Tag: counseling

Crafting a new definition of forgiveness

Debbie commented today, after looking at all the books on my desk, “Do you know you have 31 books on forgiveness?” Actually, I didn’t but she’s pretty close.  I’m working on a writing project about forgiveness.  In the process, I am trying to craft a new definition for forgiveness, which is harder than you might think.

I’m interested in a definition of forgiveness that can be applied in pastoral ministry in the local church.  In other words, I’m looking for a definition of forgiveness that pastors can share with their members to encourage them to practice “forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

I am advocating for a new definition of forgiveness that:

  • Takes into account the idea of forgiveness as a process;
  • Produces an effect that is recognizable, so that a person can determine if they are acting in a forgiving manner;
  • Values the broken relationship;
  • Is useful both in situations where the offender has asked for forgiveness, and in situations where he has not done so;
  • Seeks reconciliation as the final goal of forgiving acts;
  • Attends to the psychological and spiritual health of the offended;
  • Deals with the problems of memory and emotions in the forgiving process; and,
  • Can be practically applied in local church ministry to assist and encourage the forgiving process.

What definition of forgiveness meets all of these criteria, and is clear enough to be helpful to pastors in their local church ministry?  Any thoughts?  Fire away in the comments.  Thanks.

The Care of Souls as Outreach

My latest interest focuses on exploring pastoral care as outreach.  I talk to lots of small church pastors and leaders, picking their brains for stories of smaller churches doing effective ministry.  More and more I’m hearing stories of people helping people — people caring for people —  as a means of outreach.

Pastoral care, to use the well-worn phrase, has not been in vogue in the past 20-years or so — really since the church growth movement changed the pastor from shepherd to CEO.  (But that’s another story for another post.)

David Augsburger, Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Fuller Seminary,  bemoans the neglect of pastoral care in evangelical churches today.  In their new book, Connected, sociologists Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler point out that 12% of Americans have no one in their network with whom they can discuss important matters, or go out with socially.  That in itself should present churches with new opportunities for caring ministry.  But, too often the care of souls, or “the cure of souls” as it was called about 500 years ago, conjures up images of the pastor as pseudo-counselor or chaplain. Hand-holding is not what most pastors aspire to, even if we all have to do some of it on occasion.

But the kind of care I’m talking about isn’t psycho-spiritual navel-gazing.  Nor is it practiced only by pastors.  I’m talking about the kind of care that seeks out those in need and helps them.  And, help isn’t just defined in spiritual or psychological terms.  Help, or care, is that which responds actively — with food, rent, a warm meal, a heartfelt conversation, or a word of encouragement.

Just about every church I’ve written about exhibits some form of caring ministry.  Small churches can do that because caring is about relationships with people; not programs or marketing.  The big kicker is that the unchurched are ahead of us on this one — they think the church ought to do more caring for people in need.

What are your experiences?  Have you used a caring ministry as outreach?  What were your results?  How did caring change both you, and your church?  Let me know because this is a topic I’m going to visit regularly from time to time.

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. http://tiny.cc/aW09i

Breaking pastoral confidentiality

Pastor Neil Schori courtesy Fox News A pastor appeared on Fox network’s Greta Van Susteren show Monday, and revealed that the missing 4th wife of ex-cop Drew Peterson told him that Peterson admitted killing his 3rd wife. 

 Former Westbrook Christian Church pastor Neil Schori told “On the Record” that he was “reeling inside” after his conversation with Stacy Peterson over coffee in August.

— Fox News

So, here’s the question —

Would you appear on national media and reveal a conversation like this?

Courts have rule repeatedly that clergy-client conversations are privileged and confidential.  But do clergy have higher obligations to report such conversations and/or take action themselves?

Several years ago I was an associate at a large church.  A woman confided to the pastor that she was being abused and needed help.  The pastor helped her freeze the couple’s bank account, involved the police, and arranged a lawyer for the woman.  Sadly, the allegations were totally fabricated and the husband had to hire his own attorney to untangle the legal mess the pastor had put him in. 

What are our obligations and responsibilities in situations like this?  I’d welcome your comments. 

Five reasons I always offer to pray for people on-the-spot

I’ve added a new category to this blog — Pastoral Care.  In small churches, pastoral care becomes a primary and expected ministry of the pastor.  Here’s the first post.


I ran across this definition of pastoral care recently —

pastoral care
1. Help, advice and moral guidance offered by a clergyman or other spiritual advisor to a group, such as the children in a school, members of the armed forces, a church congregation, etc.

If you’re a pastor, that’s the primary business you’re in — offering help, advice, or moral guidance to folks in need.  But I would like to add one more item to the definition of what pastors offer people in need, and that is prayer

I always offer to pray on-the-spot with people in need and here’s why:

  1. I represent God.  The people who have come to me may have gotten help, advice, or guidance from a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer, a social worker, a friend, a family member, a neighbor, or a counselor.  But I represent God to them and for them.  None of the other helping professions shows up in the name of God to help people.  I do.  And I offer to pray to that God right then on their behalf. 
  2. I can pray, but I may not be able to do anything else.  People in need are always hearing others ask “What can I do to help?” You may not be able to change the circumstances, heal their child, write them a check, or solve their problem.  But you can pray and you can do it right now in their presence. 
  3. I may not have another opportunity to pray with them.  At the moment you are standing in the hospital room, or sitting in their den, or holding their hand, or sharing their grief, you can pray for them.  Circumstances change, people die, hearts get hard, the moment passes.  Offer to pray for them while you are with them.  It may be your only opportunity.
  4. Prayer invites God into their world.  Wherever you have met these people in need — the hospital, the jail, the funeral home, or the church office — prayer invites God into their world.  No one else will do that, and you can. 
  5. Most people want you to pray for them and appreciate your offer of prayer.  In all my years in the pastorate, I have only had one person decline when I asked, “Could I have a prayer with you right now?” 

One word of caution — before you pray be aware and sensitive to the situation.  Years ago, I was standing in the ICU room of a young woman who was brain-dead from a car accident.  Her parents were standing with me as they faced the decision of turning off her respirator.  Another pastor from the community came rushing in and offered to pray.  With great enthusiasm, he prayed that God would heal their daughter, and then he turned and rushed back out of the room.  I was left to comfort parents who knew the end was near.  The last decision they would make for their daughter while she was alive would end her life.  Praying for healing at that point was an insensitive and hurtful act. 

But pastoral prayer isn’t just for crisis situations.  Recently after visiting a couple who had visited our church, I offered to pray for God’s blessing on their new home.  The couple both broke into big smiles,  and said, “Thank you.  We’ve visited a lot of churches in the area, and most of those pastors have visited us, but you’re the first to offer to pray.”   

I always offer to pray.  I represent God.  If I don’t pray, who will?