Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The downside of Christian counseling

I've defended Christian counselors in the past because I know many good ones, and I've borrowed from them on the occasion I've worked with people one-on-one.

The primary objective in Christian counseling is to get the one receiving counsel to hear the Word -- in their minds and hearts. It's amazing to me how many people sit in church every Sunday and their pastor's words go right by them. It's like they checked their brains at the door, or maybe they spend Sunday morning sermon time to balance their checkbook, or perhaps they're still thinking about Saturday's football game.

So I do believe in Christian counseling because it's like the pulpit backstop. When it's done right, it reinforces what's being said from the pulpit, although it's usually applied in a more personal way.

I say this with great reservation because what sometimes passes for Christian counseling is nothing more than secular psychology with a few keywords. I've been listening to a counseling group on a Christian radio station in the afternoons, and I find myself becoming more and more irritated.

People call in with what they consider spiritual and theological dilemmas, when in fact they are usually looking for someone to justify their wrong decisions: Christians who've taken up cohabitation with unbelievers; people who've wrongly left their spouses and want to remarry with other Christians; authoritarian parents with unruly teenagers looking for a Biblical excuse to give up; etc.

I hear these calls and I know the first thing that needs to be addressed is their sin. It's not about judgment! It's about establishing the authority of God's word with the person. There is a graceful way of saying it without casting down condemnation on the person.

John, as a parent I understand your frustration and anger with your son. It's good that you quote Colossians 3:20 to him, but please keep in mind the next verse for yourself: Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged. Your expression of anger to him is not likely helpful in the situation, and in fact it probably distorts the very message of faith and hope you wish to convey.

What often happens, instead, is an emotional probing of the caller's past, which typically leads to a suggestion to seek psychotherapy or a support group or some other lesser form of help.

Don't misunderstand me on this. There are people who need help from psychological professionals. Anyone who's ever tried to minister to someone suffering from a bi-polar disorder, MPD, or some kind reality detachment knows it's impossible to speak to someone's heart in that condition. Someone with a serious bi-polar disorder can be as sincere as possible, but often require a level of attention that's impossible to give. These are people that need professional help and why it's so critical for the Church to find and support Christian professionals in that industry who understand spiritual needs as much as they understand physical and emotional needs.

But these are not typically the kind of people who call in to shows or find their way to my doorstep. The kind of people I'm writing about are those who are afflicted by their own sinful decisions, and now they want to know how to lessen the burden. I usually take this in just a few steps:

  • Identify the sin and make it a distinctively central issue.
  • Avoid tertiary issues such as the problems of others around the person receiving ministry. It's important to get the person focused on their own issues and the decisions they need to make in light of the Word.
  • Show them love and charity at all turns, and never allow them to either justify their sin or think of themselves as more sinful than any other. Sin is sin, and it needs to be defined in its proper position. It's the reality of our condition, but all are born into it, and it has no power over us when we relent to the work of the Cross.
  • Always express to them the freedom and joy in Christ.

    These particular radio hosts seem to lack the courage to speak boldly, as if the Word can somehow damage a person. I know the Word can be wrongfully used when maliciously separated from either God's judgment of sin or this era of mercy God has established, but so can partial truths and solutions that do not lead to feet of the throne.

    We are of no help to the world and we have no answers for the brokenhearted when we ignore the true source of healing.
  • No comments: