Most of those who find themselves in Christian ministry will also find themselves involved in a certain amount of counseling, whether it is done informally as sympathetic advice from one friend to another, or in a more formal arrangement. In a ministry context, the majority of counseling usually centers around a short list of scenarios:
• Medical conditions or syndromes. If you suspect that there may be physical origins, which contribute to the counseling issues, you should refer them to the appropriate medical personnel. Similarly, in cases in which there is illegal activity and especially violence or sexual behavior toward minors, law enforcement must be notified.
• Ignorance. Simple ignorance can be effectively dealt with through biblical teaching and discussion (see Psalm 19:7).
• Unresolved issues
Guilt. Guilt results from sin that has not been acknowledged, confessed, repented of, or otherwise dealt with. Failure to accept personal forgiveness extends the sense of guilt.
Disobedience. Open or subtle defiance of God’s expressly revealed will in scripture often crops up as a major issue in ministry counseling. Motivations and attitudes which both cause and accompany this refusal to do things God’s way must be dealt with in some fashion. It takes true wisdom from God to know how to approach this issue with the right blend of firmness and compassion in order to bring about repentance.
Fear. People in suffering from depression, expressing anger or exhibiting manipulative behavior may actually be reacting to very carefully hidden fears, including issues of personal safety, emotional safety, or unbelief concerning the provision, benevolence and wisdom of God.
Anger may be the result of failure to see people for what they really are and accept situations as the challenges for faith, growth and change that they really are. There may also be a fundamental unwillingness to forbear or forgive others.
Disillusionment is often the normal result of unrealistic dreams meeting reality in personal experience. Sometimes it can lead to a loss of hope. Disillusionment may also may be related to unbelief in the providence of God.
Denial. This is a refusal to see certain elements of glaring reality in a particular situation, which other often see with real clarity.
Discouragement can be related to anger in that discouragement can be its flip-side.
Ministry Counseling Tips:
• Listen closely and compassionately until you firmly grasp the issues. Ask clarification questions to make sure you understand the what the person is truly saying.
• At various points, don’t be afraid to ask probing questions, both to discover the underlying issues and to cause the person to recognize those issues.
• Bring biblical teaching to bear on the relevant issues, either through reading and discussing a relevant passage or by assigning a passage as homework to be completed before the next session.
• Focus on specific ways the person can take charge of their own part in the problem and reactions to the situation. Help them deal with their expectations that they will receive justice (as they understand it) or that other parties will change immediately.
• Be aware of your own limits in terms of expertise, time commitments, emotional involvement and moral propriety.
• Don’t get bogged down in a situation in which a person demonstrates an unwillingness to make biblically mandated changes.
• Never forget that, as a Christian leader involved in counseling others, your goal is to bring about healing and reconciliation.