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!

2 Comments

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.

What Exactly Is Anxiety?

Anxiety and Modern Research

What is worry? In the first blog we discussed the experience of worry and in the second we addressed the multi-layered potential shaping influences that impact the degree to which we may struggle with anxiety. But what exactly is anxiety/worry? How do you begin to define it?

Let’s begin with the advent of modern psychology and psychiatry. A great deal of empirical research has been done over the past century. While these disciplines are quite young in many ways, they have proven to generate a wealth of observable data. When Christians stop and listen to the research, they are able to wisely engage rather than dismiss it out of hand. The following definition is an excerpt taken from the DSM Psychiatry Online Website:

Anxiety disorders include disorders that share features of excessive fear and anxiety and related behavioral disturbances. Fear is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat, whereas anxiety is anticipation of future threat. Obviously, these two states overlap, but they also differ, with fear more often associated with surges of autonomic arousal necessary for fight or flight, thoughts of immediate danger, and escape behaviors, and anxiety more often associated with muscle tension and vigilance in preparation for future danger and cautious or avoidant behaviors. Sometimes the level of fear or anxiety is reduced by pervasive avoidance behaviors. Panic attacks feature prominently within the anxiety disorders as a particular type of fear response. Panic attacks are not limited to anxiety disorders but rather can be seen in other mental disorders as well.

Here is a list of classifications of worry that can be found in the most current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V (DSM V). Where possible, screening questions from Allen Frances’ book, Essentials of Psychiatric Diagnosis, are included in italics:

  • Separation Anxiety Disorder: Is your child inordinately scared of separations?
  • Selective Mutism: the voluntary refusal to speak (typically occurring outside the home or immediate family).
  • Specific Phobia: Do you have a particular fear that causes you special trouble, like flying, heights, closed places, animals, seeing blood, or getting an injection?
  • Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia): Do you frequently avoid social situations because you are afraid of doing something stupid or looking silly?
  • Panic Disorder: Have you ever had a panic attack?
  • Panic Attack Specifier: A panic attack associated with a certain trigger (social anxiety, etc.).
  • Agoraphobia: Are there many things you’re afraid to do and many places you’re afraid to go?
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Are you a ‘worry-wart,’ unnecessarily anxious all the time about a lot of different things?
  • Substance/Medication-Induced Anxiety Disorder: Have you had a lot of anxiety symptoms associated with using drugs, drinking alcohol or coffee, taking medication, or withdrawing from drugs or medication?
  • Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: Have you had symptoms of anxiety in association with a medical condition, like and overactive thyroid?
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Do you ever have weird thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind? Are there rituals you can’t resist doing over and over and over and over again?
  • Post-traumatic Stress Disorder: Have you experienced a traumatic event that keeps haunting you in terrible memories, flashbacks, or nightmares?

Below is a helpful chart that compares “normal” anxiety and “abnormal” anxiety.

Everyday anxiety or an anxiety disorder?

What are we to make of this information?

While this is a very brief representation of the data, it still begs the question, "How can we engage this information and learn from it?" Here are some initial thoughts:

  1. We can certainly learn a great deal from this descriptive material. When someone tells you that they are struggling with anxiety, it is not uncommon to assume you know what they mean. You often extrapolate from your own experience of anxiety or others whom you have helped in the past. But that would be a mistake. These various descriptions help you to see how complex each and every person’s struggle with anxiety can be. The data teaches us to be more curious and to ask more questions as we get to know the particular contours of a person's struggle.
     
  2. If you are not careful, it may seem like the person who is high-functioning with “everyday” anxiety is normal and okay. Yet, biblically, every person is in need of God’s help no matter how seemingly small or big the problem. In the chart above, the person in the left column needs to be as vigilant about their low-grade anxiety as the person with a more intense struggle. No matter where you fall on the worry continuum, each and every person should be asking these questions on a daily basis. We will see why this is so important when we begin to see how Scripture defines worry.
  • “How can I love God and neighbor more fully regardless of my level of struggle with anxiety?"
  • “How can I be more and more conformed into the likeness of Jesus?”
Living without worry
By Timothy Lane

3. It might be tempting to think that the person who is high-functioning has a deeper faith than the person who struggles more intensely. But that is not necessarily so. Someone who struggles more intensely with anxiety may actually have a more robust faith than the person whose struggle is less. The Scriptures remind us again and again that the weak know their need of God’s grace while the “strong” may be falsely self-confident and self-reliant.

