Two Extremes

Having been invited to speak in numerous churches I have witnessed two extremes when it comes to pastoral care. One extreme was a large multi-staff church that focused on preaching and teaching, but very little pastoring. They had an agreement with a counseling center that was located near the church. The center’s licensed counselors would do one appointment for free to assess what professional care they needed. The church would pay half the counseling fee if they sought their treatment. None of the “pastors” wanted to get that involved with people’s problems, so they referred them out. Such “pastors” can be replaced by a good book, or smart phone.

The problem with the other extreme is more subtle. The church had their own counseling center, and it was their director who asked me to come with the pastor’s blessing. When the pastor greeted me he said, “I have 50 prayer counselors available to help you.” I’m sure these were good Christian people, but I couldn’t use them for what I was doing. I preached at their Saturday evening and Sunday morning services. In every service people are invited to come forward for prayer. The prayer counselors would anoint them with oil and pray for them. There is one positive side to this approach. If you had a specific problem that Sunday there was an opportunity for that problem to be specifically addressed.

I met Monday morning with their counselors and I asked them a question: “Given what you do at all your worship services, does that create a problem for you in counseling?” The discussion that followed revealed that they all preferred to counsel people from other churches. What is wrong with praying for people like that? Nothing in and off itself, but what was either implied or taught can be a major problem. When people from their own church came for counseling they were expecting the counselor to do the same. They were assuming that the answer to their problem was to have someone else pray for them. They weren’t prepared to assume their own responsibility. That can be an unintended consequence of raising up prayer warriors. Now, please don’t stop praying for other people as God leads you. However, be aware that some want or expect God to do everything for them, and seek others to petition God to get off his butt and do it for them. God will not do for us what He has clearly told us to do. If you don’t love your spouse, He is not going to save your marriage in spite of you. He will convict you of sin, enable you to forgive your spouse, and give you the grace to love the unlovely.

Dr. Neil

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