Summit Counseling FAQ’s (1 of 9): What Is the Difference Between Meeting with a Summit Pastor and a Member of the Summit Counseling Team?

This is the first post in a 9 part series on frequently asked questions about Summit’s counseling ministry. The 9 questions in this series are:

  1. What is the difference between meeting with a Summit campus pastor and a member of the counseling team? (this post)
  2. What is the relationship between Bridgehaven and Summit?
  3. What are the differences between a Summit small group and a G4 group?
  4. How do I know if Bridgehaven or the graduate program is a better fit for me?
  5. How would the counseling provided by a formal pastoral counselor compare to a licensed counselor?
  6. How do I know if my life struggle merits counseling?
  7. What can I do to place myself in the best position to benefit from counseling?
  8. How do I find a good match in a counselor for my needs?
  9. How do I find a good counselor in [name of city]?

Sometimes people call our office and want to “talk to a pastor” and other times they call wanting “counseling.” Often, however, people don’t realize there is a difference or are not used to attending a church where a formal counseling ministry is an option.

The result is that some people request “counseling” and feel awkward when they’re given intake forms to fill out in order to make an appointment. Others start a conversation with a pastor wanting a more extended, in-depth helping relationship than that individual pastor has the capacity (by training or schedule) to offer.

So, what is counseling?  Counseling exists on a spectrum.

  • On one end of the spectrum, counseling is “every helpful conversation.” Any time we hear someone’s struggle, express compassion, offer perspective, and make suggestions we are “counseling.”
  • On the other end of the spectrum, counseling is an “artificially paired helping relationship based upon experience or expertise.” In this scenario, one person – the helpee – identifies a need in their life and seeks out someone else – the helper – because they believe the helper is uniquely qualified to help them.

That defines counseling, but begs a second question. What does a pastor do? A pastor definitely offers “every helpful conversation” counseling. A pastor may be an excellent fit for problem-focused, expertise-based counseling.

And now a third question, how do I know if I want my pastor to be my formal counselor? For that I will look at six contrasts between the broad role of a pastor and the narrow role of a counselor. As you read these, you can ask yourself, “Am I wanting a pastor to be my formal counselor? How would that impact my week-in-week-out relationship with the church? Am I okay with it, if my pastor indicates that he does not believe he is the best fit to serve me in the area I’m seeking guidance?”

  1. Pastoral interactions are not exclusively problem-focused. Counseling interactions are problem-focused. You talk to your pastor about more than your struggles. A pastor is part of the community you “do life with.” Formal counseling is an intentional relationship predicated upon overcoming a challenge or navigating a life transition.
  2. Pastors offer ongoing relationships. Counselors offer short-term relationship. A pastor doesn’t cease being your pastor when a particular goal is met. However, a counselor does cease being your counselor when your counseling objectives are met.
  3. Pastoral relationships are mutually beneficial relationships. Counseling relationships are singularly beneficial relationships. A pastor is a member of the church who benefits from the body life of the church as much as any other member. It is as much the responsibility of church members to encourage and support their pastors as it is for their pastors to encourage and support them. A counselor does not ask for support from the counselee. The relationship exists to benefit the counselee.
  4. Pastors speak out of personal experience and biblical principles. Counselors speak out of biblical principles and advanced training. Pastors are not expected to know the “best practices” for various life struggles. Their criteria for ministry qualification is based upon character and doctrine more than counseling competence (I Timothy 3:1-7). Members of our counseling team hold at least a master’s degree in counseling and receive supervision to ensure a quality of care while they serve you.
  5. Pastors adhere to informal relational protocols. Counselors adhere to formal relational protocols. Conversations with a pastor may be had on the sidewalk at church, over the phone, or in a small group setting. The constraints of conversation are guided by basic moral principles – avoiding gossip, being edifying, situational appropriateness, etc… By contrast, conversations with a member of our counseling team are by appointment, adhering to confidentiality principles as defined by the informed consent on our intake forms, do not occur in casual social settings, etc…
  6. Pastors shepherd an entire congregation as a team of elders. Counselors offer private ministry and have a limited caseload while receiving supervision. Your pastoral care may be handled by multiple pastors at your campus. You don’t have “one pastor” who is in charge of all your pastoral care needs. By contrast, a member of our counseling team sees particular individuals-families and has a limited case capacity based upon the times they are available for appointments. Members of our counseling team receive supervision, but you would not receive counsel from a “team of counselors.”

