Said the Great Shepherd, "I . . . know My sheep, and am known of Mine." Sheep need a shepherd. They lose their way, not because they are wicked, but because they are sheep. Christ's followers need a pastor—one who knows them and knows how to lead them. A pastor must do more than point the way; he must go before his flock and be ready at all times to enter into their problems. He must be a real counselor, whose very presence begets confidence. Pastoral counseling was never needed more than it is today. But true counseling is a science.
We do not need to fear that word science, but we do need to guard against a "science falsely so called" that attempts to solve every spiritual and physical problem through mere human psychology, or psychiatry. The influence of the mind, however, upon both the spiritual and physical life is tremendous, and the pastor, above all men, should understand the relationship of the mind to the body.
More than sixty years ago the Lord's messenger wrote these words : "In leading souls to Jesus, there must be a knowledge of human nature and a study of the human mind."—Review and Herald, October ic, 1882. That is certainly true. The greatest knowledge in the world is the knowledge of human nature. In this the pastor should excel. It requires much more training and infinitely more talent to read a mind than to read a balance sheet. Are our pastors being trained in this divine art? Are they heeding the counsel of the Lord to study the human mind? How meager is the training which the average pastor gets in this important field of study!
It may not occur to some that any particular training in pastoral counseling is needed. If he is a good promoter, one who can "deliver the goods," and is a tolerably good speaker, what more does he need? Surely he could pastor a church! We have even heard it said that "all the church needs is to be set to work." The church does need to work, but that service should be the by-product of a definite experience with God. The pastor's main responsibility is not to put over a campaign; it is to see that every member of his flock is maintaining fellowship with God. Work for God is sweet when we walk with God.
How can the shepherd build his flock in spiritual power? First he must know his sheep. He must understand the workings of their minds. "It requires aknowledge of human nature, close study, careful thought, and earnest prayer, to know how to approach men and women on the great subjects that concern their eternal welfare."—Gospel Workers, p. 92.
During recent years psychology, which is the study of the mind, has developed into a recognized science. We know there is much false teaching that goes under the name of psychology. But the same is true of most other branches of science, Yet the science of pastoral psychology, or the art of true counseling, is one every minister should study. Mrs. White says there should be "a study of the human mind." To become efficient in his work, the pastor should know the principles that govern men's minds. People do the things they, do because they think the things they think. For as a man "thinketh in his heart, so is he"—physically, mentally, spiritually. His health is influenced as much by his thoughts as by his food. We have much to say about a man's physical diet, but what about his mental diet?
The world-famed Mayo brothers' clinic claims that the physical ills of more than seventy-five per cent of all the hundreds of thousands of patients that pass through their hands come from wrong thinking. The Spirit of prophecy goes even further. Notice these words : "Nine-tenths of the diseases from which men suffer have their foundation here [in the mind]." "Sickness of the mind prevails everywhere."—Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 444. When we teach men health reform we must know more than right combinations of food. Right combinations of thought are even more important.
Cultivate and Show Sympathy
When Jesus came teaching, He dealt with human minds. Of Him it was said, "He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man: for He knew what was in man." John 2 :24, 25. Moffatt's translation reads, "He knew all men, and required no evidence from anyone about human nature; well did He know what was in human nature." When He appeared on earth, it was as a revelation of a new, fresh, incomparable moral power that could re-create men mentally, physically, and spiritually. He came to show men how to live—and to live more abundantly. In His ministry life touched life, flame kindled flame.
And yet His was not that kind of personality that over-powered men and knocked them down. True, "His word was with power." That expression occurs twenty-five times in the first three Gospels, but it was a power that raised men. It lifted them from the dust of discouragement, disillusionment, disease, and even death. But as He moved among men He was "full of grace and truth." He not only spoke words of grace, but He spoke them graciously. And men "wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth." Grace is more than a duty done. It is a way of doing that duty. Our Saviour's grace was the radiation of His life. Gracefulness can be cultivated. But graciousness is the unrestrained expression of the self-forgetful soul. As His ambassadors we need His graciousness.
Men and women, and even boys and girls, live on a tension today. They suffer from many complexes. They do not understand themselves. Yet many long to be understood. When they find one who can understand them, they are drawn to him as a magnet. As they unburden their hearts, it is the privilege of the true counselor to extirpate them from the contradictions of their nature. He must uncover their hidden complexes and set them free. To do that he must be able to enter into their problems intelligently, and like His Master be touched with the feeling of their infirmities. He must know how to " have compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way." Heb. 5:2. And while helping them he must never appear annoyed or impatient, for "only through sympathy, faith, and love can men be reached and uplifted."—Education, p. 78.
