As I journeyed through these learned halls, ducking into doorways and corners to avoid the self-righteous parades of those ‘Theology Majors’ I encountered another foe. Looking back I should have seen this foe coming as well but in the moment I was caught up in my own most amazing adventure, learning all of these new skills and dreaming about how I could apply them professionally with whatever my next chapter of life may bring. So lost in thought was I that it would take a partnering up in a skills-based “person of the counsellor” course to slap me silly as to this new horror on the horizon.
Let’s call it Pastoral Counselling.
It is horrendous enough that pastors take advantage of their positional authority to offer up counselling to the community and their congregation, convinced that simply because they read the Bible more than anyone else in their immediate circle of influence, they have divine knowledge into what is screwing you up. Or, even more scary, is that you didn’t think you were screwed up until the pastor counselling you told you.
This place of power that this type of pastor sits in, driven by a modernistic methodology that has the presupposition that only the learned ones understand absolute truth and therefore can form moralistic code for the congregation to follow – dishing out various forms of punishment for the ‘sinner’. It is gross abuse and damages the very person seeking to understand the love of God in some meaningful way, from wherever they find themselves in their life – hell be damned. It breaks my heart just thinking about, let alone write about it.
How much worse may it be if that same treat-the-pulpit-as-some-royal-throne bestower of Scripture actually learned some skills in counselling? How much worse? A lot. And he was my partner in this skills-based course.
We would ‘practice’ counselling each other – learning how to put into action the skills that we were learning. Except my partner could not help himself. You see, being a man of the cloth for as long as he was, entitled him to a certain place of knowledge – presumption is what I would call it – divine discernment I believe is what he would call it. Perhaps an example to describe how the situation would unfold.
Imagine you were going through a divorce. It had come to that place and the papers were before the courts and the only thing left now was to hate and despise each other for destroying each other’s lives. To try and make sense of all that is tumbling around in your world you seek out a counsellor. However this counsellor is a special counsellor. He is a pastoral counsellor who has taking training in counselling. The conversation starts off well enough – as it ought to – given all the training that this pastoral counsellor has just received in making sure that a therapeutic alliance has been built. You begin to relax and since you have been looking for some safe place in which to talk about your experience of this very painful divorce – you pour out your emotionally-laden story filled with contempt for your partner and contempt for yourself and contempt for life contributing to your misery.
And then he speaks.
He speaks calmly but passionately about his own experience but he doesn’t have experience at all in anything related to what you are going through. Nonetheless he continues on, speaking with some authority about someone, somewhere and you begin to pick up that this could just be a very elaborated ‘sermon illustration’ disguised as a first person monologue in his effort to establish authority over you in the most disgusting way imaginable in this situation – experience.
By establishing that he has had a similar experience then he feels that he has built the necessary bridge over to you and now the real work can begin. The subtle nuances and invitations follows, pointing out that since you are sitting in that chair and he is sitting in his counselling chair that perhaps by position alone he would be worth listening to – as if his words could miraculously raise you from your chair and place you – um, not in his chair as that is taken – some other chair, perhaps – somewhere else, far away from him – and not with as much authority as he has. You know, over there somewhere.
But before the miracle occurs, the therapeutic conversation needs to embrace his woven quilt of carefully trodden Scripture, designed to both inform and convict.
You see, the presupposition that was present at the beginning of this conversation was that he was right and you were not.
He is a pastor after all. Not just a counsellor.
As the horror ended and as a group of educated adults we moved onto the next course in our academic journey I was afraid. I looked around and there were more than one of these individuals present. We would all graduate and have the same membership card. Only theirs would be gold-embossed with a picture of a cross on it. And they were going to go out and do the exact same work as I was, talking to the exact same people as I was.