what to do.

But we never listened. It took me years of repentance to begin to understand that most people don’t actually get to the real problem the first time they meet with the pastor. They are simply testing the water to see if we listen.

We usually fail that test and the sheep scurry away. We then wonder why no one talks to us. They don’t talk because we don’t listen.

Reformed pastors, to which tribe I belong,  seem to struggle with this to a greater extent. I don’t know why, but I think I might have a few clues. We are usually well-read, full of book-knowledge, and love to see the inner workings of the great truths of scripture. We are usually well-acquainted with original languages, and have a high regard for the authority and inspiration of scripture. All of these things are great and to be greatly desired. But the devil never rests and sin turns our strengths into folly.

We already know everything, so we don’t need to listen. We already know what the problem is, so we don’t need to hear.

But the Bible doesn’t call this “an area to work on.” Nor does it call this “a weakness”.  It calls this folly and a shame to us.

Shame on us every time we fail to listen. Shame on us every time we don’t hear.

We fail to hear in so many ways: The language of a childhood victim of sexual abuse goes beyond words, but we usually don’t stick around long enough to hear.

We silence the voice of the victims of domestic abuse by repeating the mantra, “God hates divorce.”

The voice of the abuser is decidedly different, for it comes disguised as a sheep.

The voice of those who are hurting and poor and in trouble shout at us all around. We would far rather stand on the corner and shout gospel platitudes than actually listen to them.

If we would open our ears to hear, we would begin to make some sense to the cacophony around us. The voice of the proud, saying, “I am, and there is none like me.”

The voice of the hurt, building barriers around her heart to stop any more pain.

The voice of the oppressed, whispering in the corner.

We don’t hear the matter because we don’t want to. It rattles our windows and shakes our floors and makes our house unsteady. It is an unwanted visitor brought to us by sin and the power of the devil and we think that if we shut our eyes and stop our ears and ignore it perhaps it will politely go away and let us get back to our books.

But

13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. (Pro 21:13)

That should stop us in our tracks. When we refuse to hear the cry of the ones without strength, God will eventually stop HIS ears when WE cry to Him!

Also implied is the great truth that we ourselves, we pastors who have “so much knowledge” (sarcasm alert), who have everything all together – are just as needy, just as poor, just as helpless as that poor and oppressed one – we ALSO will cry out, and we will be heard to the extent that we heard those who cried to us. This should strike fear into our hearts.

Fellow pastors, we don’t need to do better. We need to repent. We need to learn to hear the cry of the poor and repent of all the times we were too busy, too uncomfortable, too unsure, too occupied with “important things”, to hear.

When we have shut our mouths long enough to listen, then we must open our mouths to speak.

8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
(Pro 31:8-9 KJV)

The phrase translated “such as are appointed to die” is literally “children of vanishing.” They are the ones who are so easily ignored, the ones who suffer quietly because they have been unheard for so long. They are the ones who don’t meet your eye, withdraw into the corner, whisper so low they are hard to hear.

They vanish and are forgotten – except that their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and He entrusted them to your care and commanded you to hear them and then open your mouth to defend them, to plead their cause.

Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will rattle the very foundation of the nice and neat theological house that you built. Yes, the Enemy won’t give up without a fight.

But it is God’s fight, and He commanded you to fight it. And the day will come when you will stand before God and give an account of every idle word. You will be called to account for your listening skills. You will be called to account for your willingness to open your mouth.

Don’t delay. Learn to hear. Learn to speak. Learn to listen.

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