4. Finally, you may conclude that these diagnoses are similar to a medical diagnosis. You might conclude that the person “has” a psychopathology in the same way a person has a medical pathology or disease. While there may be an organic aspect to the person’s struggle, the DSM V categories are largely, if not only, descriptive. They are describing thoughts and behaviors that are observable. The cause may be largely unknown.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. In the next post, we will begin to see how Scripture defines anxiety.

Copyright © 2016 Timothy S. Lane

2 Comments

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.

What Does it Take to Survive and Thrive in Ministry?

5 Essential Ingredients: What Are They?

The old joke goes something like this, "For six days a pastor is hard to find and the seventh, hard to understand." While that may be funny on the surface, it belies a deep misunderstanding of what pastors do from day to day and week to week. It also reveals a significant lack of understanding of the life, pressures and expectations of someone in ministry.

Recently, I  re-read a helpful book on pastoral ministry entitled, Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told us About Surviving and Thriving. (Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie, IVP Books, 2013)

Here is how the book came to be:

This book, based on seven years of research, seeks to answer these questions. Our research focused on gathering pastors and their spouses into peer cohorts, which met repeatedly in multi day retreats called Pastors Summits where we facilitated heartfelt discussions about the challenges of vocational ministry. This book presents the summary and analysis of those discussions in light of our literature research and experiences.

Based upon the discussions, the book identifies 5 areas that are critical for surviving and thriving in Christian ministry. Those five areas are:

  • Spiritual Formation: personal growth in grace and maturity.
  • Self Care: the pursuit of physical, mental and emotional health.
  • Emotional and Cultural Intelligence: Emotional intelligence of oneself as well as others.
  • Marriage and Family: spiritual and relational health with their spouse, children and extended family.
  • Leadership and Management: sharing congregational leadership, building congregational community, effective administration, conflict utilization and responsible self-management.'

No Sour Grapes, Just Reality

As I pondered these 5 areas, I reflected back on my time in seminary and my days in pastoral ministry. Unfortunately, I can't remember when any of these five areas were emphasized in my preparation for ministry, nor my ongoing equipping while in ministry! While much of what I studied in seminary was essential to my work, so much was never addressed. In addition, there was little or no vision for ongoing development and growth once I found myself in a pastoral role. This was virtually missing at the local, as well as the regional and national level in my denomination.

As I reflected back on my circle of friends who have spent many years in ministry, they confirm that these critical areas are where most of their challenges and heartache lie. It is almost always the areas that caused many to leave.

A Way Forward?

If these findings are accurate, what does this say about our seminary training and ongoing support that is provided for those serving in pastoral ministry? I think the conclusions are obvious. But will we take them seriously? We can't afford not to.

For information about an organization that addresses these very issues, follow this link to the Institute for Pastoral Care.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. 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.

A Web of Care: External Resources

Here are five strands of external care (building upon the internal strands) that can be leveraged to strengthen the pastoral ministry in your local church.

It is important to note that there are professionals in various areas who may or may not attend your church. As best you can, know who they are and get a sense of how they might be utilized in ways that can strengthen your web of care. This will require humility and wisdom. If some of these people attend your church, get them to help you identify the resources available in your community.

Strand One: Specially trained counselors. If you have professionally trained counselors in your church, they can be a rich resource for helping you care for and equip other people. The obvious challenge is recognizing what models are most influential in their care. Make every effort to pursue them and begin a conversation that moves in the direction of mutual understanding and appreciation. Most professionally trained counselors have not been adequately exposed to Biblical and theological categories that are essential to distinctively Christian counseling. It is also true that many pastors and leaders have not had adequate exposure to helpful diagnoses and skills in discipling ministry with more complex struggles. Strive to bring these two together.

Strand Two: Doctors and Psychiatrists. The physical body is complex. While doctors and psychiatrists are not omniscient, their training does provide insight into how the body influences the person. The same situation that exists with professionally trained counselors is true of doctors and psychiatrists. If you want a stronger web of care, do the same with them as you would do with the group in strand one. 

