Thursday, April 7, 2011

Grace And Pastoral Counseling

I think I need learn to pastor with more grace. What does that mean? To live gracefully means to conduct your life in such a way that is consistent with the fact that you are yourself a recipient of grace. To speak with grace is to speak in such a way that points to the grace of Jesus Christ. One can live graciously in two ways. One can point to one's own sinful nature, essentially demonstrating the point that, “we are all in the same boat morally”. Or one can point to the beauty of God's goodness and the riches of his mercy. A gracious word is one that leaves the recipient thinking, “wow, this guy truly understands that he is no better than me.” A ungracious word leaves the recipient feeling sheepish or guilty. A gracious word leaves the recipient feel accepted and loved, shown grace from a fellow recipient of grace.
Consider the following scenario. You are looking after a Bible study leader who is constantly late for meetings, writing Bible studies late, and doing a poor job because of his under-preparation. How would you deal with it? Would you come down hard on him, or speak to him gently? Would you approach him with a whip or with gentle words? What outcome do you desire from your rebuke? Our mistake is that we too often seek to correct behavior and think that the right approach is whatever will get us the correction we want. We counsel as mechanics rather than as pastors. “As long as its running the way you want it, the problem is fixed” Consider, instead, these questions: “What's this person's theological issue? How can I help him realize his sin and the manner in which he is behaving in a manner that is inconsistent with his gospel reality? How can I speak to him in a way that demonstrates the grace of God and encourages him to change in light of the gospel rather than from fear of punishment?
What does it mean to pastor graciously? It means to live in such a way that my achievements and maturity and merit point not to my own goodness but to the goodness and power of the One who wrought it within me. As a mature Christian, it can be so easy to create an unbridgeable chasm in maturity between yourself and someone that you disciple. If you've conducted yourself in a way that causes your student to say something along the lines of, “my mentor is so godly and mature. I'll be lucky if I can be half as mature as him one day!” YOU'VE FAILED. Our pastoral work should NEVER point to our own goodness. When our goodness is observed, it should point to the wonder of a God who can make that out of a wretch like me!
We can pastor ungraciously in many different ways. We can glorify our own actions and service. In myself, I see a lot of insidious manners in which I do this. As a long-time Christian, I am quite savvy at disguising the ways I use my accomplishments to point to my own goodness. One way is by teaching in a self-centered manner. Rather than consider what my student needs to hear, I brashly and inconsiderately teach whatever my hobby horse is at the moment; I send off works of writing that I think will help them but really will just create in them a sense that I am so far ahead of them in godliness. Pastoring is always ever an other-centered work and we forget this so easily. All manners of true, disciplined, godly encouragement and admonishment focus on the the person we are caring for. There are so many ways to be uncaring in our care. We can be long-winded because we just love talking our thoughts out loud. That seems helpful because the things we say are godly things, but it can actually be very unloving if its something that doesn't suit the person at the moment. We can share too many of our successes while making no mention of our failures. We can just do something well in the name of modeling, but not use it as an opportunity to teach and encourage someone else to give it a try.
What does gracious pastoring look like? How can we accomplish this? To do this, we must constantly be returning to the gospel of grace. We must use every opportunity to reinforce in our people the belief that it is God who changes and transforms. Salvation is by grace alone, but so is sanctification. When I live a godly life, I must always be quick to remind those I model to that this is the result of a good, powerful God working in a rebellious, helpless sinner. When I perform a ministry skillfully, I do not let the opportunity pass to emphasize God's gifting of different people to do different things, all for the edification of the Church to the glory of God. When I give someone a chance to try a ministry, I am quick to emphasize what they did well, offer feedback that is constructive and grace-filled, and pray for them to grow as God allows them.
Our churches do not need more pastors who are good at everything. We needs more pastors who live unashamed, repentant lifestyles who openly admit that they themselves are still works in progress.
Our churches do not need more good doers. It needs more broken but redeemed people pointing with their thoughts, speech, and act, and entire life conduct to the one true Good-doer in this universe.