Monday, May 19, 2014

The Potential Fallout of Modern Pastoral Counseling : The Business of Christian Education LXXXI

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:1-8
            One of the most used biblical passages for pastoral counseling is Philippians 2:1-8.  The kenosis theology is used as the basis for pastoral counseling.  Jesus Christ emptying himself becomes the ultimate model for pastoral counseling practice.  In this model, counselors are expected to allow the counselee space to speak out what is in his/her mind.  Counselors are then expected not to bring their own agenda to the mix, but instead counselors are supposed to allow the counselee’s agenda to fill the counseling session.  In order to achieve such ideal, counselors are equipped with the main tool, which is called listening.  James Dittes speaks about this in his book “Pastoral Counseling: The Basics” and also Garth Thompson in his “Listening is More than Hearing.”  The discipline of listening becomes a must for any pastors who wish to conduct a pastoral counseling.  As listening is then armed with “emptying oneself” it becomes a very effective tool to
help those in need of pastoral counseling.  Thus such method is hailed as the best method available for any pastoral counseling.  Just like Jesus emptying himself and giving humans the necessary space and agenda, thus pastors are to imitate Jesus by emptying him/herself in order to give the counselee space and allowing his/her agenda to flow through the session(s).  While this practice is excellent in many ways, I find it being used beyond its limits.  Besides, the interpretation of Philippians 2:1-8 has been stretched too far so as to favor only certain aspects of the passage that fits the notion of giving space in pastoral counseling.
It is important to recognize Philippians 2:1-8 speak about the mutual love and respect brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ must have.  Paul was concerned about Christians not willing to have the same mind.  And so Paul argued theologically from the strongest theological stand point that Jesus, who was God, considered us more important than himself, and thus he willingly entered the world for our sake.  Applying this to pastoral counseling is good, but it should be treated carefully as well.  Because the context does not immediately fit pastoral counseling model, where the pastor holds the role as the counselor and the other as the counselee.  The context of the passage speaks about two or more brothers and sisters in Christ that disagree with each other.  There is no indication whatsoever in this passage that the two or more members who disagree with each other at that time were counselor and counselee.  Thus the relational dynamics are not the same.  Assuming that this passage fits 100% to the context of pastoral counseling may pose a huge problem.  Therefore, using this passage, the kenosis theology, for the purpose of pastoral counseling must be done in extra careful way.  Taking it for granted as if it speaks directly to pastoral counseling practice will bring theological fallout which will lead to unwarranted counseling.  It is then important to correct the one directive context of pastoral counseling through listening, in which the counselee is being listened to by the counselor, into a mutual context, in which the counselee also ought to be willing to listen to the counselor.  The traditional method of counseling has been challenged by the current method of listening to the counselee, because the traditional method was the counselee listened to the counselor.  But swinging the pendulum to the other extreme does not fully correct the mistake of the traditional model.  The balance between the two must be in place if we are to use Philippians 2:1-8 as the biblical basis for pastoral counseling.

On the side note, if pastors only proceed with the one directive context, then the voice of the counselee only is the one that fills the space.  In the sociological analysis, this could then create a problem.  The voice of those in need of counseling is being heard.  Pastors’ attention, and in fact the church’s attention as well, will be geared toward this voice only.  Because all other voices are not channeled.  This simply happens because not all church members would go and have counseling with the pastor.  Other voices are being treated as if it doesn’t exist.  In reality it does exist, but it does not reach to the pastors.  That’s one.  The second is more crucial, which is the voice of God, which we will discuss in the following.

            One part of the passage is seldom being touched, which is the last sentence: “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”  This sentence is key for understanding Jesus’ emptying himself.  His willingness to incarnate into the world and emptying himself ties closely to his obedience to the Father.  Many people, in their desire to complete the matching between counseling and kenosis theology, forget to touch this important key theological basis.  Jesus came to earth and assumed human nature was because of his obedience to the Father.  In his obedience he loved his Father, and he also at the same time loved us.  The obedience part plays a significant role in understanding the kenosis theology, and thus it should inform how we relate to one another.  Paul, therefore, advised that Christians ought to have mutual love and respect out of their obedience to the Father, just as Jesus did.  Now, if we are to apply this concept into pastoral counseling, Pastors too have to understand the emphasis on obedience to the Father.  Obedience to the Father must not be forgotten.  This truth assumes that the voice and the will of God are to be heard and followed.  The emptying of oneself cannot and must not proceed if obedience to God is not in place.  Think about it like this.  Jesus was not only emptying himself for the sake of humans, but he also did it for the sake of his Father.  Clearly, when pastors are to empty themselves in counseling, then they have to do it not only for the sake of the counselee, but more importantly for the sake of God.  The voice of God must not be discounted or ignored.  The problem with implying this theology hastily is the failure to recognize the place of God’s word in pastoral counseling.

