As a pastor, the last thing you need is another hat to wear. To add the title of counselor to that list of duties is not a specialization that you have time to pursue. But, your people experience the brokenness of our cursed human condition and idleness is not an option. Contemporary church culture demands that ministers out-source the task of counseling, but I believe that out-sourcing is to divorce the church from one of her primary duties.
There has been an unfortunate dichotomy in pastoral duty. The public proclamation of the Word has upstaged our duty to private ministry. It has been said that one of the most neglected aspects of theological education in the last eighty years has been the training of pastors to counsel their flock. Shepherding has been reduced to voracious study of the Scripture for the corporate feeding to the neglect of the tender application of the Word for our people in private settings. My intention is not to diminish public proclamation one iota. Preaching and counseling ought never to be at odds. The goal is to place each of these as compliments under the same primary shepherding duty—ministry of the Word.
An age of specialization dawned at the turn of the twentieth century. New titles were created in order to assign specialized portions of pastoral responsibility. The prevalent attitude is that some “pastors” or “ministers” are responsible for public proclamation and others are for private ministry. This sort of division seems to misrepresent the essence of the pastoral function as under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd.
Historically, the pastor acted more as a generalist. This does not mean that his work was viewed as generic, far from it. It simply means that the pastor was not viewed, primarily, as a business manager or pulpit specialist. The pastor’s primary concern was to lead his flock to spiritual maturity by means of feeding and protecting with what Paul referred to as, “the whole counsel of God,” in both public and private settings (Acts 20:20-31). In this passage he exhorted the overseer to pay careful attention to . . .
A pastor must be mastered by the Word—Christ as the living word and the written word. Christ must be the overseer’s motivation and reward. He must let the Word of Christ dwell in him richly (Colossians 3:16). The best counselors are like the best preachers—unafraid to be confronted by the Word, personally. When the Word has proven faithful in your own life, you willingly and confidently share the Scripture with others in order to equip, protect, and comfort.
Practical theology is the commission of the pastor—to practice sound doctrine and guide others in the same. Part of the problem with the pastoral counseling room is it is often divorced from the same rich soul care that we proclaim from the pulpit. Will the Word return void if it is proclaimed in private? Even if a pastor wants to help his people, he has been taught to begin with human problems as defined by the world and then try to fix them with biblical solutions. No wonder pastors defer and refer after a session or two because problems defined by the secularist find little or no solution in the Scripture. For the biblical counselor it is not enough to speak rightly about God in terms of a solution, but he must start by thinking rightly about human problems from the basic confession that “Jesus is Lord.” That point of beginning correctly shapes problems into categories consistent with biblical ideas of human suffering and sin, for which the Bible is sufficient to give answer. The only means to health is proper relationship to Christ who restores proper relationship to the Father and He renews hope of what is to come despite the decay of this world.
Biblical counseling is not the Christianized version of the secular professional’s fifty-minute hour whose base religion is humanism. Rather, it is the bridge that crosses the great divide between the theology of our flock’s intellectual assent and the theology they practice. Pastoral counseling is biblical theology applied to the human condition. The pastor’s life and interpersonal interactions with his flock are to exude the wisdom of the whole counsel of God. Helping your people understand the wisdom of God applied to their specific issues protects them against twisted human wisdom that lures them away.
Admonish with Tears
If we are to mend broken hearts we must be attentive to the people in our care. We must live among them and rub shoulders with them. When a heart is broken, it begins its cries for help in whispers that are not easily heard from the platform. Paul intimately knew his folks and intentionally cared for them with deep emotional investment.
The church is a haven for sinners. All saints have a sinner’s story flooded with rebellious choices, guilty consciences, shameful pasts, and broken hearts. But those stories were radically altered when they met Christ. His righteousness pays for their rebellion, His mind assuages their tormenting guilt, His forgiveness overwhelms their shameful past, and His hope mends their broken heart. Genuine care is produced in the flock when saturated with the grace of Christ. It is the pastor’s duty and privilege to deliver Christ’s personal and comforting message to his people.
One cannot seek to make men complete in Christ without shepherding. One cannot properly shepherd without seeing, as Jesus did, the whites of the eyes of his disciples. In agreement with author Paul Tautges, what I am pleading for is,
. . . a new crop of teaching shepherds who are both tenacious and tender: tenacious in their study and preaching of the whole counsel of God, and tender in their application of its demands to the lives of God’s sheep through the personal and pastoral ministry of counseling; that is, discipleship targeted at specific areas of life where biblical change is necessary.
 Paul Tautges, Counsel Your Flock: Fulfilling your role as a teaching shepherd. Leominster: Day One Publications, 2009.
About: Dr. Dale Johnson serves as the Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling and Chair of the Biblical Counseling Division at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. After college and a brief baseball career, he moved to North Carolina to attend Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary where he graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2005. For seven years after seminary, he served as Associate Pastor of Family Life at Raiford Road Church in his hometown of Macclenny, FL. After a call from God to pursue post-graduate work, he enrolled in the doctoral program at Southwestern Seminary and graduated with a Ph.D. in Biblical Counseling in December 2014. He has been a part of the Biblical Counseling department in the Terry School of Church and Family Ministries full-time at Southwestern since the fall semester of 2014. Dr. Johnson is the proud husband of Summer and the father of six children, Easton, Titus, Will, Ellie, and twin girls Annadale and Caroline.