The Accidental Counselor

Pastor Tim: The Accidental Counselor

Imagine that it is Sunday morning and you have just finished preaching a sermon. You have spent countless hours preparing all week to teach for 30-40 minutes. As you stand at the back of the church and greet people, someone approaches you and thanks you for your teaching. You thank them for saying so and you move on to the next person. The only problem is that the person who just thanked you isn’t moving. They say something like this:

What you taught today was very helpful for me. But I still have so many questions. Can we get together sometime this week so we can talk further?

At that point, you begin to panic on the inside. You are a bit baffled that the sermon did not answer all of the person’s questions but you agree to meet with them. As the meeting draws near, you begin to get a little nervous. You wonder what questions will be asked and you struggle to know what you will say if you don’t have good answers to their questions.

And then the appointed time to meet arrives. In walks your congregant and out come the questions.

Pastor Tim, I really enjoyed your sermon on worry this past Sunday! Thank you for your preparation and careful exegesis. Your sermon caused me to think more carefully about my lifelong struggle with anxiety. Over the past several months, my struggle has intensified and I don’t know what to do. I have recently started having panic attacks and find myself getting very agitated when I am around large groups of people. I have even started avoiding events where I know there will be a large crowd. I wonder if you can help me?

With the questions now on the table, you begin to emphasize your three points from your sermon hoping that a reminder will do the trick. It doesn’t! Your friendly congregant has actually taken notes and can almost preach your sermon for you! They start probing for more detail. I know your points from your sermon but can you help me more with my struggle with anxiety? The issue could be a number of other struggles: depression, anger, addiction, marriage, parenting, being single or single again.

Deer In Headlights

With that one question, you feel like a deer in headlights. You don’t know what to do. You maintain a calm exterior while inside you are struggling with your own anxiety. Once again, you recite the passage you preached hoping that will make things better. Once again, your congregant cuts you off in mid sentence to let you know that they remember the passage but it still seems too difficult to apply to the specifics of their struggle with worry.

Why I Wrote Unstuck: A Nine Step Journey to Change that Lasts

The illustration above was repeated many times in my own life as a pastor. I would preach a sermon that was relatively helpful for someone and they would approach me asking for more guidance. Like you, I would get nervous because I did not know what else to do. This is precisely why I wrote Unstuck: A Nine Step Journey to Change that Lasts. I wanted to provide a pathway for the pastor or a friend to walk down with the person who is struggling.

unstuck diagrams9.jpg

Hope and Direction

In the book, there are 9 steps that are essential for change to take place in your life. The 9 steps take you on a journey towards greater Self-Awareness, Gospel-Awareness and Other-Awareness. Each chapter ends with a practical application. Here you can see the diagram that illustrates the path to change.

Step One—Get Grounded: In Christ

Whenever you are struggling with a temptation or some experience of suffering, the tendency is to make the struggle your fundamental identity. For example; My name is Dave and I am a divorced person. Or, My name is Olivia and I am a depressed or anxious person. If that is your starting point, it will lead to a distorted identity and impact your ability to move forward due to the guilt and shame associated with those issues. Instead, Dave and Olivia are both children of the living God, in Christ, forgiven, loved, empowered by the Spirit, a new creation in Christ…..who struggle with anxiety or have been through the challenging experience of divorce.

Grounding your identity in Christ is the first step on the journey to change. It has been true in my own life and in the lives of those I counsel. As you reflect on this first step along the pathway to change, take a moment to give thanks that your mis-steps, sins, weaknesses, and sufferings do not define who you are, the risen Christ does!

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

"Unstuck" Available for Pre-Order!

This book has been brewing in my mind for over a decade.

The ideas were forming as I counseled, traveled and spoke to churches across the globe. My primary goal was to find a way to encourage people that change was possible and what they needed was a way of connecting the lines between their daily struggles and their relationship with God.

In the fall or 2016, I was invited to teach a class on worry at Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church. Near the middle of the class, I had been mulling over Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and the thought occurred to give the class “steps” they could take to grow in grace. Soon after that class, a series of blogs began to take form that eventually shaped this book.

In late 2017, the final stage came as I reconnected with The Good Book Company and pitched the idea of a book on change that was short, accessible yet nuanced enough to capture more complex struggles. They accepted and provided an excellent editor, Rachel Jones, who gave wise feedback through every iteration of each chapter.

My hope is that this short book would be read by individuals, couples, families and churches. But I would also love to see it used in one-on-one discipleship relationships, as well as a foundational supplement for counselors as you seek to help others grow in grace.

Thank you to each and every person who had a shaping influence on this book.

Tim Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Will Counseling Make a Church Turn Inward?

What do counseling and evangelism have in common? What do counseling and community have in common? Have you ever put them together? At first glance, it would seem that the two pairings are awkward at best. But stop for a minute and consider how a local church that takes counseling seriously actually does a better job of reaching non-believers as well as build community.

