Month: January 2009

Why I Don’t Do Long-term Counseling

imagesMost people find it easier to call a pastor than a professional counselor when they need someone to talk to.  But just because pastors are easier to get to doesn’t mean we are all equipped for long-term pastoral counseling.  

I know there are a many pastors who are certified pastoral counselors.  I am not among them.  Years ago I decided to limit my serious counseling to one or two visits, then encourage the counselee to seek professional help.

Most people just need someone to listen to them, and most of my counseling ends naturally after one or two meetings.  But for those with persistent problems or serious emotional issues, I steer them to a professional.  Here’s why:


  1. I am not a trained pastoral counselor.  I have some training in basic pastoral care, but counseling was not my focus.  Serious problems require professional care.  I think it is pastoral malpractice to fail to refer someone whose problems are clearly beyond the scope of most pastors.
  2. I don’t have time.  I am the single staff member of a small church in small town with many demands on my time.  I try to act more like the triage department of a hospital emergency room — I evaluate and then refer.  That way I have time for the next emergency.
  3. I care enough to refer.  I think this is the most important reason I refer people who need extended counseling.  I care too much about them to take responsibility for their well-being when I know I am under-qualified.  


I don’t just drop a person after I refer them, either.  I help them find an affordable counselor, if money is an issue.  I inquire occasionally after referral to see how they are doing.  I do not ask about the specifics of the counseling sessions, I  just express a genuine concern for their well-being.  Almost every situation I have handled like this has turned out well. 

How we handle counseling can have a wide-ranging impact on others.  Rick Warren’s associate, Tom Holladay, has been criticized recently for the counseling advice Saddleback Church gives to abused women and those considering divorce.   What we do in this area does matter. 

How do you handle counseling requests?  If you are a trained counselor, is my approach valid and how could I improve what I do?  Have you ever had a counseling situation deteriorate before you referred the client?  I look forward to hearing your stories about how you handle counseling.

If you Twitter, please copy-n-paste and retweet this —

Why I don’t do long-term counseling and you shouldn’t either.

Sermon: What Holy Spirit?

If you’re on Twitter, please copy-n-paste and tweet.   Thanks, here’s the Tweet:

Here’s my message for church today titled, What Holy Spirit? Let me know what you think.

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow from Acts 19:1-9.

What Holy Spirit?

Acts 19:1-9

1While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples2and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” 
      They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

 3So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” 
      “John’s baptism,” they replied.

 4Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7There were about twelve men in all.

 8Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. 9But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.

A Strange Group of Believers

Paul is on his third missionary journey.  Like any person with years’ of experience in his field, Paul might have thought he had seen it all.  

  • Paul had seen Jewish believers demand that Gentiles become practicing Jews first, before they could become Christians.  The Council at Jerusalem settled that issue.
  • Paul had seen disagreements among colleagues, as he and Barnabas had parted company over John Mark.  
  • Paul had literally seen a vision of a man from Macedonia pleading with him to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  So, Paul went to Macedonia.
  • Paul had seen God-fearers led by Lydia come to faith in Christ.  
  • Paul had seen the inside of the Philippian jail, endured an earthquake and watched the Philippian jailer and his entire family come to Christ.
  • Paul had debated in synagogues and public debate halls about the claims of Christ.  

So, Paul had seen it all, including Jesus himself on the road to Damascus.  Or at least Paul thought he had seen it all.  Until he came to Ephesus.  

In Ephesus, Paul found some “disciples.”  Paul had a way of seeking out those who were on the fringes of a community’s religious life.  He found Lydia and the God-fearers who met with her at a “place of prayer” that was probably avoided by Jews, but well-known to those who knew Lydia.  

So, when Paul gets to Ephesus he seeks out those who are not worshipping at the Temple of Artemis, which was one of the grandest temples in the civilized world. 

Debbie and I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee.  For Tennessee’s Centennial celebration, a grand exhibition was held.  Because so many institutions of learning were located in Nashville, the city became known as “the Athens of the South.”  Vanderbilt University endowed by railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt; Peabody College for Teachers; Belmont College; and a number of other institutions that no longer exist called Nashville home.

As part of the centennial celebration, the exhibition featured replicas of some of the greatest monuments in the world.  Memphis was represented with a replica of an Egyptian pyramid.  Nashville built an almost life-size replica of the Parthenon.  After the exhibition, all the other buildings came down, but Nashville rebuilt the Parthenon which still sits in the heart of Centennial Park today.  Any tour of Nashville today includes a ride through Centennial Park and a tour of the Parthenon.  