Strand Three: Social Workers. People in the helping professions, including counselors, can be a rich resource for the local church. Hospice care, those who care for the elderly, crisis pregnancy providers, suicide intervention, coroners, nurses, EMS, substance abuse and police officers are some of the many people who can play a role in very specific ways in the body of Christ. Often, they can be leveraged to do significant training for highly active lay people. Their experience and case wisdom is invaluable. Capture it for the good of others.

Strand Four: Every Member. One of the main aspects of a web of care is the daily relationships of each and every person in your church. As important as trained professionals are, there is no replacement for a person's daily friendships. These are the people who really know the person and are there around the clock. Every member in the local church should be equipped at some level to wisely care for those closest to them. You would do well to spend time equipping this group with basic skills for listening and a knowledge of where they can be helpful and where they may be over their heads.

Strand Five: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It goes without saying that within the context of the body of Christ, there are many strands of the web of care that can be found outside of the local church. One aspect that can not be found or manufactured anywhere else is the presence of a personal God who is graciously involved and working His good purposes in every Christian's life. We do well to remember that the local church has a "resource" that no other organization or institution has; a gracious, personal redeeming God who has revealed Himself in the person of Jesus and works mysteriously through the Holy Spirit.

Finally, it is helpful to remember that the primary metaphor for the church used over and over again in the Bible is that of a body. There are many parts and each part is needed in order for the body to function well. As you consider both internal and external strands within the body of Christ, you begin to see how very important each strand is. You also see just how important it is for each strand to be connected wisely to one another. The strands cannot exist as parallel entities. It is the role of wise leadership to strengthen the interconnectedness of the various people who represent these multiple aspects of care. This will only happen if wise leadership encourages and facilitates this connection. Once it does, a web of care will emerge that will provide a more safe, secure and wise context to provide care for the people who attend your local church.

Copyright © 2014 Timothy S. 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.

A Web of Care: Internal Resources

The other day, I was doing some cleaning in my basement. While working in a particular corner, I walked right into a spider web. My entire face was consumed. As I tried to get loose, pieces of the web kept sticking to other parts of my body; my fingers, arms, shoulders and even my torso! I could not get free of the web's embrace no matter how hard I tried.

Later that day, I was having a conversation with a fellow pastor about discipleship, counseling and pastoral care in the local church. In a serendipitous moment, I made a connection between my bad experience with the spider's web and a positive one as it relates to pastoral care.  When we think about caring for people within the context of the local church, the image of a web is helpful. We want to create a web of care so that people find it hard to hide, get lost, slip away or fall through the cracks.

I started thinking about the various strands of what that web would include. You see, a spider's web does it's job well because the spider spins many strands. A single strand will not suffice if the spider is going to catch its prey. Likewise, no single strand will suffice if the church is going to guard and feed the sheep. Here is a list of some of the strands.

Strand One: The Pastor. This is the first and most important strand, yet many churches think this is the only strand. When they do, people are not cared for. It only takes a congregation of 25 to overwhelm one pastor!

Strand Two: Spiritual Leaders. Any church worth its salt will have a number of spiritual leaders who assist the pastor and help provide stability for the people. If this is going to happen, it will mean that the lead pastor/pastors will have a vision and plan for equipping these leaders with interpersonal ministry skill.

Strand Three: Pastoral Staff. Most churches, even if they are small, have staff; a secretary, receptionist, nursery coordinator, children's minister, youth pastor and other assistant pastors. Every staff person must be adequately trained to know how best to help others grow in grace. Once again, it is the responsibility and calling of the lead pastors to provide this kind of training so that key staff are adequately able to know how to assist in the growth process of others.

Strand Four: Uniquely gifted lay-people. There are always a number of people who have gifts of mercy and are relationally strong in helping others with wise counsel. Often, they have gained these skills and character qualities through the hard knocks of life. You know who they are because people talk about how they have been helped by them. If this strand is going to be leveraged to the fullest, know who they are and create a natural but more formal connection with them and the other strands.

Strand Five: Small group leaders. In most cases, equipping for small group leaders has one of three legs missing. The two legs that are often present are: 1) training in how to lead a Bible study and 2) training in group dynamics and how to lead the group in discussion. The third leg that is often missing is what to do if an individual or couple approaches the small group leader after the meeting and asks for help with a problem in their lives. When small group leaders are given this third aspect of training, they become a vital part of the overall web of care.

Copyright © 2014 Timothy S. 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.