Counseling and Evangelism

How has the church historically persuaded the surrounding culture of the truth of the Scriptures? If you know your church history, it has largely happened when people’s lives were changed so much by the grace of God that others could not dismiss those who were changed. Nor could they as easily dismiss the truth claims that transformed them. There has been much discussion about modernity, post-modernity and the apologetic challenge this raises for the church. In a post-modern climate, modern notions of rational categories of truth and error, right and wrong, good and bad have been abandoned. Those belong to the day when the majority culture imposed its meta-narrative on the minority culture. Since this led to oppression, it was necessary to rule out any claims to absolute truth. This is the context in which we live. It is going to take much more than logical arguments to convince people of the truth of the Christian faith.

When a church counsels, it is saying more than the Bible is true; it is saying that the God of the Bible is real. He comes to change lives, families, communities, cultures and the entire cosmos. You can actually see those changes! When a church counsels, it is engaging in one of the most important apologetic tasks it can engage in. It is saying, “We will not simply proclaim the truth, we will demonstrate the truth in the way we live and in the visible proof of lives changed.”

Talk to any church that takes counseling seriously and they will attest to the fact that they reach non-believers naturally because they are addressing the problems they struggle with in their daily lives. The truth changes them and they come to embrace the truth!

Counseling and Community

We don’t often think of the word community when we hear the word “counseling”. The word “counseling” evokes images of conversations between two people behind closed doors where no one else can listen. We think “confidentiality”. While we would not want to diminish the need to handle personal information and conversations with great care and wisdom, a church that counsels is actually a vibrant community. 

Paul, in Colossians 3:16 says, “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” This passage is speaking of a vibrant congregation where brothers and sisters in Christ are counseling one another in the context of daily life as they grow as a community. This does not preclude more personal, confidential contexts for counsel. It does emphasize the communal nature of “one-anothering” ministry.

When a church counsels, it becomes the first place, not the last place that people think about when they need help. How biblical and yet how radical for people to think of the church in that way!

Copyright © 2014 Timothy S. Lane. All rights reserved.

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Should the Church do Counseling?

In my travels over the past 12 years (and 15 years of campus and pastoral ministry before that), I have had the privilege of talking with countless pastors. Given my obvious interest in pastoral care, I regularly get asked a simple but basic question from people in ministry. It is then followed by an interesting statement. “Should I really try to “counsel” people or should I find someone who is an expert to whom I might send people for help?” “After all, I wasn’t trained in counseling in seminary.”

Why should a local church and its leaders seek to incorporate counseling within the context of the local church? It seems like a major distraction from the more important matters of church life and mission. Won’t counseling distract the church from being truly missional? Might it move the church to become insular and self-focused? Shouldn’t counseling be left to professionals who are highly trained to deal with people’s problems?

These are all good questions that deserve an answer. Here are some reasons a church should counsel:

  • Before we begin, we need to define our terms. The word “counseling” is a very distracting word. For the past 100 years, it is a word that has been associated with secular therapy and highly trained/skilled experts with degrees. They are also governed by state and national agencies that insure “best practices” in the helping professions. Unfortunately, the church has not engaged the "soft sciences" as it should have. Still, the word “counsel” is a word that is found all throughout the Bible. Just take Psalm 1:1-2 for instance. Notice the usage of the word “counsel”;

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…But his delight is in the law of the Lord…

Other translations use the word “advice” for the word “counsel”. In other words, the concept of counseling or giving advice is as old as the human race. We are meaning makers and meaning seekers. We need advice and we offer advice. If this is an aspect of being made in God’s image, it would follow that God is very concerned about what we refer to as “counseling” or giving advice. In Psalm 1, the distinction is drawn quite starkly. One is often giving or receiving good or bad advice. In light of this Psalm alone, it is imperative that the church be in the business of “counseling.”

  • As Christians, we are on a mission. In John 17:18, Jesus says, ‘As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” Jesus came on a courageous mission of compassion to rescue us from ourselves and to restore all things. He did this as the incarnate Son of God. He did not preach a message from heaven but instead “became like us in every way” (Hebrews 2:17) though without sin. When a church commits to counsel people, they are saying that they are willing to get down in the trenches of daily life and love people with the redemptive compassion of the Incarnate One. They are saying that good preaching, as important as it is, is just the beginning of ministry of the Word not the beginning and end. Ministry of the Word that does not connect at the level of people’s sins and sufferings in a rich and meaningful way is insufficient. It fails to fully display the amazing compassion of the God of Scripture. A church should counsel if it wants to demonstrate the compassion of Father, Son and Spirit.

While different messages for change and human flourishing abound, the church must speak and demonstrate the power of the Gospel as it addresses issues endemic to the human condition.

 

 

Copyright © 2014 Timothy S. Lane. All rights reserved.

1 Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at a counseling organization  in Philadelphia, PA. Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches. For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.