But imagine a temple much larger than the Parthenon.  A building so large and magnificent that it dwarfed all the other buildings around it.  A building so marvelous that it was acclaimed as an architectural wonder.  And worshippers so committed to its upkeep and maintenance that when the temple is destoyed in 550BC, the citizens of Ephesus rebuild it over 120-years.

So, to find anyone in Ephesus who was not a worshipper of Artemis was a miracle in itself.  But Paul found some “disciples” Luke tells us in Acts 19.  

What Baptism?

Paul asks them if they have received the Holy Spirit since they were baptized.  Their reply is an honest question — “What Holy Spirit?  We don’t even know if there is a Holy Spirit?”  

Paul then asks, “Whose baptism were you baptized with?”  Their answer: John’s.  We know they mean John the Baptist because Paul responds by saying to them that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance.  

Remember the words of John in Matthew’s gospel — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  Thousands came out to the desert because they were weary of the corruption of the Pharisees, scribes, Sadduccees, chief priest, and all of the religious leaders.  

John’s call to repentance was not a repentance from individual sin.  It was repentance from failing to be the people of God.  It was repentance from practicing the form of religion, going through the motions of religion, with no spiritual meaning.  

Many think John  the Baptist was a part of the Essene community, the ascetic community who fled Jerusalem because of its corruption.  We are indebted to the Essenes for the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran.  

So, John’s repentance was a call to leave the religion of Jerusalem — literally by going to the desert — and turn their hearts truly toward God.

Perhaps these Ephesian believers were God-fearers at first.  God-fearers were not Jews, but they sought to worship the one true God, the God of Israel.  Perhaps these Ephesians were not only God-fearers, but were also aware of the ministry of John, and perhaps the Qumran Essenes as well.  In any event, they were disciples of John, not Jesus.  

Paul carefully points them to Jesus, saying that John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance, but that in addition John said they should follow the one who came after him, Jesus.  

On hearing this, they then were baptized in the name of Jesus.  After their baptism, Paul lays his hands on them and they receive the Holy Spirit, speak in tongues, and prophesy.  I imagine they know for certain then that there is a Holy Spirit!

What’s The Point?

Now imagine that you’re one of these Ephesian followers of John.  You want to serve God, the one true God, not Artemis.  You hear about John’s ministry, and you do what John tells you.  You are baptized because you want to leave the meaningless ritual life and find the real God of Israel.

And that’s where you stop.  And you think you’ve arrived.  You think you have done everything you need to do in order to serve God.  But all the while the gigantic temple of Artemis looms over the city of Ephesus.  Artemis dominates the culture and the economy.  Paul gets in trouble with Demetrius, a silversmith who makes silver shrines of Artemis and sells them.  Apparently, Paul is cutting into his profits, affecting his suppliers, and wrecking the tourist trade and the local economy.  

So, the worshippers of Artemis wield great power.  They control the city, the economy, and the culture.  If you worship any other God, you do it quietly, secretly, unobtrusively just to stay out of trouble.

But when the Holy Spirit comes, everything changes.  You experience gifts of the Spirit — speaking in tongues and prophesy.  You are able to boldly proclaim the whole counsel of God in languages you did not learn, with a boldness you did not possess before.  

Now do you begin to see the point?  Just as the Spirit came at Pentecost, he comes to believers at every location where the gospel takes root.  He empowers, he emboldens, he equips.  This is the Spirit of whom Jesus said, “I will send the Paraclete” — the one called alongside you — to tell you what to say.  To comfort you.  To be your companion, even as Jesus was their companion for three years.

No longer will the Ephesians, or any believers, have to hide as the disciples did before Pentecost.  No longer will the followers of Jesus have to live in fear and timidity.  Some will die, some will suffer, but all will be equipped and empowered with the very presence of God himself, the Holy Spirit.

What Holy Spirit?

But what of us?  We are living in a world that is increasingly secular, pluralistic, and in conflict.  Christians no longer hold center stage in the public arena.  If anything, we are an increasingly ignored voice.  Popular culture will make more allowances for Buddhists, Hindus, Moslems, and atheists than it does for Christians right now.  We are living in the new Ephesus where other gods dominate the skyline.

What is our response as believers?  Often we act like we have never heard of the Holy Spirit.  We bemoan the loss of Christian values, and yet we do little to maintain those values in our own Christian communities.  Evangelical Christians divorce and have extra-marital sex at the same, or higher, rates than the general population.  

