Church planting comes with many responsibilities. A church planter is a preacher, community organizer, fundraiser, development officer, president, sanitation engineer, and other things. A church planter is also a pastor. And, strangely enough, people will come to their church planter as their pastor. This means that people will come with a desire for their pastor’s wisdom and healing presence. They will come for counsel. Because of the multiple responsibilities of church planting, it is necessary to crowd out some other responsibilities. And pastoral counseling can become one of those responsibilities that gets crowded out. It may even be curtailed—because of overloaded schedules, church planters can limit their appointments to people of higher importance in the plant. However, counter cultural leadership, while not denying the limits of time that exist within the church planter’s responsibility, also recognizes the inherent value of every person God graces to be part of the church plant; of every person who would seek pastoral counsel. There is no silver-bullet answer to the challenge of limited time and seemingly unlimited demands on the planter’s time, especially for a role that many planters do not consider their strongest gift. However, neither is there room for a simple dismissal of this fundamental aspect of pastoral ministry. One opportunity for the planter is to understand their counseling sessions and their strengths as a counselor with simple categories. What follows is a short reconsideration of brief pastoral counseling and a simple way to grasp the resources the planter may have to offer the person in their care.
People will often see the pastor as a coach-counselor. Coaches often have the approach of having something to say and counselors often have the approach of having ways to listen. Of course, this description is oversimplified. Counselors have something to say and coaches must be listeners, too. Yet both roles in the pastoral context require a deep ability to attend—to be present, undistracted, and focused on and with the person seeking support. Even brief pastoral counseling, whether in time (15-30 minutes) or sessions (2-4 sessions), requires deep attention. The following are not meant to speed up counseling, but to deepen and make limited time even more valuable. Here are four resources to guide self-understanding and what you can offer in these complex scenarios.
- Practical Skills
Sometimes people come seeking help simply because they lack basic know-how. They might not know how to study the Bible, how to handle their finances, or how to apologize. What practical skills have you acquired? What practical skills are you acquiring to meet the ongoing demand of those seeking the pastoral counseling-coach? If you are lacking skills, do you have a group of “go-to” colleagues in your church to fill in the gap?
- Personal Models
Some requests for coaching-counseling are not really about counseling, but a desire to see how you live. How do you discipline your children, speak to your spouse, pray before meals? All of these can be summed in specific skills, but it is not the skill that is sought. It is the model of these things all being put together. Sometimes people come to pastors to see if someone has put things together sufficiently to have a coherent life. Providing a model is a powerful and difficult thing to do. It involves not only your time, but your family’s time. It’s an investment of your life in the life of another.
Sometimes people need new information. Information can take on theological, political, historical form. Of course, the person coming with theological or historical questions about what they have just watched on History Channel is coming to you. They have not simply gone to the Internet. There is a trust level that is being deepened or tested as they seek your counseling-coaching. Not only is what information you provide important, but how you provide it. Are you empowering with information? Seth Godin notes how new information leads to new decisions (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2016/10/making-a-new-decision-based-on-new-information.html). Sometimes people are looking for new information and realize that new information brings a radical change to their life. No wonder they have sought pastoral counseling-coaching.
- Intellectual Frames
Have you ever noticed that your TV, iPad, laptop, newspaper, and cell phone are all box-shaped? That every information spreading media literally frames its messages? Of course, the information we already hold in our heads is framed, as well. We place it in context with other beliefs, values, and information. We can only hold so much information in our heads, so we box in some information, to the exclusion of other information. Sometimes what is needed is not new information, models, or skills, but a new frame. Information needs to be turned on its head, narrowed, or expanded. “Have you thought about it like…” or “How do you know that’s what that meant?” or “Here’s another way to look at it” are re-framing questions and phrases. Re-framing often happens in cooperation with the person coming for counseling-coaching. If a person is coming for help and needs re-framing, it is because there is a deficiency with their current frame. The way they have put together the contents of their brain just isn’t working. The counselor-coach might need to provide a new frame to help the client get unstuck.
Can you identify with the time constraints yet personal demands that the church planter faces? Have you faced the time crunch? Perhaps growing in awareness of your counseling-coaching skills and listening for specific help the parishioner is seeking will increase your skills and strengthen your practice.