The danger of pastoral counseling is that it can become a way for people to feel better without actually obeying Jesus.
Category: Pastoral Pondering
Re-posting from awhile back. I see the truth of Myers’ insight more every day.
The structures of our experience, especially the everyday, routine, invisible taken-for-granted structures, have a profound effect in shaping the way we perceive reality. The deep, often unarticulated assumptions that guide each of us are shaped by a matrix of usually unremarkable experiences channeled in specific directions by cultural institutions. Over time, especially as we are part of a community with the same pattern of experiences, a pattern of conviction and affections begins to take shape. Call it a sensibility or a consciousness or a prejudice or a mentality or a mindset: it is deeply ingrained, usually unconscious, and extremely powerful.
While we may hold explicitly to certain core beliefs, it is possible (and I would argue likely, in our time and place) for explicitly held core beliefs to be out of synch with deep assumptions, so that, when we have to react quickly or [in] a new situation, we often fall back on the deep-set assumptions rather [than] on what we actually profess. This is why, I believe, in our own time, the affinity between what Christians profess and how they act is increasingly vague and weak. (Ken Myers, “Cultural Discernment, Christian Faithfulness, and the Postmodern Multiversity”)
If Paul could say to a church that it “completed” his joy when they were likeminded (Philippians 2:2), I think one could say it completes a pastor’s grief when his sheep are divided by conflict among themselves. Some pastors dread every week the ring of the telephone: “X and Y are fighting again.” It makes the pastor’s heart sink.
Why do we humans fight with each other? Why do some of us seem to thrive on it? Why can we not seem to disentangle ourselves from conflict even when it’s killing us? Why does the Cain and Abel story play itself out (albeit not always, thank God, with the full extent of violence) again and again and again?
The invariable answer, were one to ask one of the combatants, is that it’s the other person’s fault. Cain the murderer sprang from Adam and Eve, who blamed others in the presence of the Lord.
Focus on the other combatant is the reason why conflicts cannot be resolved. This isn’t hard to explain. Each combatant comes to the relationship with a certain degree of emptiness. (In Cain’s case, apparently, it was emptiness resulting from wounded pride.) To be quite clear, emptiness is always something that originates in the heart of the one who experiences it. Put another way, emptiness is always something for which the empty soul must take full responsibility. It is true, however, that experiences in relationships can aggravate feelings of emptiness, and it is sorely tempting to view such aggravations as the source of the problem. It’s natural, then, to think that a change in the other person would be the solution (in extreme cases one might even wish the other person dead – Cain carried through on just such a wish).
No amount of change in other people, however – even their ceasing to exist – can ever fill an emptiness they didn’t cause in the first place. It is refusal to accept this simple truth from which human conflict derives its interminability. We fight and war because we lust for something our combat partner is incapable of giving (James 4:1–2). We will not face the fact that we ourselves, our own hearts, are the root of the problem.
Pastors sometimes despair of getting this through the heads of certain sheep. If ever they could, they might well be out of the conflict resolution business. You cannot live as a victor while you still think like a victim. Victory over self is the key to peace; only One can give this, and it is not the other person in the ring.
A nonnegotiable part of biblical change is to acknowledge that all your instruments for calibrating your own life are fundamentally broken.
“We have already concluded that, for purposes of preaching, the fruit of interpretation (of text, of listeners, and negotiating the distances between) is the statement of the message in a simple, affirmative sentence. . . . It has already been said that the message is best stated in the affirmative rather than the imperative lest the sermon be too hortatory and scolding, and in the positive rather than the negative lest the sermon be too much an indictment without the announcement of good news. What now needs to be emphasized is that the message statement be a simple rather than a compound or complex sentence in order to maintain unity and singularity of direction. Permit a few conjunctions into that sentence, a semicolon or two, perhaps an et cetera, and what happens? Fuzziness replaces focus and through the cracks between the poorly joined and disparate units of that overextended statement will creep every cause crying out for a little pulpit publicity and every announcement with its hand in the air insisting on a few lines in the sermon. We have all heard such sermons: they touch upon many topics, make some good comments, promote God and all worthy causes, intend for everyone the benefits of heaven, honor the Scriptures, and revere the saints, but they have an uncertain Alpha and no Omega at all.” (Craddock, p. 155)
“One of the ironies in the history of the church is the fact that the person who is expected to speak every week on issues of ultimate importance – God’s will and human freedom, evil and suffering, grace and judgment, peace and covenant – has been in many quarters begrudged the study time necessary to prepare. Not everywhere, of course, but in many parishes there is strong resistance to granting a pastor any study leave. ‘If the minister wants to go study somewhere, why not use a week of vacation time?’ ‘What do you mean, study? I thought you had already graduated.’ It would be comforting if such comments were rare, and exaggerated, but the one room in the house of God which, judging by its size, furnishings, and location, is an afterthought, is not the parlor but the pastor’s study.” (Craddock, p. 71)
“It is often the case that what fires me, the lukewarm Christian, does not touch the one who is truly afire, and what nearly destroys the latter does not disturb me in any manner.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Elucidations)
A classic pastoral scenario:
Someone (let’s call him Q) is desperate for love, for relationship. Normal enough need. There’s a difficulty, though: Q insists that relationship be on his terms (most often his relational “agenda” is derived, however distantly, from biblical principles). When relationship doesn’t happen on those terms, Q starts behaving in ways that drive people away (aggressively or passively). If confronted about this, the situation is always the fault of others: after all (here the biblical thing enters again), God commands love and relationship, so why aren’t the others getting with the program? There’s no persuading Q that he’s either (a) demanding things God doesn’t explicitly command, or (b) demanding responses God does command, but which must be won and wooed from others rather than demanded. So he sits and stews, and feels more and more righteous in his woundedness.
If I had a nickel for every time I’ve worked with this scenario. . . . And, let it be said, I myself have very often been Q.
It’s remarkable how the Christians least invested in the life of the local church will often be the biggest critics of its lack of energy; and how those most churlish and disgruntled will cry loudest about its lack of love.
Seems like this comes up a few times in the Bible. . . .