“Pastor, I need counseling. Can you help?”

This is the question every pastor loves….and dreads. We love it because it gives us an opportunity to bring God’s Word in life-changing ways to needy souls. We dread it because we realize our limitations in the skillful use of God’s Word; and also because of the time-consuming, mind-scrambling, emotion-draining complexity of so many personal problems.

There are so many challenging questions that surround these situations. What problems can I competently deal with? How do I distinguish between purely spiritual problems and others that have at least some physical dimension? Do I have the expertise to decide? Should I ask another pastor or professional for help and advice? At what point do I refer some of these issues to someone else – a financial adviser, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a family conflict specialist? Can I retain any control or supervision if I do refer? How do I encourage people to come to me with their problems, rather than turn to non-Christian “professionals” first? How do I assure my congregation that I will not harm them by attempting to deal with problems beyond my competence and experience? etc.

Into the fray steps Danny Hyde, Th.M. graduate of PRTS, and church-planter/pastor of Oceanside United Reformed Church, Oceanside, California. In consultation with his elders, Danny has drawn up a document to guide him, his fellow-elders, and his congregation through the counseling minefield. You can download it here, or read it below. It is clear, courageous, caring, and wise – one of the best such statements I’ve come across – and I hope it can guide other pastors and congregations as they seek to shepherd their flocks in a troubled and complicated world.

I’d be glad to hear your feedback on it, as I know Danny would too.

Danny Hyde is not only a pastor and church planter. He is the author of numerous books, including Welcome to a Reformed Church. He contributes to the Meet the Puritans blog and you can listen to his sermons here.

Download this file


  • Bob Kellemen

    Thanks for this interesting article. One important clarification. The author says, “We do not believe, as some in the modern “biblical counseling” or “nouthetic counseling” movement state, that all counseling problems we encounter in this life are the result of some particular sin.” I don’t know any “nouthetic” or “biblical” counselors who state this. It seems, to me, to be a false and unhelpful stereotype. If the author has any supporting quotes/resources/references, I would be interested to read them.

  • David Murray

    Thanks Bob. I’ve forwarded your comment to Danny for response/clarification. I agree that this needs further qualification. However, perhaps Danny had in mind statements such as: “Apart from those who had organic problems like brain damage, the people I met in the two institutions in Illinois were there because of their own failure to meet life’s problems. To put it simply, they were there because of their unforgiven and unaltered sinful behavior.” [Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1970), xvi.]“The hope for the depressed person, as elsewhere, lies in this: the depression is the result of the counselee’s sin.” [Jay Adams, Christian Counselor Manual (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973), 378.]These presuppositions seem to still be quite influential in some circles in the USA, although they are not usually consistently put into practice.

  • Bob Kellemen

    David, Thank you for engaging me on these thoughts. I would defer to Jay Adams to expand upon his thinking in those two quotes. However, I still doubt that he would agree with the statement: “all counseling problems we encounter in this life are the result of some particular sin.” Even in the two quotes you give, I do not hear him saying that. In the first quote, he is referencing specific individuals and giving his assessment of the etiology of their particular issues (not all issues for all people). In the second quote, reading it in context, it is much more nuanced, as his initial paragraph addresses numerous potential “root” issues. Regardless, I still know of no nouthetic/biblical counselors who state, “all counseling problems we encounter in this life are the result of some particular sin.” Biblical counseling is much more robust, compassionate, comprehensive, and relational than that.

  • David Murray

    Thanks Bob. I’ve suggested to Danny that he simply removes “as some in the modern ‘biblical counseling’ or ‘nouthetic counseling’ movement state” be removed, and the sentence changed to: “We do not believe that all counseling problems we encounter in this life are the result of some particular sin.” That removes the polemical and potentially misleading element, while retaining the most important point in the sentence.Your helpful exegesis of these Jay Adams quotes highlights for me what I’ve been troubled about for some time in some counseling writing and speaking. Why do some write and speak in such a way that it leaves most “ordinary” (non-academic) readers with one impression (All my problems are the result of my personal sin alone), when they do not actually believe that?The “whispered”, scholarly, complicated, and contextual qualifications and nuancing pass most “ordinary” people by, while the BIG BOLD AND DAMAGING GENERALIZATIONS leave the abiding impression. The qualifications need to become much louder and the seeming generalizations need to be abandoned. Anyway, I know from your own careful writing and speaking that we are on the same page there!

  • David Murray

    Edited document posted.

  • Bob Kellemen

    David, I think that change would help significantly. Thank you. Again, I’m not an apologist for Jay Adams–he defends and explains himself quite well without my help. I do think that his cultural context in the 50s-70s (when he began writing and ministry) explains some of the perceptions as we read him and others today in 2011. The pendulum had swung away from any biblical sense of responsibility (as Holifield cogently explains in his work, A History of Pastoral Care in America). When folks pull the pendulum the other way, at times it swings too far. Many nouthetic/biblical counselors writing today and teaching today (Powlison, Tripp, Lane, Viars, Cheong, Henderson, Lelek, Patten, Higbee, Fitzpatrick, Reju, Wilkerson, Hambrick, etc., etc.) provide the clear nuance that you and I appreciate and attempt to communicate. I don’t want to dominate your comment board, so I’ll simply thank you again for your engagement here and your overall ministry. Bob

  • Amanda Naves

    Hi Dr. Murray,Just wanted to say that I thought this article was pretty interesting – I am in my first year of Biblical Counselling studies, and am not exactly sure what I want to do with my degree. I do know that I want to be involved mainly in Christian counselling, and had been wondering how my role as a counsellor would be integrated with the church. It was good to read how the pastor, counsellor, and client would work together…

  • Rachel

    The links no longer work. Any idea where I can access this document? Thanks

  • http://www.charlielyons.ca Charlie Lyons

    Same comment as Rachel above…