A Counseling Challenge for 2012

When I read some books on counseling, I’m left thinking that the authors have an extremely narrow and shallow view of their work. They often fail to get much beyond sin: finding it, confronting it, convicting of it, and forsaking it.

However a full-orbed theology of pastoral counseling goes much wider and deeper than that. I can think of at least 12 different kinds of counseling situations I’ve been involved in, and each of them requires significantly different pastoral skills.

Have a look through the following list and ask yourself if you have the pastoral resources to counsel people in each of these varied situations. How would you prepare for such situations? What would you be listening for? What questions can you anticipate being asked? What questions would you ask? What verses/truths/stories might be applicable? What biblical principles would you communicate and how? Who else might you involve? How would you pray? What books or sermons would you recommend?

1. Sinning: Margaret has fallen into sin and a family member asks you to speak to them. (I start with sin because everybody else does! But let’s not stop there).

2. Seeking: Frank is attending church for the first time and although he has many questions, he seems to be earnestly seeking the Lord. How would you help him find what/who he is seeking?

3. Sickness: 35-year-old William, a father of three, has been diagnosed with cancer and is facing surgery and chemo-therapy with no guarantees of success.

4. Sorrowing: Joe and Amy have just been bereaved of their unconverted son in an auto accident.

5. Sadness: Janet, a Christian mother of four young children, has emailed to say that she thinks she is suffering with depression.

6. Social: One of your elders has phoned to let you know that following months of bad-tempered arguing, his unmarried teenage daughter has announced she is pregnant, has left the home, and has started living with her boyfriend.

7. Suffering: A number of the previous situations involve suffering, but I’m using this category specifically for the pain of persecution for Christ’s sake.

8. Strengthening: Although counseling is usually associated with problems, why not also consider how you will counsel people in your congregation to grow and mature in spiritual gifts and graces, and in conformity to and communion with Christ. This is more about spiritual formation than problem-solving.

9. Steering: What principles of guidance will you provide to Paul about choosing a calling, and Sally about beginning a relationship.

10. Significance: Alice contacts you to say that her teenage son is really struggling with the meaning of life. He feels empty and hopeless and wonders what is the point of living.

11. Settling: Karen asks you to act as a peacemaker and help settle a series of disputes and arguments between her and her husband.

12. Satan: Mike phones you in deep distress because he fears falling into sin in the face of sustained and ferocious Satanic temptations.

I’m sure there are other categories as well (raising disabled children, unemployment, and loneliness spring to mind), but I hope that this sampling will encourage you to develop a much wider repertoire of pastoral skills and abilities. In fact, here’s a challenge: why not pick one category a month over the next year and really build up your knowledge and skills in each of these demanding situations.

And this challenge need not be restricted to pastors. All Christians are called upon to help people in these circumstances from time to time.  Why don’t you also focus on each of these areas, maybe one a month, and listen to one sermon or read one book on each subject over the coming year.

And while we’re at it, if anyone can recommend resources for us in each of these areas, please leave your suggestions in the comments, or email/Facebook/Twitter me, and if there are sufficient responses, I’ll collate them, organize them, and post them.

Check out (11/28)

Old Testament
The Old Testament, Holy War, and Christian Morality
Although I disagree with the “hyperbole” defense in #4 there is still some helpful material here for understanding this difficult subject.

Five Love Languages of Leviticus
Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert turn to Leviticus to show how Christians must love with our possessions, by our words, in our actions, by our judgments, and with our attitudes.

Escaping Pornography
Mike Doyle reviews two books that offer hope for those ensnared by porn.

The Five Must-Read books for Bloggers in 2011
Not all of this will “crossover” to Christian blogging, but much of it will.

Ten Tips for Reading Scripture in Public
Perhaps the most neglected area in pastoral ministry.

A Word for a new pastor and congregation
NB: The video at the end of the post is not related to this subject. I’d highly recommend that Christian bloggers pay the little bit extra to make sure that their pages are not used for inappropriate advertisement and videos.

The Great Tech War of 2012
The impending shootout between Apple, Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

The Apostle John’s view of Technology

Children’s Bible Reading Plan (56)

This week’s morning and evening reading plan in Word and pdf.

This week’s single reading plan for morning or evening in Word and pdf.