We are missing the same thing the Ephesians were missing — the power of the resurrected Christ realized in the coming of the Holy Spirit.  

Do we have to speak in tongues or prophesy in words that we have not imagined?  No, but we do need the powerful presence of God to break into our lives, to equip and embolden us.  

We need the Holy Spirit to convict us of our own sin.  We need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to the needs of others.  We need the Holy Spirit to move mountains, heal diseases, raise the dead, calm the storms, and change our hearts.

In short, we act just like the Ephesians: We do not even know if there is a Holy Spirit.

If everything we do in this church can be planned by our own minds, then we do not know if there is a Holy Spirit.

If everything we do in this church can be explained, then we do not know if there is a Holy Spirit.

If the only changes we see are the ones we bring about, then we do not even know if there is a Holy Spirit.

We, like the Ephesians, need to be equipped, empowered, and emboldened by the Spirit of God.  We need to know that without the Spirit, nothing we do will last.  We need the conviction that without the Spirit our religious practice is as meaningless as that of the Pharisees and Saduccees.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit to fill us to the overflowing with God’s love, so that we cannot help but find ways to give that love away in this town, to our neighbors, and to this world.

Have you received the Holy Spirit since you were baptized?  The answer to that question might surprise you.

Do you have a community manager?

With the rise of social networks, new job titles emerge.  One new job is Community Manager.  CMs  focus on customers and clients for large businesses.  They help gather the community, encourage participation, deal with comments, and provide hospitality for the online community.  

All of that got me to thinking about church.  The number one complaint I hear is something like, “Why didn’t I know?”  That complaint could apply to not knowing someone was sick, or not knowing about a meeting, or not knowing about a  decision.  Folks in small churches like to know.

Suppose you identified a church community manager.  They would stay in touch with the congregation, and help create a network of connectivity.  Of course, most of our small churches already have networks, but this one would be a force for positive expression and involvement.  

I think I’m going to play around with this idea for a few days.  I’m not talking about connecting everybody on Facebook or any new social media.  I’m just thinking about good, old-fashioned staying in touch, but with a little more guidance.  What do you think?  Could this work?  How would you go about implementing a community manager?

Friday is for freebies: Win a Newbigin book

Congratulations to last week’s winner of the Faith and Culture DVD series was Greg Lipps of Indiana!

61msa6tzd8l_bo2204203200_pisitb-sticker-arrow-clicktopright35-76_aa240_sh20_ou01_Today I’m giving away a new copy of Leslie Newbigin’s The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.  This is a classic and one of the books that helped spark the whole missional concept.   Here’s how to win:  

The 12th person  — I’m using Biblical symbolism here, last week we did the 7th person 🙂  — to direct message me on Twitter wins.  My Twitter name is chuckwarnock.   Say something like, @chuckwarnock I want the book.  

Very simple and happy Twittering!

Take your blog mobile for free

logo_swiftIf you want to bring your church blog into the mobile world for free, here’s how.  I talked to a representative from today.  2ergo provides a mobile platform for high profile mobile content providers like music companies, celebrities, large corporations, and other big users.  Of course, their commercial platform has a pretty pricey monthly fee which is beyond the scope of most churches.  But, they offer a freebie if you can tolerate an ad at the top of your site.  

If you have a blog, this is really easy.  On your computer, go to and get started.  You can build your own mobile site, then use the RSS feed from your blog to provide the content.  

I built the mobile site this afternoon.  Here’s the fixed web version, and here’s the mobile web version.  If you have a mobile phone with internet access, look at the site on your mobile —

Two disclaimers:  

1) you have ads that appear on the mobile homepage.  I don’t mind this, but if you do there is a solution.  Pay $10 a month and you have an ad-free mobile site.  Not free, but pretty cheap for a mobile site.  

2)  Your mobile web address ends in  On the free service there are no custom web addresses, so you have to put up with this.  But I find it a minor inconvenience for access to a mobile site that works.  

Bobby Gruenewald of wrote recently that 2009 is the year the church better get mobile!  Here’s your chance.  Get your own mobile site today for free!

It’s like herding pigs

longarm-1Being a pastor is sometimes like herding pigs.  I’m not going for the cheap joke here, although I’m sure there is one.  I’m serious.  Apparently pig farmers have serious difficulty getting pigs to go into the barn in an orderly fashion.  Farmers can use cattle prods and big sticks to drive pigs, but this makes the pigs mad, and if you’re surrounded by 3,000 pigs, you don’t want them mad at you. 

