People need counsel. The question is, “where will we go to find it?” The first place to start in finding counsel is the keeper of all knowledge and wisdom, our Lord. He speaks in his word and has inscripturated for us his divine counsel. Yet, he still acknowledges that sheep need shepherds. The word tells us that we are free beings. And free beings may fall by their own counsel (Ps 5:10). The fences of the law can be jumped, therefore, God has ordained elders to shepherd the wayward and confused. The elder, of course, is not only for those headed astray. He also comforts the afflicted, encourages the lowly, and most importantly points all to the Wonderful Counselor, Jesus (Is 9:6).
I would like to encourage pastors to lean into the wisdom of God’s word in the field of counsel. Many shepherds today are outsourcing their pastoral duties. We are called to shepherd the flock among us (1 Peter 5:2). The flock among us should graze from the shepherd’s field and drink from their own wells. Feeling inadequate to the task, shepherds have told their sheep that counsel is found in another field than that of their own. I do believe there is a time and place for the pastor to hand off a seriously maimed sheep to the doctor. Yet even in these extraordinary cases, the shepherd should still be exercising oversight. In such cases, the pastor should yield to the medical doctor’s expertise of the body and keep the realm of the soul to his own office. If the hand-off is needed, the pastor should always recommend his parishioners to Christian psychiatrists if possible. The scriptures are very clear that we are not to walk in the deceitful counsel of the wicked (Ps 1:1, Prov 12:5, Prov 21:30, Rom 11:34), for the Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing (Ps 33:10). Without the fear of the Lord, which the world has none, true counsel will be absent. The members of our churches should be able to say, with the psalmist, that the counsel from God’s house is sweet (Ps 55:14). Below are five “sweet” reasons pastoral counseling is a preferable place to start with any kind of counseling.
The keys of the kingdom have not been given to the world (Matt 16:19). They have been given to the church. This power of binding and loosing is then handed specifically to the elders of the church who may exercise church discipline. For some, this is scary. Authority structures can be chilling if abused, but that is precisely why we need them. God has ordained authority structures in the world to ensure accountability.
Consider a world without authority to hold people to their actions. An authoritarian government is quite nasty, but so is anarchy. When sin pops its foul head up in the church, and it will, without accountability the church can say nothing more than “that stinks” to the victim. On the other hand, a church with spirit-led elders will apply the perfect law of liberty with justice and mercy. Now think of this from the angle of counseling. What can the world do when a husband cheats on his wife? He can listen, she can care, they can recommend, but the one thing they can’t do is exercise discipline.
The principle that Paul applies to grievances against another certainly applies to counseling as well (1 Cor 6:1). We should not consult the unrighteous instead of the saints. For this very reason, churches need to recommit themselves to the biblical teaching of membership. A church that lacks covenant membership will have no authority to back the counseling they are carrying out. There is nothing more beautiful than the Holy Spirit working through the God-ordained eldership of a church to bring true grace, justice, and love to the members in need of counsel.
The average cost of counseling per session is from $65-$250. As you know, counseling often takes more than one session to guide the person or family to a conclusion. This means a person may spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars simply to consult someone to get the care they need. It is not always true that “you get what you pay for”. The time of the pastor is valuable, but it is not more valuable than the time of the parishioner. You should not muzzle an ox while it is treading the grain and the laborer deserves his wages (1 Tim 5:18). The members of the church pay tithes to support these labors and should not have to be burdened financially simply to receive the pastoral care they need. Elders, we have the great privilege of offering truly free health care. The chief Shepherd has paid our way to receive and apply the grace the Father has offered to us, let us also give freely in return.
Qualification for elder
Assuming your church follows the biblical prescription for eldership, a person in need of counseling can be assured that the man he is sitting in front of is able to manage a household. Elders, according to 1 Tim 3, have no business shepherding a church if they are unable to manage their own household. In addition to basic relationship management, an elder is required to have a character that is above reproach. This means he understands how to manage the self.
What these qualifications tell us is that a healthy lifestyle is attainable. If the scriptures took the “nobody’s perfect” approach, to make little of life’s issues, then it would not have put such high standards on the elder. It would have said the elder is to be the supreme hypocrite. He is the one that on the inside is a mess, like everyone else, but on the outside, he is above reproach. I’m not saying the sagely divorced grandmother on anti-depressants isn’t the right choice, but starting with a man above reproach seems like the obvious place to start if there is a choice.
Care and Cure
Contrary to what many think, the pastor is to share the good news of Jesus in his counsel. That good news means not only healing for the broken, but also perseverance and faithfulness in a world of sin and temptation. Nobody is indeed perfect, but the Lord calls us to that standard. He says “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. We won’t ever attain that perfection this side of glory, but with a gospel mentality, we can live an abundant life that is filled with lasting healing and true redemption. Like every counselor, the pastor walks the tightrope between care and cure. The gospel tells us we are already cured, but not yet cumulatively so. Therefore we rest in the loving care of Christ and run the race set before us in faith.
A final benefit to pastoral counsel is the unique spiritual guidance only the pastor can provide. Remember that a pastor has been ordained by God to shepherd the flock of God among him. This means he knows the sheep. He knows the particular ways that some sheep act. He knows what they have been eating and drinking (or not eating and drinking). The care he gives them is tailored to them like a father to his children. And remember that this God-ordained role is always resting under the authority of the scriptures. What more comfort could one find than sitting in the office of a God-ordained man, who is sitting under the authority of God’s word, and himself looking to the chief shepherd? Blessed is the man who sits here instead of the seat of the scoffers.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. (ESV) – Psalm 1:1–4
 GoodTherapy.org Therapy Blog. “How Much Does Therapy Cost?,” August 22, 2014. https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/faq/how-much-does-therapy-cost.