Characteristics of the Pastor-Counselor

Characteristics of the Pastor-Counselor

The pastor-counselor will never make any counselee feel that the problem he wishes to discuss is too trivial for his attention.

C. E. WITTSCHIEBE, Professor of Pastoral Care, SDA Theological Seminary

Respect for the Counselee

The  pastor-counselor will never make any counselee feel that the problem he wishes to discuss is too trivial for his attention. The counselee may open the interview with such a remark as, "This may seem silly to you," or "I hate to bother you with my problems—you're such a busy man," or "It doesn't seem right to ask a busy man like you to give time to a per­sonal problem." At this point the pastor can assure the person that he is completely at his service and willing and happy to help. His ac­tions will match his words. There will be no fiddling with letters on his desk, no rather clumsy watching of the clock, and no sitting position resembling that of a runner about to take off at the firing of the gun. His whole demeanor tells the counselee that this time is reserved for him and that all the pastor's en­ergies and interest are for the time being di­rected to understanding and assisting in the problem to be presented.

At the same time the pastor will remark that no matter that troubles one of his flock is trivial or silly—that it is not so much the cir­cumstance involved, whether large or small, but the counselee's feeling about it. The measure of seriousness is not the size of the incident but the distress or confusion it causes the in­dividual. What troubles one person a great deal may give less difficulty to another. An unhappy affair of the heart can bring as much pain, rela­tively speaking, to a teen-ager as to an adult. What one man takes in his stride another may find very frightening. The pastor recognizes, for example, that the individual with a phobia is not a coward in the ordinary sense of the term, and that the man with an obsession is not necessarily in the condition because he guiltily refuses to control his thoughts.

This respect shown by the counselor will make it possible for the counselee to unburden him­self and to see himself with increasing clarity. Because the pastor is willing to take him for what he is—no matter what he is—the man is able to be himself without fear of hurting the relationship growing between them. This is a part of representing the Saviour to the sinner. Because God takes us as we are, hating and hateful, unloving and unlovable, we can open our hearts to Him and frankly admit our utter unworthiness without fear of rejection. This, too, is the essence of friendship—to be known for what we are and yet to be loved. Such a counseling ministry will bring new meaning to words like these:

"As Christ has pitied and helped us in our weak­ness and sinfulness, so should we pity and help oth­ers. Many are perplexed with doubt, burdened with infirmities, weak in faith, and unable to grasp the unseen; but a friend whom they can see, coming to them in Christ's stead, can be as a connecting link to fasten their trembling faith upon God. Oh, this is a blessed work!"Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 246.

Understanding of Himself

The capable pastor-counselor will understand himself, his strengths and his weaknesses, his assets and his liabilities. He faces his own problems, analyzes them, and works through them into greater maturity. He sees the ego­tism in expecting others to come to him for help in dealing with problems when he him­self has not had wisdom enough to deal with his own. To him it appears rather weak and perhaps cowardly to evade an honest appraisal of his own personality. He senses the unfair­ness, the inconsistency, on the part of such a minister in expecting individuals from his con­gregation to muster up the courage to talk over painful and distressing problems.

The counselor who has faced up to himself has learned significant things about his motiva­tions, his needs, his defenses, and his limita­tions. There is the sobering thought that a man may enter the ministry, not because he loves men, but because he does not love them. As Overstreet puts it, "Every psychological realist . . . knows the profession holds both types—just as the medical profession holds both those with a deep urge to relieve suffering and those who need a white coat between themselves and humanity; or, as the teaching profession holds both those who love children and those who love to exert authority over persons weaker than themselves."

More than one missionary, for example, has found out after arriving in his field that a love for lost souls was not his main motive in going. He went, rather, in the spirit of a professional do-gooder, or for the sake of adventure, or to be president of some unit, or to escape the pressures of working closely with others in the highly developed organization of the homeland. The minister must examine himself carefully to see whether he is serving his Lord from good motives. This is not to say that a man with leadership talent should not become a leader, nor that a man with ability should not make continual progress upward. Ambition, agressive­ness, self-respect, and similar qualities, all have their place—one must be sure that they are con­secrated to God and placed at the service of the Holy Spirit.

The mature pastor-counselor will know him­self well enough to serve his people, instead of expecting them to meet his needs. Counseling, for him, is not a way to increase his own sense of importance, a means by which he can manip­ulate the lives of his people. He does not con­duct himself as a spiritual boss, in obvious or subtle ways filling an exclusively authoritarian role toward his flock. He will not be dependent on his people to meet his affectional needs. Failure to understand this has cost many a man his credentials and has pushed him one step farther into outer darkness.

