Pastors are in the God business, sometime they are placed in the mental health business. Seminary provides training in pastoral couseling, but the counseling is spiritual and relates to individuals having a close relationship with God and an understanding of sacred scripture. Clinical cases are best referred to health care professionals specializing in the challenging needs of the mind and body. Man must have the capacity to know good from evil and there should not be any biological or chemical reasons for this understanding. Pastors must know their limits and seek professional support in difficult cases or cases outside of guidelines of theology.

Case Study



A minister of a local church indicated a need for pastoral counseling. He was experiencing a great deal of distress. The pastor is a young man in his 7th year as pastor in an upper middle class white suburban neighborhood. This pastor has been so effective, that he has set a longevity record for the length of time the church has been able to keep its pastors. The average length of time is two years so the fact that this pastor had been at this site for seven years was significant. Crime is low, and most of the members of the church are seniors. A few years ago, a few young families moved into the neighborhood and joined the church.

The young families are peoples of color, and the minister is  also a member of a minority group. He therefore was delighted to receive the new addition to the congregation. The pastor was not prepared for the results of what can happen when expectations are not met, and pastors try to mix counseling with friendships.

Clinebell[1] suggests that a pastor should be sensitive to sign of distress, and use them as potential counseling opportunities. I noticed the individual was demonstrating signs of depression. Long-term interaction and friendship with the individual suggested that a significant amount of weight had been lost in a short period. It was apparent that the individual considered me as a confident and someone with who he was safe to express some concerns. It was clear that some conflict was taking place in the church in which the individual was serving as pastor.

The conflict, centered around a relationship that the pastor had with a member of the congregation. The pastor, being a caring person, had open his home and his family to assist this member during times of crises. The factor, which caused the pastor to drop his guard and be more cautious with respect to new and unknown variables entering his church environment, as the ethnic identity of this man and his family. The man was from Africa, and he had a wife and two small children. He was also an educated accomplished individual reported to have a PhD. The pastor believe this was an opportunity to help a young family adjust to a new environment. The pastor had as a rule gone out of his way to welcome new people moving into the community and invite them to attend the Good Shepherd Church. The two families became very close, and the pastor and his family went out of their way to help the young family. The pastor encouraged the young man to share his gifts and talents and run for a church office.. With the pastor’s assistance, the man became a leader in one of the church’s major office, and he was now in a position to do harm to the pastor unknowingly. The pastor had let his profession as a social worker motivate him to provide support services, where possible support and care for his family. The roles of pastor, social worker, and friend became mixed up, and the pastor would regret the problems, which can occurred when friendships turn toxics. The pastor was requested to enter into a business arrangement with the member to do some repair work on the church. The friend, returning to his role as pastor with the responsibility of over seeing the operation of the church, became suspicious of the financial arrangements, and informed the member and friend that the church could not become involved in the arrangements.

The member took this refusal of assistance as an attack on the friendship. Bi Polar Personality Revealed The member, which the pastor later learned, had a history of emotional disturbance, and this rejection triggered emotional attacks against the pastor in the church. The pastor was not prepared for the verbal and character attacks of this individual, who would disrupt church service, and use his position of leadership in the church to attempt to destroy the pastor. Threats were made against the pastor and his family, and a steady writing of letter and phone calls to the superintendent’s office created an environment, which was uncomfortable for the pastor or the security of his family. The pastor became very distressed because he had reached out to help the individual and his family, and now it appears that the individual had forgotten about all the pastor and his family had done for him. It was not clear how this matter could have been handled; most pastors are not prepared to handle severe emotional or psychotic episodes in its membership. My suggestion was that the pastor notify the local police department and put them on notice of the threats against him and his family. The pastor, elected, for the good of the church, not to use that approach, and instead for the safety of his young family, take the Bishop’s advice, and a leave of absence from the church for an extended period.

The pastor was very hurt, and had a great deal of difficulty accepting the idea that he had provided pastoral counseling for this individual, but he had made the mistake of bring the individual whom he was helping into his home and personal emotional circle. The Relationship Turns Dangerous Danger resulted when the individual decided to try to destroy the pastor and his ministry and attempt to have the pastor removed from the church. I suggested to the pastor that he remember that the member was a patient, and as a results of becoming too close to the patient, some of the patient’s spiritual and emotional illness were affecting him. The pastor continued to believe that he had failed the individual, and should do all that he could to help him. I suggested that it was important to know whom you can and cannot help, and when to refer clients out to other health care professionals. Pastoral counseling can include some dangers in current climates. The pastor had confused his pastoral duties, with his social work profession. The pastor, as a trained social worker, had attracted the client into his other field of work. Pastoral care suggests that there is a caring for individuals, and may mistakenly suggest that the pastor sacrifice all for his members. In today’s society of legal problems, it is necessary that the pastor and the church protect themselves from legal responsibilities resulting from social work with individuals with personality concerns and emotional needs that are outside of the responsibility of the pastor.

