Everyone has emotional baggage, bad habits, a deficit of wisdom and knowledge, learned behaviors that need to be unlearned, and personal issues that need addressing. We have been marred by sin, our sins, and by the sins of others but the good news is that our good and gracious God is into healing and loves all of His people.
In thinking about all of this out loud with some friends, I shared with them my observation about the supposed juxtaposition between that of Biblical imperatives “(Do this, not that Put this on, put that off Don’t think that way—focus on this instead”) and the general practice in counseling of peeling back the layers of the onion, meaning, the thorough unpacking of a person’s life in order to help them. The question here is whether we have to go with an either/or?
We certainly cannot ignore the Scriptures when they demand an immediate change in our behavior such as the kleptomaniac is told to “steal no more” and the person who has developed a potty-mouth to change their choice of vocabulary right now! After all, we are not dealing with suggestions but with commands. So how does this sync with the dynamics of a counselor listening, probing, continuing in patience, and also spreading the process out over weeks and months at a time? Are we talking cross-purpose here?
I don’t think so but I do believe that there is a huge disconnect between the two. Let me explain.
When it comes to sanctification we should definitely do what the Bible tells us to do and we should do it now, but, and here is the disconnect, we are called to do it together. Everyone has something that they need to “work on” and quite often they fail in their endeavor to be obedient to the Lord simply because they have no one to encourage, correct, pray, challenge, and love them through the process. This is one of the major problems with individualistic faith.
But in the realm of Christianity, koinonia happens and everyone who is striving to “put off the old man and put on the new” is working on becoming more like our Lord, together.
It is here that following imperatives meets community—where your story is listened to, your wounds are revealed, and your burden is shared.
I am grateful to the Lord for all good and godly counselors. But many of them are filling the void of what is lacking in the Church. Counselors are taking the place of two or three men here who are not at their post and two or three women here who are not making themselves available. They have replaced the mother who should have been listening more and the dad who wasn’t available when he should have been.
We will always be in need of people with the gift of and/or the training required to be a counselor. But they cannot (and do not desire to) replace what should be happening naturally within the sacred community where loving our neighbor, like ourself, means more than just saying, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled.”