Even though I came out of seminary with a counseling degree, I didn’t go into it pursuing one. I wanted to be a pastor, so I decided to focus on the discipline of preaching. Pastors need to be able to preach, right? Through a convergence of circumstances, however, I came to a crossroads in my program after about a year. One of those circumstances was the Intro to Biblical Counseling class I was required to take.
Through that class, my eyes were opened to the ministry of counseling. As I showed up week after week, I began to see the necessity of providing Christ-centered, biblical counseling as a pastor. So I switched programs and never looked back. I never thought I would be a “counseling” pastor, but I can’t imagine serving in any other way.
The Dual Functions of a Pastor
Your job might not include counseling in the same formal sense that mine does, but make no mistake: if you’re a pastor, you’re also a counselor. Pastors are shepherds, caretakers of God’s people, and counseling is at the heart of pastoral ministry. I’ll use parenting as an analogy to further drive this point home. As a parent, you’re responsible for setting the direction and tone for your family. It’s your responsibility to communicate, model, and reinforce your family’s priorities. You establish rules, set boundaries, and put guidelines in place.It’s hard to shepherd those among you if you aren’t among them. We have to be with the flock to exercise oversight, and one way we exercise oversight is through engaging them as pastor-counselors. Click To Tweet
Those are all macro functions of parenting. However, that’s not all parenting entails. If you were a master at setting the direction and tone for your family but never stopped to listen, talk to, and care for your children when they were struggling or hurt, you would be a negligent parent. That’s because parenting is a combination of macro and micro responsibilities.
Similarly, pastoral ministry has macro and micro responsibilities. As a pastor, you lead your church. You set the tone and lay out the expectations for what it looks like to belong to the body of Christ. You facilitate small groups and other discipleship initiatives so that your church may be presented mature in Christ. Your preaching likely reinforces these priorities every Sunday.
But if you cast vision, coordinate discipleship efforts, and preach without wading into the individual hurts and struggles of your people, you’re neglecting an important aspect of your calling. Pastors must serve in the macro, but they also must serve in the micro. Peter tells pastors to “shepherd the flock that is among you” (1 Pet. 5:1–3). It’s hard to shepherd those among you if you aren’t among them. We have to be with the flock to exercise oversight, and one way we exercise oversight is through engaging them as pastor-counselors.
Jesus Is Our Great Pastoral Model
We also read in 1 Peter 5 that Jesus is our Chief Shepherd. That means pastors are undershepherds serving at and for his pleasure. So it would make sense, then, as undershepherds, to look to Jesus as we develop our pastoral priorities. Jesus invested time and effort into both the macro and micro functions of his earthly ministry. If you cast vision, coordinate discipleship efforts, and preach without wading into the individual hurts and struggles of your people, you’re neglecting an important aspect of your calling. Click To Tweet
In chapters five through seven of Matthew’s Gospel, we see Jesus as the preaching shepherd. The Sermon on the Mount is a great example of Jesus laboring in the macro—making known the mystery of the kingdom of God to a crowd of people. In chapter four of John’s Gospel, we see Jesus as the counseling shepherd. His interaction with the woman at the well (John 4:1–45) is a great example of Jesus laboring in the micro—patiently, compassionately, and skillfully engaging the Samaritan woman.
Spend time studying Jesus as both a preaching and a counseling shepherd. For every book on leadership and exposition you read, make sure to read one on counseling or pastoral care.
Embrace Your Weakness for Effective Gospel Ministry
Let me answer your question about your lack of counseling knowledge before you ask it. You don’t have to have a counseling degree to provide effective counsel as a pastor. First, no one has all the answers. Thankfully, you don’t have to have all the answers to display Christlike love and compassion to hurting people. Second, you aren’t called to minister out of your own strength anyway, but out of the strength God provides.
There is something powerful (and necessary) about embracing your weakness and being desperately dependent on God. I continue to see God’s sense of ironic humor in my ministry. I hate confrontation and I don’t think I’m very good at it. But in God’s providence, I find myself in situations almost daily that involve some kind of confrontation. “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Pastor, embrace your responsibility to counsel the flock among you. God has given you a front-row seat to watch him work and move in powerful ways among his people. What a privilege! Look to Jesus and learn from him. See his compassion for hurting people. Ask him to shape your heart to look like his. Ask the Spirit for wisdom as you listen and seek to help the suffering saints under your care. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thes. 5:24).