The balanced pastor-counselor studies him­self and becomes aware of the kinds of defense mechanisms he uses in dealing with people. He recognizes some of them as common and rela­tively wholesome. A few may reveal to him deep inner weaknesses that need to be faced, and dealt with. In the process he may discover that it is easier to pick splinters out of a brother's eye than to remove large pieces of wood from his own; that it is less painful to become in­dignant about another's shortcomings than to look inward at one's own imperfections.

Training

The conscientious pastor-counselor will feel a continuing need for more adequate training to meet the demands of his calling. As in all other things, his mind reverts to statements found in the writings of the Spirit of prophecy. He recalls that parents are told that "it re­quires skill to apply the proper remedies to cure a wounded mind" (Testimonies, vol. 1, p. 384), and acknowledges that his work as a shepherd certainly makes this skill highly neces­sary for him. He remembers the direct counsel to him in these words: "A pastor should have a correct understanding of the word and also of the human character."—Ibid., vol. 4, p. 260.

He sees the importance of his work in com­parison with that of the doctor. Physicians are told that "great wisdom is needed in dealing with diseases caused through the mind."—The Ministry of Healing, p. 244. He, however, is told: "As the physician deals with physical dis­ease, so does the pastor minister to the sin-sick soul. And his work is as much more important than that of the former as eternal life is more valuable than temporal existence."—Testi­monies, vol. 4, p. 267.

Keeping these statements in mind, the pastor-counselor is conscious of the fact that the doc­tor, who deals largely with the body, must have a minimum of four years of training beyond his college degree, while he, who deals largely with the mind of man, seldom goes beyond his college degree in study or training for that most important of responsibilities. He does not underestimate the Scriptures, the writings of the Spirit of prophecy, and the agency of the Holy Spirit as sources for the wisdom needed in his work. At the same time, however, he makes use of the human resources available.

Further motivation comes from the realization that "the need for the pastor has never been greater than now, but to meet this need more skillful services and deeper understanding are required to heal the soul. The years, in fact, have added to the urgency of the needs as well as to the proficiency required to minister to them."—JOHNSON, Psychology of Pastoral Care, p. 23.

All of this may be summed up, perhaps, by saying that the pastor-counselor, when he is physically ill, wants the services of a doctor who not only prays but who is competent to take care of him. By the same token the pas­tor's church member, when he is sick emotion­ally, should have the services of a pastor who not only prays but who is competent to min­ister to his needs. Having this competence does not mean that the pastor must be able to take care of all emotional and mental illness. This he cannot and should not do. He is not a psychiatrist or a clinical psychologist, but he introduces into his ministry skills derived from these fields. (These he acquires to the degree that he has time and energy to study them. After all, counseling is only a portion of his ministry, and the great demands of his calling make a budget of time absolutely necessary.) He knows enough to understand when he can help, and when it is necessary to refer his coun­selee to other men in the healing team.

Cooperation With Other Professions

What has just been said about competence brings us naturally to this point. The alert pastor-counselor, who keeps in touch with what a recent Autumn Council action referred to as the "basic principles of psychology and psy­chiatry as are not contrary to Christian teach­ing," will cooperate with the psychiatrist and psychologist. It is understood, of course, that there are the good and the bad in these pro­fessions as in all others. The cautious pastor gradually learns which men are in harmony with the principles of true religion, and he feels safe in referring to them parishioners suffering from mental and emotional illness. As he does this he will develop a new respect for the work these men are doing and will be deeply grate­ful to his heavenly Father for using so many different kinds of men and means to help in the tremendous task of healing minds and hearts in these last days. In the same area he sees in the judge, the social worker, the probation officer, the hospital attendant, and the nurse, varying degrees of dedication to one of the great objectives of his own ministry: making men's lives happier and healthier. He understands with increasing humility how much the Holy Spirit is still doing through men—men who often are unconscious of the grace of God working in their lives.

Security

Finally, the pastor-counselor enters into all relations with people with an unshakable sense of security. Although he draws from all fields of human knowledge, he does not put his trust in any or all of them. He knows that he serves a living God, who created the heavens and the earth, who created man, who revealed Himself to man, who died for man, who will soon re­store the saved of this race to the former do­minion. He knows that the end is near, that God will soon close the history of this earth. He knows that prayer puts him in touch with the creating and sustaining power of the uni­verse. He knows that all the resources of Om­nipotence are available to the humblest child of God. He knows that his Father has a thou­sand ways to help of which he has no knowl­edge. He knows that the plans and purposes of the Eternal One will ultimately work out. He knows that he shall soon see the whole history of our race in its true perspective. He knows that he can take every burden to the Burden Bearer, every ache and pain to the Great Physician, all evil and wickedness to the Saviour. Such knowledge gives him security. It undergirds him in the painful and wearing ministry of counsel­ing. Translated into human values and ex­pressed in human feelings, and communicated in many ways to his counselees, it is the source of the security he offers them.

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C. E. WITTSCHIEBE, Professor of Pastoral Care, SDA Theological Seminary

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