So I’m taking a Pastoral Counseling course in seminary. Dudes and Dudettes, I am not wired by God to do well in a pastoral counseling situation, nor am I wired by God to really even care. So this course is a challenge, which I welcome.
I welcome the challenge because I know that the reasons for pastoral counseling are profound. People hurt. In our time, most of the people I’ll ever meet are not hungry, or threatened with immediate violence, but they are – having been fully engaged in our fragmented culture – broken, confused, hopeless, and betrayed. If postmodernism emphasizes relational authority, it will be the broken relationships that are endemic to humanness that will plague both those in and out of the body of Christ in the next decades. Broken relationships are just one cause of broken emotional disease that requires healing.
While we are all broken and need the healing which God offers, some of us are so broken that it overtly interferes with our ability to function. We need help. Without getting into the “validity of Christian Counseling” debate; let me just affirm that I believe “Christian counseling” is viable, appropriate, and part of how the body of Christ can bear each member up.
So where does that put the church; especially the local church?? As evangelicals, we like to rightly use the Bible to search for the timeless truths of “faith and life.” This is good! Even more so, we especially like to go to the book of Acts and see the very early (“primitive”) church as a model for how church ought to go for us 2,000 years later.
So, today, I see a need for the church to provide help for people. The church has ALWAYS been about providing help for people. One of the early church’s bright moments was that they were the only group who were, for example, willing to go into a plague-infested city and take out plague-orphaned children and the sick to care for them. The church has, historically, shined brightest when it addresses real needs while it affirms real truth. Need I go into all the history of the church’s battles with dark spiritual forces of superstition and more overt counterfeit spirituality?
We find ourselves today facing plague (AIDS) and famine (general poverty) and the church, after being distracted by attacks on its worldview (world: "Your worldview isn't rationalistic, mechanistic, and control-oriented: Why not?!!" church: "[sigh] OK, here's why our world view isn't IRrational, unpredictable, or sloppy..."), getting back to its business. I am grateful to see the church return, in this way, to its roots.
However, I wonder if there is yet another need that the church can provide. Can the church look out among the emotionally and mentally broken people and see a need; even see that need within its own? I hope so.
How can the church meet such a need? Well, I go back to the book of Acts. How did the very early church meet needs of members? Look at the sixth chapter of Acts. It first affirmed the need: food was not being made available. The church then affirmed that the role of the apostles-elders were to devote themselves to prayer and the word. The church then looked for seven guys, noted for their character, spiritual maturity, and discernment; and then had them look after the needs of the hungry. These, who we now call “deacons,” are the precursors of our care-giving ministries for all the churches we have today.
Hmmm. So we have a new need; we have an old pattern; can we put them together? I suggest that churches might be able to do real good by creating the function of a “Mental Health Deacon.” Is there not a man of discernment, qualified as a deacon, that can facilitate the referral of emotionally or mentally broken members and seekers to Christian counselors and therapists? If not involved with actual referrals, then is able to build bridges of trust between counselors and the church?
For those who are significantly influenced by the teaching ministry of a certain church located in the northeast portion of the San Fernando Valley of California, you won’t even buy into the validity of “Christian counseling.” Reaction to lawsuits aside; that is exactly the point. Most pastors shouldn’t be burdened with a significant counseling ministry. After three to six sessions of about an hour each, if someone needs more counseling, they really need to be referred to a professional. This is so if for no other reason than that of avoiding liability.
But let's not think only of counseling, but of all the aspects of mental health brokenness: "Celebrate Recovery," local chapter of A.A., various support and recovery groups, and all those ways that we can use our theology of general revelation and common grace to help heal broken hearts. Let's not captitulate the care of souls to those who don't theologically "get it."
So my proposal is to recognize the need for mental health care, to be proactive about it, and build referral networks that are under the care and guidance of the pastor and deacon functions.