Welton Wriston (DMin) is director of student services at Pentecostal Theological Seminary.
Over twenty years ago, I was counseling a married couple of a blended family. Every problem raised between them, the husband had a simple solution: see things my way and we can all get along. In every session, the husband saw his viewpoint as the only way to bring peace to their troubled marriage.
Several months went by and there was no progress. During our time together, I was not successful in getting the husband to see his part in the conflict. So, I sought out a reputable marriage counselor in the area and referred them. I was deflated because I wasn’t successful in helping them and I soon realized that the level of care they needed was beyond my education. I could not force the outcome.
I have discovered that pastoring calls for a lot of education and training. And with the education you get, it is ongoing year after year. It seems you never have enough.
A few years ago, I was driving through a rural area in the county where I live, on my way to pick up a friend to go deer hunting. It was early November and the leaves had been falling with some still on the trees. As I passed by some houses, I noticed a man outside in his yard looking up to the top of a fifteen or twenty-foot-tall tree. A small number of leaves were hanging on at the top far from his reach. He approached the tree and took hold of the trunk, then with all his might, he shook the tree thinking he had the strength to dislodge the remaining leaves at the top. When he realized his efforts had no effect, he stepped back from the tree and dropped his head in despair.
As I witnessed this event, I burst into laughter. I am so glad my windows were rolled up. I couldn’t contain myself. I thought, how could he ever thought that he could force those leaves to fall before their time to fall?
This brought an old song to mind I recalled hearing on the radio, the chorus went this way:
To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under Heaven
This song was made popular by the Byrds in the 60’s and its title was Turn, Turn, Turn. That man who tried to make the leaves fall before their time was just like me trying to get that husband see his need to change, except I never put my hands on that man, although I may have wanted to.
The song Turn, Turn, Turn derived its lyrics from the passage found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. There is a season for everything. This is true for all of life. As I reflect back on this event in my life, I have seen the need to get education in the area of counseling. The following are some basic rules I follow today.
Always take care of the client's needs in counseling and confidentiality. Refer when you are no longer able to help.
Risk management - do no harm to the patient/client/member, nor to yourself.
Set boundaries. Do not go into business with a patient/client/member or have them over for dinner. To do this is to blur the boundaries in counseling. As a pastor, I enjoy fellowship with members. Therefore, I would seriously consider the ramification of counseling sessions with members.
Know the professional in your area that can provide sound counseling. Also, it would no hurt to make friends with a lawyer as well. The Church of God has legal counsel you should get to know for the "just in case" moment in your ministry.
Study the ACA (American Counseling Association) Codes of Ethics.
These are a few suggestions to guide you as you prepare to counsel. You will soon find out that if you do not have any education in this area, you are not properly equipped. Take the time to equip yourself with certified training and education. Your reputation as a minister is at stake, don’t jeopardize that at any cost.