The value of counseling by a pastor is many faceted. Pastoral counseling can be  defined as counseling by a church pastor directed to an individual or couple in  his own flock. There are instances where a church pastor counsels those outside  his congregation, but generally speaking, the benefits of pastoral counseling  are much greater when exercised inside the church.

Pastoral counseling  is unique and differs from other types of counseling. First, counseling is part  of a pastor’s job description. As a shepherd, his duties include feeding,  protecting, and caring for those in his congregation. Just as a shepherd must  bind up the wounds of the sheep that are sick or injured, so does the church  pastor bind and soothe the emotional wounds suffered by those in his flock.  First and foremost, pastoral counseling must be biblical counseling, as opposed  to psychological counseling. Secular psychology or psychotherapy, based  primarily on the teachings of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Carl Rogers, has no  place in biblical counseling.

Biblical pastoral counseling uses the  truths of Scripture, explaining and applying them to the individual’s  life—exhorting, rebuking, correcting, and training—so that practical help is  gained through the understanding and application of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16). The Word  of God has a power not gained from textbooks or taking courses in psychology,  the power to “penetrate even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it  judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews  4:12). The Word is the pastor’s primary tool in counseling and because of  his years of study, he is in a unique position to wield the sword of truth.

While biblical counseling can be obtained outside the church, pastoral  counseling has unique benefits not to be gained elsewhere. The pastor has a  relationship with his counselee that continues outside the counseling sessions.  He is in a position to observe and follow the progress of the church members he  counsels. He can also solicit the prayers and advice of others in the church  such as elders, always keeping in mind whatever confidentiality agreement he has  with the counselee. There is also the accountability factor which the pastor can  bring to bear during counseling sessions.

The downside of pastoral  counseling is two-fold. First, the average modern day pastor is overwhelmed with  many tasks and must be careful not to take on more than he can handle. Many  churches spread counseling out among associate pastors or elders who are equally  equipped to counsel from the Word of God. Some churches hire counseling pastors  whose primary role is to counsel those in need in the congregation, freeing the  preaching pastor for sermon preparation and teaching responsibilities. Second,  care must be taken to avoid counseling situations that can lead to sin. Pastors  should not counsel women individually without another person present, preferably  another woman, perhaps the pastor’s wife. Discernment should also be exercised  to be certain a dependent relationship doesn’t occur between the pastor and his  counselees. Dependence upon God and His Word should be sought and stressed in  each session, not dependence on the pastor to meet every emotional and spiritual  need, an impossible task for any pastor.

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