So, one of the first things to remember is that people need sympathy because they do not understand themselves. When they find someone who does, night seems to turn into day. Of those who came to Jesus we read that "He linked His interest with theirs as a faithful and tender friend, and they desired to know more of the truths He taught. Heaven was brought near, They longed to abide in His presence, that the comfort of His love might be with them continually."—Desire of Ages, p. 254. That was the way the Master built up His interest. As the Prince of Peace He was indeed a wonderful Counselor. We need more of His methods today.
Take Time and Use Patience
Jesus was always busy, and His time was precious, yet He could always make opportunity to talk to a needy soul. He never appeared in a hurry. That is another vital quality of a true counselor. He will never appear impatient. Other duties may be pressing, but he will give the impression that he has plenty of time.
How many sensitive souls have been crushed and broken just because the one to whom they came for counsel was in too much of a hurry.
The counselor neither heard nor heeded their heart cries. Every few minutes he was looking at his watch. Yes, he was busy—too busy to do the work of a pastor—and like one of old he will excuse himself for the loss of a soul by some such paltry explanation as, "While I was busy here and there, he was gone." Yes, and gone perhaps beyond recovery.
It is well to budget your time, brother minister, but souls are more precious than time. Remember, the Master could stay all day, or even all night if necessary, to help some needy soul. Far too many sheep are losing their way because some shepherd fails to discern their need, or take time to help them. Our gross gains are encouraging, but in every conference they are cut down by as much as forty to fifty per cent every year because of those who have to be dropped from membership through apostasy. Of course the usual explanation for this loss is that new members were not properly brought in, but the fact is that the great majority of those who apostatize have been in the message for years. Some grow careless and indifferent, but far too many become discouraged because at the very time they needed help they could not get it. No one seemed to care. With wise, tender shepherds, who are true pastoral psychologists, we can save thousands to the cause every year.
Genuine Interest in Others
Another vital thing to remember in dealing with people is that all troubles are big to those concerned. To try to minimize the problem and set it aside as of little consequence does not solve it. All that does is wound the soul of the individual and build up a barrier between the counselor and the counseled. He must be helped to analyze the problem, to see it in its right light. To exhibit a superior air and give the impression that the problem is insignificant, is to court failure. If it were insignificant to him he would not have brought it to his pastor. The problem means much to him, and a kind counselor will give the impression that for the moment at least it is the most important and critical thing in the world. Never indicate by act or word or even a glance that it is beneath your notice. Even the funeral of a sparrow is important to our heavenly Father. Be kind, courteous, and considerate.
Be observant, and watch for indications. Probably the clue to the whole case will be indicated by some little act or attitude. Knowing how to penetrate the human heart is a science. Study it. By training and experience one can acquire it. Jesus studied men. He could always put His finger on the determining factor on which the whole moral problem turned: He "watched with deep earnestness the changing countenances of His hearers."—Desire of Ages, p. 254. His technique could be summed up in four words: grace, sympathy, understanding, and love. "Had it not been for the sweet, sympathetic spirit that shone out in every look and word, He would not have attracted the large congregations that He did."—Ibid.
The Good Shepherd won them by love and sympathy. He held them by tenderness and understanding. He had confidence in men. In Education we read:
"In every human being He discerned infinite possibilities. He saw men as they might be, transfigured by His grace, in the beauty of the Lord our God. Looking upon them with hope, He inspired hope. Meeting them with confidence, He inspired trust.—Page 80.
Do we do the same? Should we not, as His ambassadors, working in His stead, seize upon every opportunity to apply the balm of Gilead to wounded hearts? Then let us as shepherds and counselors go forth to this, the most sacred service on earth. But as we do, remember these four points:
1. Be sympathetic. It will draw others to you.
2. Be patient. Never close a heart door by giving the appearance of being in a hurry.
3. Be interested. There are no insignificant troubles; all troubles are big to those concerned.
4. Be Christlike. Remember that "pity is the divinest emotion of the human heart."
If the shepherd knows his sheep, if he can enter into their problems, and even rescue them from themselves, they will love him. And sheep that love their shepherd rarely wander.
R. A. A.