Clear boundaries and expectations are vital for an effective counseling ministry
With more than 20 years’ experience counseling couples, I have learned some things that could help pastors and ministry leaders in this area.
Definitely counsel those who have problems that you feel competent addressing or areas in which you have training. I have a master’s degree in divinity as one of my degrees, which required that I take only one counseling course. I realize some parts of counseling are just common sense, biblical understanding and spiritual discernment. However, if you feel you’re in over your head or the individual or couple isn’t changing under your guidance, it’s time to consider a different strategy.
Have clear hours designated for counseling and stay within those boundaries. Even professional counselors can only do so much. Pastors have so many tasks and time demands that counseling is best when set for a designated time. Clearly define what an emergency is so that others don’t define that for you.
How to counsel married couples through bedroom problems.
Terry and Tami seemed like the perfect married couple. They were in their 30s, attractive and successful. They’d known Pastor Phil for several years and one day came to him for counseling. As soon as they all were seated behind closed doors, Tami blurted out: “Pastor—Terry and I aren’t having sex!” Pastor Phil’s mind reeled: Not this couple. No way, he thought.
His mind instantly raced back to his Bible-school training. He could not recall any lessons he might have had on “The Sexless Marriage.” In fact, he couldn’t remember ever counseling a couple who didn’t want sex. In the end, all he could say was: “Terry, Tami—you should fast and pray.”
The article you’re reading would have come in handy for Pastor Phil. Couples like Terry and Tami avoid sex for definite reasons. After counseling for almost 20 years, I know. Let’s look at some of these obstacles.
In marriage counseling, it’s common to find spouses playing the part of attorneys—stating their case why the other spouse is to blame for the problems at hand.
A husband blames his wife for his neglect because she’s not physically affectionate enough. A wife blames her husband for her critical nature because he’s not emotionally intimate enough. As a counselor, it’s easy to slip into the role of a judge trying to decide who “wins.”
The wiser approach is to hold spouses responsible for their own actions and words. The apostle Paul clearly describes this principle of personal responsibility in Galatians 6:7-8, saying that a man (or woman) “reaps what he sows.” Consider the following steps to counseling couples away from the name-and-blame game and toward a “harvest” of a better marriage.