An initial comparison of preaching and counseling might make one think they’re on opposite ends of the ministry spectrum. One is done in public, the other in private. One is mostly a monologue, the other is mostly a dialogue (hopefully). Good preachers are typically thought of as dynamic orators, while good counselors are described as patient listeners.
But upon further analysis, the differences aren’t nearly as drastic. There isn’t one personality type that makes for a good preacher or a good counselor. Introverts can be excellent preachers; extroverts can be wonderful counselors.
We shouldn’t think of preaching and counseling like apples and oranges. Many skills that make for great preaching are transferable to the counseling room. I think they’re more like applesauce and apple butter—different variations of the same substance. In this way, preaching and counseling are two forms of discipleship. Preaching is macro-level, whereas counseling is micro-level, and both are working to bring about maturity in Christ (Col. 1:28).
In light of these similarities, here are three ways pastors can learn counseling from preaching.
1. Good preaching and good counseling prioritize patience and listening.
Good preaching patiently considers a passage of Scripture during the preparation phase, then proclaims its truth to the congregation. Good counseling patiently listens to a counselee and then proclaims the truth of God’s Word into their situation. It takes patience to study and understand Scripture so you can teach it to others. Preaching and counseling are two forms of discipleship. Preaching is macro-level, whereas counseling is micro-level, and both are working to bring about maturity in Christ. Click To Tweet
Rushed sermon prep (failing to adequately “listen” to the text) can lead to misunderstanding God’s Word. If you’ve developed the skill of patiently pouring over the Bible during sermon prep, you’ve developed an important foundation for counseling. It takes patience to listen well enough to understand another’s problems.
Counselors who rush to interpret and provide advice will likely fail to grasp the heart of their counselee. Proverbs 18:13 and James 1:19 both highlight the importance of listening well. If you’re a pastor who preaches on a regular basis, the skill of patiently listening to God’s Word is transferable to the counseling room. Ask the Lord to help you understand the heart of those you meet with, just like he helps you understand his Word. Preaching and counseling both require patience and reliance on God.
2. Good preaching and good counseling connect our hearts to God’s Word.
Good preaching brings the Word of God to the hearts of the congregation. Good counseling takes the heart of the counselee to the Word of God. Whether engaging in macro or micro discipleship, the primacy of God’s Word is paramount. A friend once said, “You win them to what you win them with.” If the point of a sermon is to make people feel good about themselves, then our churches will be filled with spiritually shallow Christians who believe they’re at the center of the universe. If we win them with self-focus, we win them to self-focus.
Psalm 1 teaches that those who delight in God’s Word and meditate on it day and night are “like a tree planted by streams of water that yield its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1:2–3). Human flourishing happens when we soak up the Scriptures.
Good preaching will leave the congregation hungering for more. Good counseling is no different. The heart of the hurting counselee needs to feast on the life-giving, life-sustaining power of the Bible. Psalm 119 reminds us of the importance of giving ourselves to God’s Word and letting it heal and restore us. “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (Ps. 119:92). Whether preaching or counseling, pastors must remember their most important job is to bring people to Jesus through his Word.
3. Good preaching and good counseling blend broad truths with specific applications.
Good preaching starts with understanding a passage’s contextual and broad theological themes, then works to narrow in on specific applications. Good counseling begins with the specific problems of a counselee, then seeks to connect them to the broad theological themes of Scripture. Whether preaching or counseling, pastors must remember their most important job is to bring people to Jesus through his Word. Click To Tweet
Good preaching helps the congregation understand why a passage is important in light of the grand story of God’s Word. While the starting place in counseling is different, the methods are similar. The entry point into someone’s life in counseling will likely be a particular set of problems. But the only way to truly understand what to think and do about those problems is to see how the Bible describes and explains them.
Helping someone build a theology of suffering could be crucial to their counseling journey. Starting by understanding specific hurts, pastors can carefully lay out a biblical understanding of why people suffer and how God is working to bring suffering to an end. Where preaching starts broad and narrows in, counseling starts narrow and widens out.
While some pastors may not be in formal counseling every week, faithful shepherding ministry should always involve sitting with hurting people and helping them learn how to follow Jesus. By God’s grace, pastors can grow in their ability to care for his flock, regardless of their natural giftings or ministry preferences. This is more than attainable for church planters and pastors, as some of the skills used in preaching ministry can be adapted for effective counseling.