Those of us who counsel pastors and teach future preachers sometimes caution them to “study the Bible for itself, just to receive the Word into your heart, not to prepare sermons.”
We might as well tell Sherlock Holmes to enjoy crime scenes for the beauty of the occasion and to stop looking for criminals; or tell Albert Pujols not to worry about actually striking at the baseball crossing the plate but to relax and take in the inspiration of the moment; or tell Joan Rivers to give up on plastic surgery.
Some things you do because this is who you are.
When a pastor reads a great insight in the Scriptural text, does anyone think for one minute that he is going to file that away in a personal-edification file, never to be shared with others in sermons?
Your church isn’t growing, and you can’t figure out why. That’s always a tough place to lead and live.
You aren’t alone. In fact, you may be among the majority of churches in the U.S. that are struggling to grow. For some, on the surface, all seems well. Of course, there are a few problems here and there—that’s true in every church—but overall things seem good.
So, what is it? How do you decode the cipher that unlocks the answer? Or perhaps the issues are more obvious and even problematic, but the solutions still evade you.
In the last week alone, 57 people have died in four violent events as reported by major news outlets.
Every week, people in your church lose a job or a loved one or have a health incident. Every month, families are torn apart by anger, misunderstandings and rebellion (not just teens; adults rebel too).
The pain from all this is hard to keep in perspective without tuning out. There comes a point when we are tempted to hand out pamphlets instead of dealing with more stress:
Do you realize that if your weekend attendance totals about 90 people, you’re an above average church (at least in the United States and when measuring by such numbers)?
If you’re wondering what you need to do to grow, here are eight steps that can help you break an attendance barrier:
1) Decide you really, really want to grow. Believe it or not, the primary barrier to church growth is desire. Do you really want to grow? If the answer is yes, then you must commit to this goal and be willing to accept changes.
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.
Alan Alda is probably best known for playing Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce on the hit television show, M*A*S*H. But for all of the silliness of his character on the show, Mr. Alda once made this quote:
“Be as smart as you can be, but remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart.”
A lot of people do not know the difference between being smart and being wise. You might say that being smart is having a lot of knowledge, but that being wise is knowing how to use that knowledge.
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.
Note: This is the first of a three-part series about Christian marriages.
An alarming number of Christian marriages end in divorce. What can the church do to reverse this trend?
I had just started my new position as an associate pastor back in 1983. There I was at a barbecue for the adult Christian singles. The majority of those attending were divorced. With each hurting conversation and each prayer of restoration, my burden grew for these singles.
Later that year, I sat in a small support group for divorced men and women, hoping to find how to best minister to them. One of the singles, perhaps sensing my dilemma, blurted out: "The best way you can minister to the divorced is to minister to marriages." It was then that I realized that the greatest ministry I could have to the divorced single was to build strong marriages.
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.