Hopefully, it is clear that the content (biblical substance) of the interaction with a member of our pastoral team and a member of our counseling team should be very similar. In this sense both forms of care are “ministry,” they are Bible-based forms of care intended to help navigate the challenges of life with the hope of the gospel in order to experience the full life God intended.

However, the nature of the relationship (duration, focus, formality, etc…) is different between our campus-based pastoral team and counseling ministry. One is informal, the other is formal. One is based upon life experience; the other is based on having particular training. One is an open-ended relationship, the other is a short-term, goal-focused relationship.

As you seek to identify who is the best person for you to reach out to at this season of life – a pastor at your campus or a member of our counseling team – we hope these distinctions help you identify what type of care is the best fit for your current need.

Tweets of the Week 7.20.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

 

Gospel Wheel Evaluation: Spoke Character

The Gospel Wheel is a discipleship tool developed by The Summit Church to help believers identify how balanced their Christian growth is and how rooted their efforts to spiritually mature are.

The Wheel

Click here for the spoke character.

This evaluation examines four areas:

  1. The beliefs that under gird gospel-based character change
  2. The practices that support gospel-based character change
  3. The avoidance of aggressive character flaws
  4. The avoidance of passive character flaws

The six evaluations below (each 30 questions and self-scoring) are meant to be tools you can use to assess your Christian walk and understanding in each of the six key areas identified by The Gospel Wheel.

When using The Gospel Wheel as a discipleship tool, it is recommended that you seek to grow in the areas that are currently weakest rather than “maxing out” in your areas of strength. Each spoke should be developed in proportion to the other spokes in order for growth in one area not to compromise growth in other areas.

How to Find a Good Counselor in [Name of City]?

I often get asked the question, “Do you know a good counselor in [name of city]?” This post summarizes the guidance I give when the answer to their question is, “I’m sorry. I don’t know someone I can personally recommend there.”

In this post, I will assume you are seeking counseling. However, often times when I am asked this question, it is for a friend or family member. If that is the case, you can simply change the pronouns from “I” to “my friend.”

  • Step One: Make a list of trusted churches you know in that area. This choice may be denominationally-based for you. Or, perhaps there is a network of churches that aligns with your beliefs. Maybe there are several pastors in that area you’ve heard preach and you appreciate how they teach the Bible.
  • Step Two: Call these churches and ask, “Who do you recommend for counseling?” At this point, you do not have to provide a significant amount of personal history. You might clarify by saying that you are seeking “marriage counseling” or “personal counseling” or “addiction counseling.” As you call multiple churches, take note of any counselor(s) / center(s) that are repeated among your trusted churches.
  • Step Three: Call the counselor / center that was most repeated among your trusted churches. This is the phone call where greater personal disclosure is advised: “I am seeking counseling for [describe in a concise 2-3 minute summary]. I have contacted several churches I trust and they recommended you. I want to know if you have training in my area of need. If not, is there another Christian counselor you would recommend for this type of life struggle?”
  • Step Four: Schedule an appointment. At the end of this process, you will have identified a trusted counselor who is recommended by the Christian community in this area, and/or allowed that counselor to direct you to someone who is well-trained in your area of need.
  • Note: If you are calling for a friend or family member, you will not be able to schedule an appointment for them. But you will have identified a best-fit counselor for needs that you can recommend to them.

Additional guidance on how to interview a prospective counselor is provided by the Christian Counseling & Education Foundation (CCEF). I hope this post helps you (or your loved) one find a quality Christian counselor in [name of city].

Tweets of the Week 7.13.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Tweets of the Week 7.6.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

What Are You Afraid Of?

I was recently rereading Leslie Vernick’s book How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong in preparation for this Fall’s seminar on Overcoming Codependency when I came across this excellent quote from Francois Fenelon about our fears of following God whole-heartedly in hard times.

