COUNSELLING pastors are in the privileged position of caring for the needs of the particularly vulnerable. That mix of caring for the secret needs of people who are compromised is fraught with danger. Think about it; when do people go to see their pastor or counsellor? When life is turned upside down and they don’t know which end is up or how to move forward.
I’m talking pastoral care when life goes wrong; it’s when the pastor comes into their own — they’re there to help. Pastors are particularly helpful when help is required.
Counselling pastors will journey with people dealing with life issues as well as refer them on to other helping professionals. I liken this journeying along with people as ‘travelling with’ them — to be there as and when needed. This carries the risk of empowering an unhealthy neediness that is there already or that may emerge. That clearly is not taking the relationship in a helpful direction.
Most people don’t want to be a burden on a pastor, and the pastor should certainly help as much as possible equip a person they’re helping to act independently. The pastor’s primary task is to help people grow as disciples of Jesus.
Two Things Are Needed In Unison
Counselling theory taught me the necessity of depowering the power dynamics in helping relationships, because the counsellor (and pastor) are in power roles whether they like it or not.
The counsellor/pastor does well to attune to the knowledge they have power that is unhelpful mostly. Power can be easily abused and vulnerable people are inherently susceptible. Power says that trust is implicit. When a counsellor/pastor is trusted they may easily abuse that trust — many unfortunately have. Their integrity is crucial in making the relationship work as a helpful one.
But there is a vitally important aspect to a pastor’s power that they must tap into; that is, they are solely responsible for the relationship. The carry the relationship. They bear the relationship. This is a weighty responsibility. This is where being a pastor has the weight of heaven under it and over it. God himself oversees the minister’s work. That can be a terrible thought. But it is also an honour to do God’s work.
The twofold obligation on a pastor in helping a vulnerable person is to 1) depower the power dynamic, whilst 2) ensuring they hold and contain the person.
In other words, pastors must depower power dynamics whilst bearing responsibility for the pastoral relationship.
Pastors must be trustworthy and be able to earn and keep a person’s trust.
These two things prove your pastor trustworthy: they care for your thoughts and wishes, and they take responsibility for the caring relationship.
To recap, you need your pastor to:
1. Depower (and not exploit) the power dynamic resident in the helping relationship with you.
2. Bear sole responsibility for the relationship, because if anything goes wrong, in terms of abuse, it will be the pastor’s fault.
© 2015 Steve Wickham.