Psychotherapy is a form of psychological treatment for problems of an emotional
or spiritual nature in which a trained person deliberately establishes a professional
relationship with a client for the purpose of removing, modifying, or retarding existing
symptoms of mediating disturbing patterns of behavior, and of promoting positive
personality growth and development.
Biblical and Theoretical Basis
Master’s Seminary president and noted preacher, John MacArthur, declared,
“Counseling, particularly counseling that employs and applies God’s Word, is a
necessary duty of Christian life and fellowship.” 12
Since apostolic times, counseling has
been a natural function of corporate spiritual life. The Bible commands believers to
“admonish one another” (Rom. 15:14) 13
; “encourage one another” (Heb. 3:13); “comfort
one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:18); “build up one another” (1 Thess. 5:11);
“confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another” (James 5:16). Along with
these commands is the biblical assumption of preparedness. The Apostle Peter
encouraged his readers to “always be ready to explain” their hope “in a gentle and
respectful way” (1 Peter 3:15-16 NLT); therefore, effective Christ-centered counseling,
on any level, is never to be approached in a haphazard manner.
12 John MacArthur, Counseling: How to Counsel Biblically (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson,
All scriptures presented in this writer’s thesis project, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the
English Standard Version of the Bible.
The great Baptist minister, W. A. Criswell, once said, “Someday, sometimes,
somewhere, every one of us will desperately need the presence and prayers of the
preacher. He is God’s man to show the right way or give us strength to follow what we
ought to do.” 14
Criswell considered it a tremendous opportunity to minister as a
shepherd-counselor to the needs of the people of God. Jay Adams considered pastoral
counseling a significant part of the sum of the whole pastoral activity when he stated,
“Pastoral counseling is special, but not a separate area of pastoral activity; indeed,
biblically it is close to the heart of shepherding. It involves the extension of help to the
wandering, torn, defeated, dispirited sheep who need the restoring mentioned in Psalm
23:3 (‘He restoreth my soul’).” 15
When a minister neglects the ministry of counseling,
other crucial areas of the ministry suffers, such as preaching. When a pastor is not
involved in the lives of the people, the pastor loses touch with the difficulties and the
thought processes and habits that lead to problems; as a result, the sheep will not be
properly prepared for spiritual warfare. 16
Pastors are individuals who have the privilege
of leading the way by responding to the words of the Apostle Paul, “Now we who are
strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength” (Rom. 15:1), and the
occasion to fulfill the law of Christ by carrying the burdens of others (Gal. 6:2 NLT).
Because of the significance of pastoral counseling, the pastor of the church congregation
should be extremely well prepared to counsel. Paul advised his protégé, Timothy, “Be
prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage
14 W.A. Criswell, Criswell’s Guide for Pastors (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1980), 273.
Jay E. Adams, Shepherding God’s Flock (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House,
MacArthur, Counseling; How to Counsel Biblically, 234.
your people with good teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2 NLT).
Already established in the introduction to this thesis project is the inherent
responsibility of pastors to counsel as part of one’s call to shepherd a flock. The problem
posed in this thesis project is, in the area of counseling, many ministers lack suitable
training and education partly due to the fact that they received only minimal course
instruction and field training in counseling from their seminary educations. An informal
scrutiny, by this writer, of lower theological institutional curriculum, such as Bible
College and other undergraduate degrees, yielded similar results to that of the seminary
research. It is the recommendation of this author that, in addition to proper theological
training for the purpose of becoming competent pastoral care givers, pastors should
develop four core counseling competencies that are foundational to the discipline of
pastoral counseling. Ideally, these core competencies could be delivered in an academic
venue, and more specifically, as a required part of all Master of Divinity degree
programs, no matter what the specialization or concentration may be.
The theoretical element of this project is based on the notion that the goal of
pastoral counseling is holistic healing. The scriptural basis for this approach is
demonstrated by our Lord in Mark’s gospel account of the life of Christ. Jesus, seeing
the faith of a paralyzed man and the four men who had just lowered him through the roof
of the crowded home where He was preaching, said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins
are forgiven” (Mark 2:5) and then proceeded to heal the man from his physical affliction
(Mark 2:11). In spite of the theological debate surrounding the healing event, the young
man got up, took his mat, and confidently walked out in full view of all of them (Mark
2:12). This young man had been spiritually healed through the forgiveness of his sins,
physically mended and no longer paralyzed, and theologically restored being convinced
that Jesus Christ was God and had the authority to forgive his personal sins.
From a holistic counseling perspective, the effectual pastoral counselor offers
help psychologically, theologically, and spiritually. The pastoral counselor is
professionally able to participate fully in a psychological treatment relationship. At the
same time, the pastoral counselor identifies with and reflects on emotions within the
counseling relationship, the pastoral care giver is also evaluating and assessing from
outside the counseling relationship. The pastoral counselor is noticing facial expressions,
non-verbal gestures, voice tone, and styles of relating. Mastering this type of
psychological practice requires education, instruction, and cultural sensitivity.
Additionally, the pastoral counselor considers the theological perspectives that connect to
the assorted tasks of counseling. Historical and systematic theology, biblical
understanding, as well as Christian tradition are respected and deemed to be key elements
of pastoral counseling. In order to accomplish these goals, one must have a basic
working knowledge of the God’s Word, Christian history, and theological systems.
Furthermore, the pastoral counselor is concerned with understanding the spiritual life of
the client. Mark McMinn expressed the pastor’s concern for the spiritual life of the client
in this manner,
How are the clients’ problems related to spiritual development? When is a
problem simply a behavioral habit to be eliminated or reshaped; and, when is a
problem a reflection of deep, inner yearnings for intimacy with God and others?
How can a treatment relationship be crafted to foster qualities of humility and
insight? When, if ever, should prayer or scripture memory be used in counseling
or prescribed to a client? 17
These questions are rarely considered by most mental health therapists; but, pastoral
17 Mark R. McMinn, Psychology, Theology, and Spirituality in Christian Counseling (Carol
Stream, IL: Tydale House Publishers, 1996), 270.
counselors regularly encounter questions such as these. To address these issues, one
must be a trained and skilled spiritual practitioner.
The theoretical premise of this thesis project based on the importance of
counseling in the Word of God, the significance of the role of pastoral counseling within
the context of pastoral care, and the impact of holistic healing on one’s spiritual
wellbeing is that the pastor must develop and master the following core competencies in
order to effectively fulfill the role of pastoral counselor. First, in order to astutely guide
others, one must know one’s self within the spectrum of one’s personality, personal
spirituality and theological worldview. This is achieved through a variety of primary
“learning objectives.” Second, one ought to develop a relational style action plan in order
to connect with individual clients. This is attained by implementing specific “best
practices” into one’s manner of counseling. Third, one should master the “critical task”
of constructing the appropriate counseling strategies for the purpose of providing a
holistic healing process for couples. Fourth, it is necessary for the pastoral counselor to
be proficient in two explicit “accomplished practices” connected with treating distressed
families and bringing stabilization into the lives of clients affected by emergency and
nonemergency calamity. Finally, the pastoral counselor will be capable of forming group
treatment therapies for men desiring to overcome pornography, one of the strongest and
most addictive behaviors having a negative impact on the church in today’s culture.
Developing a program for restoration is a crucial goal in this problematic area. Mastering
these significant core counseling competencies enables the pastoral counselor to
confidently face the biblical responsibility to “be prepared whether the time is favorable
or not” in order to “patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good
teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2 NLT) both from the pulpit and in the areas of individual and family