Originally published in Pulpit Helps, January 2003.
Pastors and Christian counselors are often faced with difficult opportunities when hurting people turn to them for help. Humans are complex beings. Our brains are more daunting than the greatest computers. Our behaviors are often not simple and our problems usually do not lend themselves to “one size fits all” solutions.
In the broad picture, sin is the problem and Christ is the answer. But fitting the specific details of our troubles into that picture can leave us bewildered or perplexed.
One of the key strategies in helping someone in Jesus’ name is to do what Jesus did: meet people where they are. That does not mean we share their values or beliefs or approve of their wrong or sinful behavior. It does mean we practice the principle of love. We cannot be God’s tool for change if we do not connect with the people we are trying to help. We cannot be a catalyst for helping someone move from point A to point B if we never start at point A!
Jesus’ own ministry is an inspiring example of how to make the “grace connection” with someone in need. He met the woman caught in adultery with grace and did not condemn but forgave her. However, He did not fail to guide her forward in godly living as He said, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus did not take sin lightly and neither should we. He also was known as a friend of sinners. His servants today should have a similar testimony.
There is abundant research from many fields that can help us diagnose or understand a person’s situation. There are about 300 different theories of counseling. The significant thing about helping people is that we must actually connect with them. Counseling is different from preaching or teaching. Some teaching may take place, but it is more relational than didactic.
Jesus helped people because He loved people. We must do no less as we practice Christian counseling. That does not mean we must try to generate a certain kind of feeling, because love is not a feeling but an attitude that seeks to do the right and best thing, and does it in a way that is both sacrificial and unconditional. Feelings are good but love is better.
God uses pastors, social workers, counselors, life coaches, and others who seek to serve Him. We are called to help and that journey begins when we care enough to meet people where they are in their difficulty.
We need information, research, knowledge, etc., about personalities and problems, but we also need a growing understanding of God’s truth. A counselor attempts to connect with a person on the foundation of God’s truth, in a way that does not compromise doctrine yet accepts the person just as he is. As the counseling relationship grows in trust, the avenues for biblical principles to be applied in loving ways also grow. The result is change—and that is a primary goal in the counseling ministry. We have no better example than Jesus Himself.
James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He serves as the pastor of Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.