“What are you afraid of? Of following too much goodness, finding a too-loving God; of being drawn by an attraction which is stronger than self or the charms of this poor world? What are you afraid of? Of becoming too humble, too detached, too pure, too true, too reasonable, too grateful to your Father which is in heaven?… I pray you, be afraid of nothing so much as this false fear — this foolish, worldly wisdom which hesitates between God and self, between vice and virtue, between gratitude and ingratitude, between life and death.” Francois Fenelon in The Royal Way of the Cross

This is an excellent reminder of how our fears distort the character of God in our imagination.

Note: Some may be concerned that this quote would indicate that we will approach the subject codependency from purely a responsibility-based paradigm. In the “Overcoming Codependency” seminar we will examine how to both wisely withstand the suffering side chronically broken relationships and the responsibility-side of valuing the approval of people more than the approval of God.

Tweets of the Week 6.29.16

There is great value in saying something in a memorable, concise manner. Twitter has caused us to make this a near spiritual discipline. For my own growth (as a generally verbose individual… that’s a long way of saying “wordy”) and for the benefit of others, I highlight tweets each week that deliver a big message in a few words.

Gospel Wheel Evaluation: Spoke Generosity

The Gospel Wheel is a discipleship tool developed by The Summit Church to help believers identify how balanced their Christian growth is and how rooted their efforts to spiritually mature are.

The Wheel

Click here for the spoke generosity.

This evaluation examines six areas:

  1. The core beliefs of gospel generosity
  2. The character necessary for generosity
  3. The preparation for consistent generosity
  4. The intentionality of wise generosity
  5. The involvement that should accompany generosity
  6. The effect generosity should have on the giver

The six evaluations below (each 30 questions and self-scoring) are meant to be tools you can use to assess your Christian walk and understanding in each of the six key areas identified by The Gospel Wheel.

When using The Gospel Wheel as a discipleship tool, it is recommended that you seek to grow in the areas that are currently weakest rather than “maxing out” in your areas of strength. Each spoke should be developed in proportion to the other spokes in order for growth in one area not to compromise growth in other areas.

Comparing Pastoral Ethics and Counseling Ethics

EthicsPastors (i.e., those whose primary responsibilities are preaching and teaching for the purpose of evangelizing the lost and equipping church members for ministry) and counselors (i.e., those who primarily meet with individuals or groups for the purpose of overcoming a particular struggle or life transition) often approach their respective ministry ethics quite differently.

These differences account for many of the tensions that have historically existed between pastors and counselors. In this post I will examine one facet that accounts for these differences by examining the leading question and principle that drives the ethical decision making of each. Admittedly, reducing the ethical decision making of either to a single criterion is reductionist, but I do so to illustrate the primary point and trust the reader not to over-extend the point.

I will develop the counselor side of the discussion more since it is less familiar to the average church.

Pastor’s Leading Ethical Question:How could I love people (plural) well without making the gospel known in every way possible? Said differently, how could anything that makes Christ more known be unwise or unethical?

Pastor’s Lead Principle: Make Christ known.

The pastoral ethic might be summarized in the phrase, “Every Christian this side of heaven owes a clear presentation of the gospel to every unbeliever this side of Hell.” The pastor is beholden to and burdened for the entire world.

Decision making is made based upon what advances God’s kingdom. It is expected that everyone make sacrifices for this cause and it is the pastor’s role, as God’s herald, to call people to these sacrifices. This involves…

  • Discipleship of believers… through calls to faith, obedience, and sacrifice.
  • Purity of the church… through church discipline and upholding the moral teaching of Scripture.
  • Evangelism of unbelievers… through calling attention to their lost state as a means of helping see their need for the gospel.

Counselor’s Leading Ethical Question: How do I care well for the person (singular) in front of me and rightly steward the information he/she has entrusted to me?

Counselor’s Lead Principle: Do no harm.

The counselor is beholden to the individual or couple for whom he/she serves in the role of counselor. Using the word “counseling” to describe a relationship entails at least two things: (a) the person seeking counsel is disclosing his/her life story in an artificially accelerated manner, and (b) the person seeking counsel will give additional weight to the guidance of the counselor because of the experience or education or the counselor.

Decision making is made based upon what is in the best interest of the counselee (unless the safety of others is involved). The counselor is cautious to not allow his/her voice to supersede the counselee’s voice in decision making; sustainable change requires the counselee to remain in the lead decision making role, but the roles of counseling can fight against this. Therefore, the counselor is perpetually vigilant for when he/she may have undue influence in the counseling relationship.

