One of the major aspects of pastoral ministry is the ministry of counseling. Unfortunately, for many the idea of counseling conjures up a sort of session where one fellow is on a couch talking about his problems and another fellow listening, nodding at the appropriate times, and jotting down notes that, undoubtedly, will lead to a cure for the patient's problems.
This brings us to the second problem of the view of counseling, that is the idea that someone who seeks out help is a 'patient'. By that, I mean the idea that because someone perceives that someone is wrong with them, or wrong in their life, and that this problem is perhaps beyond their fixing without help, makes them weak, a patient, or someone who needs special treatment.
Both of these things are at least partially true. A good deal of pastoral counseling is one on one, it does involve careful listening, and it does include taking note of what is being said. Secondly, it is true that someone being counseled needs help. The problem is that we fail to recognize that everyone needs help, including the counselor. No one is above human weakness, and by weakness I mean the effects of sin. We are all sinning and being sinned against, we live in a world that is contaminated by the fall of man, and so everyone needs counseling. Every single person needs help. Including me. Perhaps especially me!
This is precisely why Christ instituted the church. We are not meant to go it alone. We are, by nature, covenant creatures meant to live in community with one another. It is through community that real change can take place, and by change I do not mean simple shift in behavior. I mean real sanctification, or progress in godliness. Change takes place by conviction from the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit works through the fellowship of the church, teaching from the Scripture, and the accountability that friendship brings within in the Christian community.
Where do our major malfunctions come from? Are they mainly biological? That is, are some people melancholy by nature because of their genes? Are some people predisposed to certain behaviors because of DNA? Or, are we a product of our environment? That is, do we behave in certain ways because of how our parents raised us? Or because they abandoned us? Over-protected us? Under-protected us? If the answer is yes, then how can the church help with these things?
I believe that the answer is yes. We are a product of our DNA, and we are products of our environment. I think that we also have a host of issues that are our own making that cannot be linked to DNA or parenting. However, none of these things give us an "out". That is, we are still responsible for our actions. Because of the fall, we have inherited spiritual, mental, and physical infirmities. The ultimate cure for these things is found in Jesus Christ who has come to restore all things; he himself is the wonderful counselor.
So what is our major malfunction? We are sinners, surrounded by sinners, in a world where sin permeates everything. How are we able to overcome this? By the applied counsel of God's Word and by following Jesus as the center of the universe. When we do this, in the context of a healthy church community, God re-orients the desires of our heart, unmasks our selfishness, convicts us of our need for change, enables us to change, and teaches us about patience and forgiveness.
I am a pastor serving in my hometown of Albertville, Alabama. The greatest evidence of God's grace in my life are my wife, son, and daughter. One look at me and then my wife will tell you that her "yes" was a modern day miracle. Otherwise, I am almost completely mundane.