I discovered david hoffmeister when I was a university freshman, many years ago. I loved everything about that first course, even the multiple choice tests and especially the section about counseling. Religion was not mentioned in the course, except in a negative way, but in my mind, I could see glimpses of how this newly-discovered field of study could have an impact on the church. I was surprised to discover that my old Sunday School teacher was not enamored with psychology like I was, but my interest grew as I took more courses and eventually decided to study further in graduate school.
In those days nobody talked about the integration of psychology and theology. Christian counseling was not a term that I heard often. My efforts to link my faith with my emerging career were guided by writers in the field of pastoral psychology. Most of these were more liberal theologically than I was but they wrote about ways in which psychological insights could help church-based counselors understand and better deal with issues like depression, interpersonal conflict, panic, and grief. The anti-psychology polemicists had not begun their angry campaigns against Christians in this field so I entered my profession never doubting that Christian counseling, guided by the Holy Spirit and informed by the Holy Scriptures, could be a powerful Christ-honoring tool for helping us do good to all people, especially to fellow believers (Gal. 6:10).
Over the years I have never wavered in my belief that Christian counseling has a lot to contribute to the church. I believe even more that the church makes a crucial contribution to the power and impact of Christian counseling.
*The Church Needs Christian Counselors*
Many Christian leaders still wonder why the church needs counselors. Is not good preaching and discipleship enough? Is not Christ sufficient to meet all human needs? Could not the efforts of dedicated church elders and other leaders eliminate the need for counselors? Do not the Scriptures tell us that believers have everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness? (2 Peter 1:3) Why would the church need counselors like us? We must begin our answer by looking to God’s Word. Jesus was a teacher and a preacher, but he also was an effective counselor. He talked one-on-one to the woman at the well. He counseled Martha about her busy lifestyle, and talked tenderly to a woman caught in adultery. Late one night he helped Nicodemus with his spiritual struggles. Often Jesus talked with people privately, shared their hurts, gave encouragement, and guided as they coped with their problems. Sometimes he helped people find forgiveness. He asked questions, listened carefully, and often told stories that left people free to draw their own conclusions. When two of his followers were grappling with their grief and confusion on the road to Damascus, he spent time with them, listened to them, and showed them what Scripture said about their uncertainties.
In the early church and throughout the New Testament we see personal helping modeled and encouraged. Paul, for example, gave sensitive guidance and mentoring to Timothy. Barnabas was a consistent encourager. The epistles overflow with principles for living, guidelines for solving problems, and instructions for individuals with tension in their lives. More than 50 times we read one another passages. Bear one anothers burdens, we are told, encourage one another, care for one another, be kind to one another, serve one another. Of course these words are not directed to a special group known as counselors. These instructions are for all Christians, but they are teachings that encourage the type of help, support, and care giving that counselors have the calling, time, and special training to provide. There are those who say that counseling does not help. Sometimes it does not. But many people can tell encouraging stories about ways in which they have been changed by counselors who are trained to understand problems, teach communication skills, help people get along, and show how to deal with inner conflicts and pain left over from the past.
The best trained counselors recognize the influence of biology and appreciate the role that body chemicals play, sometimes creating havoc in Christian homes and individual lives. We need to remind church leaders that literally thousands of scientific research studies have examined the work of counselors and demonstrated their effectiveness. It is true, of course, that God does not need counselors for the advancement of his kingdom. Neither does he need teachers, physicians, preachers or anybody else.