This means the Christian counselor comes to points above differently than the teaching/equipping pastor.

  • Discipleship of believers… assessing an individual’s readiness to act on calls to faith, obedience, and sacrifice based upon their current emotional, relational, and spiritual health.

o    There can be tension between a pastor’s broad-based call to “step out in faith and trust God” and a counselor’s assessment of factors in an individual’s life that would make this good step, unwise in the moment (i.e., going on a mission trip in an impoverished area while experiencing PTSD or volunteering in an area of needed ministry when one’s marriage is already strained).

o    Having an individual publicly share their story of significant life change in a public forum before that change has been assimilated because it is edifying for the church body. For this subject I have created a resource to help churches and ministries avoid this frequent dilemma.

  • Purity of the church… helping a counselee navigate the tensions when his/her current moral values or lifestyle may not be in keeping with his/her Christian beliefs without communicating that the counselee must follow God in a way that diminishes the counselee’s voice in the matter.

o    A counselor will be more neutral with a counselee than a pastor is with a parishioner because pastoral relationship is authoritative while a counseling relationship is advisory. Even when the pastor and counselor share the same values, the tone of the interaction will be different. This is based upon at least one key distinction between pastoral and counseling relationships.

      • Note: I believe it is this distinction, which is often misunderstood by both sides, that leads to much of the friction that exists (when it is present) between pastors and counselors.
      • Pastoral relationships exist in covenant community governed by biblical standards and overseen by the elders of the church. Pastors have a delegated authority to which their parishioners have agreed to adhere to in order to remain a member in good standing with that particular church.
      • Counseling is a voluntary relationship that exists for the duration of time for which the counselee deems the benefits of counseling as being greater than the time investment. Counselors have no authority over a counselee and their influence is had purely through the voluntary cooperation of the counselee.

o    A counselor will also be assessing a church’s readiness to handle the subject at hand. Is the counselee’s church prepared to care for someone who experiences unwanted same sex attraction? Would the church prematurely confront an abusive spouse in a way that might endanger the abused counselee who reaches out for help?

  • Evangelism of unbelievers… through helping the counselee see the emptiness of their pursuits (if their struggle is sin-based) or their need for more than temporal comfort (if their struggle is suffering-based) and bringing the counselee to the kind of questions that beg for a gospel answer.

o    An individual in a pastoral role will be more assertive in initiating a gospel question than an individual in a counselor role. The pastor either works from the biblical text (when preaching and teaching) or the biblically desired outcome (when discipling in a more personal context). The time requirements of shepherding an entire church require this. The counselor works from the questions of the counselee and limits his/her counseling caseload in order to ensure this can happen.

o    Personal Note: In a counseling context, even when a gospel conversation seems ripe, I prefer to direct the counselee to a Christian in their sphere of natural relationships for the final stages of placing their faith in Christ. Discipleship happens in relationship. If the formality of my role as counselor does not allow me to fill that role as friend, then this person is better served to share that moment with someone who can be in that relational-discipling role.

Hopefully you can see that the leading ethical questions and principles of the pastor and counselor are good. Both have their place. People need both in their lives; pastoring more frequently than counseling.

There is a tension that exists in this post, which I do not believe can be neatly resolved. Pastors serve as counselors and counselors should live on mission. On the counseling side, good intake forms that provide informed consent about the nature of counseling and how information will be handled can alleviate much of this tension. On the pasturing side, a greater appreciation for the “do no harm” ethic can create a better working relationship with counselors.

Another hope from reading this post is that there can be a better appreciation between pastors and counselors for why they make the decisions and set the limits they do.

  • Counselors will view pastors less as wreckless ideologues who are only concerned with growing the church.
  • Pastors will view Christian counselors less as faithless obstructionists who are unwilling to fully cooperate with the needs of the church.

If this can happen, then both callings benefit.

  • Christian counselors will seek to build more informed consent measures to allow themselves to cooperate with churches and be more overtly Christian in the content of their counseling.
  • Pastors will have a greater appreciation for the responsibilities that come with being entrusted with privileged information and how individual factors may impact the response to calls for faith, obedience, and sacrifice.