The first 12 months of the children’s Morning and Evening Bible reading plan in Word and pdf.

The first 6 months of the Morning or Evening Bible reading plan in pdf.

And here’s an explanation of the plan.

Check out (11/24)

Our Pilgrim Heritage
A brief Thanksgiving reflection from Barry York.

A Thanksgiving prayer
Bob Kellemen goes back to the Puritans for a beautiful expression of worshipful thanksgiving.

Preaching with the grain
Jared Wilson tries to put “unction” into words. Doesn’t it make you long for more of such moments?

7 Things which help me focus
Never easy to get back into the work groove after a holiday. Ron Edmondson has some helpful tips.

Teachers and cyberbaiting
You’ve heard of cyberbullying. Now you can learn about cyberbaiting.

Apple’s Four Principles of Success
Apple’s Greg Joswiak describes Apple’s four principles of success: focus, simplicity, courage, and best. And if you’re a real fanboy here’s an infographic of Apple’s history.

Looking back and counting my blessings

Before heading off for our Thanksgiving Service this morning, I thought I would just sit at my desk for 30 minutes and quickly record all the mercies I am thankful to God for.

  1. God. Yes, I’m thankful to God for God. I owe everything to Him. Thankful for my gracious Father’s daily care, for my gracious Savior’s salvation, and my gracious Spirit’s preserving and sanctifying. So thankful that God is my best friend.
  2. Family. Words fail. You all know my heart.
  3. Life. Thankful that God spared my life this year when multiple blood clots filled my lungs.
  4. Lessons: Thankful for all the life-transforming lessons that the Lord taught me through my illness. Thankful for a slower and more enjoyable mindset and lifestyle
  5. Preaching. Still the greatest passion of my heart. So thankful for continued opportunities to preach the Gospel, and especially to regularly serve in the local Free Reformed Church. That means SO much to me.
  6. Seminary. Thankful for my Faculty colleagues friends: Joel, Jerry, and Bill. Grateful for your new role, Henk. And indeed very thankful for all the staff. Thankful for a fantastic bunch of students from all over the world. Looking forward to seeing some of you this evening in our home. Thankful for the generous and prayerful support of all our Seminary friends and partners.
  7. HeadHeartHand Media. Thank you, David Faasse, for making this possible and for your encouraging and stimulating friendship. Thanks, Dirk, for putting your creative gifts at the service of Christ’s Church. Thanks to Nathan Bingham and Cameron for transforming our web presence. Thanks to all who have given generous support and encouragement in our first year.
  8. Blog. I can’t believe how much I enjoy blogging. Thanks, Michael DeWalt, for pushing and pushing me. Thankful for all I’ve learned about writing and communicating in this format. And sooooooo thankful for all who stop by to read and interact with my musings.
  9. Church. Very grateful for my faithful pastors at Heritage Reformed Church. Also for the elders, deacons, and everyone who puts so much into our church community. Been especially edified by Pastor Vanderzwaag’s series on Job.
  10. Friends. Thankful for the life-enhancing, soul-enriching friendship of Tim Challies, Steven Lee, Chris Larson, Burk Parsons, David & Ann Faasse, Gary Timmer, Gary Kwekel, Rich Ten Elshof, Nate Engelsma, Don & Liz Deater, and so many more…
  11. Bloggers. So thankful for the daily soul-blessing labors of Tim Challies, Kevin DeYoung, Bob Kellemen, Jeremy Walker, Justin Taylor, Trevin Wax, the Ligonier team, and Barry York & co. Deeply appreciate your sacrificial service.
  12. Apple: Enjoying reading through Steve Jobs bio just now and being reminded of how God in His providence prepared this gifted man to serve His World and His people. Thankful to God for His genius reflected in Jobs life & work. After years of resistance to AT&T charges, I finally succumbed to the Apple iPhone this year. However, thus far, Siri has been more entertaining than helpful.
  13. Fishing. God is so good in allowing fishing to continue after Genesis 3! It’s been great to pick up the rod again and re-discover the soul-soothing joys of river-fishing for king salmon and steelhead.
  14. Skiing. Well, what else is there to do in Michigan for the next four months?

I could go on, but I have to go to our Thanksgiving service now! Have a happy and holy day.