Now, if we are to bring together the more complete theological picture of Philippians 2:1-8 into the plate of pastoral counseling, we need to be mindful that the mutuality must be assumed.  Because it is indeed the context of the passage.  With the mutuality assumed, pastoral counseling is then healthier, because not only the voice of the counselee that fills the room, but also the voice that comes out from the counselors.  Now, the counselor, if to apply the kenosis theology, must allow the voice of God to channel through.  His/her own voice is to be suspended.  This is emptying oneself.  Not only that the counselor empties him/herself to allow the voice of the counselee to have space, but also the word of God to be voiced through.  In this way, the counselor becomes like a priest.  One that mediates between God and the counselee.  Because the main goal of counseling is for the counselee to meet with God himself.  And the way to meet with God is through his word.  If God’s word is not voiced, then the counselee only meets his/her own voice, given the half application of the kenosis theology in Philippians 2:1-8.  Meeting his/her voice only spells the fallout of pastoral counseling.  A warning from Proverbs 18:2 is given of this situation: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”  If pastoral counseling is set up only for the counselee to air his/her own voice, then it is a big fallout.  Such pastoral counseling is set up for failure.  It only gives way to foolishness.  Such pastoral counseling model only breeds fools.  Both the pastor and the counselee will eventually become fools.  The repetition of voicing and listening only to the voice of the counselee, the voice of man, will educationally lead both the pastor and the counselee down the path of foolishness.  Their knowledge growth will be stunted.  They no longer will know the eternal truth of God.  They only know one sided information from the opinion of man, but never consult the word of truth.  Educationally speaking, both of them will move from one point to another point nevertheless.  But unfortunately, if this model is the model being repeated over and over again, then they will arrive at the point of false knowledge and truth.  Once they have arrived, they would think that they have an epiphany, and thus have known the secrets of the truth, but the reality is that they have known only the pseudo truth.  Or in other words, they have known the lies.  The problem is that they think they have known the truth, and thus with this experience and newly found knowledge they begin to brag about it and lead others to the land of lies.  No!  It must not be!  Pastors have sworn to obey God alone!  Obedience to the point of death, even death on a cross.

            Therefore, the healthier pastoral counseling model is the model that also gives space to the word of God.  Pastors then, ought to open the word of God and together with the counselee to reflect and meditate on the passage that speaks clearly to the troubles in the counselee’s hearts.  Pastors are to refrain from drawing his wisdom out of the world philosophy.  The word of God is to be given preeminence.  It is the most important reference point, for the word of God is the word of eternal life, as testified by Peter in John 6:68.  The word of God is the sanctifying truth.  Jesus says in John 17:17 in his prayer to the Father for his disciples and for all of us who believe: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”  Thus pastors are also to be careful not to give space only to the counselee’s words.  Pastoral counseling is difficult to do precisely because of the balancing of the emptying of the self.  On the one hand pastors must empty oneself for allowing the space of the counselee, but on the other hand he/she must also empty oneself for the word of God to fill the space for both the pastors and the counselee.  Pastors are required to be rooted deeply upon the word of God.  Any pastor who willingly changes and compromises the word of God for the sake of the voice of the counselee is unfit for pastoral counseling and must remove him/herself for such duty.  Remember the call and the ordination as pastors.  We are not called to perpetuate the words of man.  We are called to proclaim the word of God.  We are called to guard the word of God.  We are called to be faithful to the word of God.  If we find ourselves straying from the path of faithfulness, then we ought to examine ourselves and for the time being to postpone any counseling sessions until we come to term with the eternal truth of the word of God.  Our obedience to God is to be in place if we are to conduct any pastoral counseling.

             And so I challenge you o pastors, who have sworn to be faithful to the word of God.  I challenge you to live your oath.  I challenge you to obey God above all.  I challenge you not to compromise the word of God.  I challenge you in your pastoral counseling to also give space to the word of God.  I challenge you to stand on the ground of the eternal word of God.  I challenge you to be daring in your declaration of the word of truth even at the face of death.  Most importantly, it is not I who actually challenge you, but it is God himself who demands your faithfulness, our faithfulness to him.  His Son Jesus Christ emptied himself because he loved the Father and us, and he obeyed the Father to the point of death, even death on a cross.  He is our model.  If we are to base our pastoral counseling on this biblical principle, then we need to live out the totality of our commitment to God, just as Jesus too lived out his total commitment as the son of man.  Brothers and sisters, God challenges all of us, especially all of us who profess to be pastors, “Are we going to be obedient to him?”  Think!  And make a decision.  I will echo what Joshua said in Joshua 24:14-15 that says:

14 Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

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