Another tool in the farmer’s arsenal is a longboard.  A longboard, just like it sounds, is a longboard up to 30′ in length and really heavy.  Takes a big burly farmer to swing the board like a moving gate which guides the pigs in the right direction.  

Stay with me now, the payoff is coming.

But, Mary Haugh wasn’t a big burly farmer.  After multiple heart attacks left her husband incapable of swinging the longboard, Mary needed a pig-guide that she could manage.  She noticed that as pigs walked by the red longboards, they hesitated.  Mary thought, “Maybe it’s the color, not the board.”  So she came up with another idea.

Mary bought a roll of red fabric, secured it at one end and held it at the other.  She used the 30′ of fabric like a flexible fence, guiding the pigs through the barn into the holding pens.  

Mary’s solution was soft, light, and effective.  Watch the video to see how this works.  Okay, here’s the payoff:  

Church leadership needs new thinking in times of change.  While you can drive people, they might get mad.  Rigid leadership longboards might also work, but there may be an easier way.  Try soft, easy, and flexible.  It just might work, and then you’ve got happy pigs   members who go where they’re supposed to.  

(HT to

Sustainable spiritual collectives

celtic-abbeySteve Taylor* started an interesting conversation about a sustainable spiritual collective.  He even renamed his blog sustain:if:able kiwi.  Fortunately he’s still at the same url, so you can find Steve here under his new nom de plume.  But back to my point.

Steve tackles the missional vs attractional argument in a new way — he offers a new vision, a third choice — sustainable.  He borrows from sustainable agricultural practices and uses those to inform sustainable spiritual collectives (communities) in new ways:

  • Sustainable communities aren’t about coming to church, but participants may still gather for support, encouragement and resourcing.
  • Sustainable communities might not even look new, but they are informed by a new understanding of God’s mission.
  • Sustainable communities could be missional groups, or traditional churches, or other forms that give expression both to our need and God’s mission.

I like what Steve says as he sums up his concept:

In other words …
Sustainable spirituality says “you don’t need to be here”, but some of us will be here, to connect and resource and sustain. Sustainable spirituality will celebrate church as ordinary, singing as everyday and faith as regular. It knows that these situations are findable, and can be hospitable, and become agents of healing. Sustainable spirituality will work hard at creating constant and multiple pathways by which the “out there” is connected and resourced.  

Celtic abbeys were very much like this, I suspect.  A core group of monks or nuns (or both) acted as spiritual directors for an entire community of passersby, new believers, needy travelers, hurting pilgrims, and struggling commoners.  This community was sustainable, not because they all gathered at the same time once a week, but because their lives revolved around the spiritual center of Christ.  

Some attended to worship more than others.  Some worked in the fields more than others.  Some were busy with the economics — the householding — more than others.  But all moved in this glorious dance of interdependence on each other and God, sustained by God’s grace and sustaining the kingdom outpost they called the church.  

I like Steve’s sustainable spiritual collectives.  Not sure if the term will move into popular usage, however.  Just imagine your business card — 

Chuck Warnock, Pastor

Chatham Baptist Sustainable Spiritual Collective

But then, maybe an awkward name like that just might start some conversations all by itself.  

— *Steve Taylor pastors Opawa Baptist Church in New Zealand, and is author of  The Out-of-Bounds Church

Be clear about your outcome

When our church led the way in building the new $3-million community center in our town, we did not expect the outcome to be new members for our church.  We did expect the community center to become a gathering place for the community.

When we helped start the local Boys and Girls Club by hosting them in our building, we didn’t expect to get new members for our church.  We did expect to provide a safe after-school program for underserved kids.  

When we worked to establish a community music school that is headquartered at our church, we didn’t expect it to increase membership either.  We did expect it to provide quality music instruction for children. 

When we partnered with artists and educators in our community to start Soundcheck, the monthly teen open mic night, we didn’t expect it to bring new members to our church.  We did expect Soundcheck to be a venue for artistic expression, and to increase arts awareness in our town.

Because we understood going in to each of these projects that there probably would not be an immediate payoff for our church in increased membership, our congregation was not disappointed when no new members joined from any of those programs.  

Be clear about your desired outcome before you start a project.  Don’t try to sell every project as a membership project.   Churches can be on mission to transform their communities, too.