A few weeks ago, a friend asked about my pastoral strategy: do I tend towards counselling or proclamation?
I wasn’t sure. In part, because I know the difference must go deeper than whether I spend more of my time listening or talking. It’s more a question of stance:
- Am I primarily focused on their felt needs — trying to discover where the other person’s “at” and helping them chart a course towards the healing and wholeness found in trusting God and obeying his word?
- Or am I mainly on about “letting the word do it” (in Luther’s phrase) — opening the Bible, allowing what God has to say reveal the real problem, and leaving them to sort out the rest?
(I’ve presented it as a sharp opposition. No doubt there’s a spectrum — and a lot more overlap — in practice.)
Although I’m still not sure where I sit, two recent incidents have begun to suggest to me the possibility of a third way.
The first was the response of our church’s pastor to the birth of our first son.
His initial response (after expressing his joy and congratulations) was neither “Let me give you some advice…” nor “How are you finding parenting?”. It was “Let’s pray about that!”
It was gentle. It was God-focussed. And, best of all, it both proclaimed something we were may have overlooked (God’s power and presence) and spoke directly to our biggest concern (our sense of powerlessness — “Why is he crying?”).
The second thing that happened, was that I read Bonhoeffer’s commentary on Matthew 7.1-12 in The Cost of Discipleship (SCM 1959). Something he says on pages 166-167 jumped out at me:
What are the disciples to do when they encounter opposition and cannot penetrate the hearts of men? They must admit that in no circumstances do they possess any rights or powers over others, and that they have no direct access to them. The only way to reach others is through him in whose hands they are themselves like all other men … The disciples are taught to pray, and so to learn that the only way to reach others is by praying to God. Judgement and forgiveness are always in the hands of God. He closes and he opens. But the disciples must ask, they must seek and knock, and then God will hear them.
So what’s your pastoral strategy?
Why not try starting with prayer?