Here again it is necessary to return to Theories of Personality, and seek to understand how we bring our own personality needs into pastoral counseling, and how the different theorist can assist with this understanding. Adler developed a theory of personality that was different from Freud’s idea of the individual. Adler bring back the idea of individuals seeking to better themselves by helping others. He restored the idea of self worth of the individuals, which psychoanalysis had almost destroyed.

Adler offers ideas of humans and their behaviors, which are more satisfying and more hopeful and respectful to the human conditions. I am interested in following in this path, and since my personality and traits tend towards building up the individuals and respecting them where they are, the Adlerian approach would be the approach that I would select in my practice and religious work. It is my belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and as such, we are capable of outstand things that we may not be aware of at this time. I also have learned that the personality which draws me to the Adlerian approach, may be the results of my own history. Dr. Johnson[2] suggests that it is important to have a field of separation between yourself and the client. It is important not to take on the illness of the client, or feel responsible for the illness or the cure. He further suggests that it is important to know when to refer clients. Each pastor should have a list of support services available to assist with any services rendered. There maybe individuals who present themselves for help, who may not benefit from Christian counseling.

Integrating theory with practice, Johnson (2005) provided practical guides for becoming effective counselors. He suggests that the Humanist Manifesto[3] could be helpful in pastoral counseling. It provides tools for dealing with people on all levels. The pastor may be called upon to assist people who may or may not be Christian. He suggests that pastoral counseling is psychotherapy dealing with people in education, family and social situations. What the schools counselors fail to do and the guidance counselors could not do, the church is expected to do. Pastors within the church are expected to deal with all social and psychological issues. Pastors must at times become a referral agent, and prepare for themselves a desk reference for their geographical region. Government agencies welcome the referrals since their funding depends on the number of clients they serve. Johnson suggests that pastors develop close and positive relations with directors and or assistant directors of these agencies, in order that they are familiar with you and your service, if and when an emergency need arises. Clinebell[4] states that the heart of pastoral care is helping the individual to achieve spiritual wholeness.

   As you ought not attempt to cure the eyes without the head Or the head without the body, neither ought you attempt to cure the body without the soul…for the part can never be well unless the whole is well…And therefore, if the head and body are to be well, you must begin to cure the soul.(                                                                                         —-PLATO[5]

Johnson suggests that the safety and security should be the prime concern. You should not let your religious beliefs cause the life of anyone. If it is suggested that an individual is in physical harm in a marital situation, do not think first about keeping the unit together. Lives have been lost because pastors have advised individuals to stay in abusive situations for the sake of scripture obedience.

If someone is going to destroy the essence of your soul, you should walk away. Johnson states that the secular world is demanding that people take a larger role in servicing society. States are requiring that pastors obtain licenses before providing services. It is also important that pastors continue to update

clinical pastoral counseling and chaplaincy courses. Pastoral counseling is on the cutting edge of behavioral counseling. Many pastors do not understand what Shepherding is. It is much broader than pastoral ministry. The law requires that individuals be certified in pastoral counseling. Many insurance companies are demanding that churches have special licenses and coverage in order to do some programs specifically if the churches plan to work with the government. The secular world controls the financing, and they want to know that individuals involved in the programs have specific competencies. Johnson suggests that spiritual leaders have not prepared themselves for the challenges of the 21st century. Johnson states that when a therapist is dealing with certain issues, he or she is dealing with the whole family. When issues relating to alcohol or drugs are involved, you are dealing with the whole family. With respect to issues of abuse, research suggest that people who grow up in abusive families tend to become abusive. There are individuals who relate love making with abuse. In some cases, according to Johnson, sexual abuse can be genetic. He further states that it is important and necessary to obtain the permission of individuals who may come to you to pray for them. Do not pray for anyone without first securing their permission. It is wise to enter into private pray with yourself and for yourself before entering into some situations. The pastor and or the counselor should arm himself or herself with the covering of prayer before encountering problematic situations.


[1] Howard Clinebell, Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Abingdon Press, Nashville, Tenn.

[2] Dr. C. Phillip Johnson, Th.D., D. Min, Pastoral Care & Counseling, U. Theology Seminary, New York, Spring 2005

[3] Humanist Manifesto, American Humanist Association, 1777 T. Street NW, DC

[4] Howard Clinebell, Basic Types of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Abidgon Press, Abigon, Tenn

[5] “Charmides,” The Dialogue of Plato., Benjamin Jowett ( New York: Random House, 1937

Leave a Reply