What Sovereign Grace Teaches Pastors About Counseling – Part 3

May 18, 2009 in Sovereign Grace Ministries

Here is a transcription of the third and final portion of the full text of a talk given at the 2009 Sovereign Grace Pastors’ Conference.  This particular teaching was limited to an audience of men only.   If you haven’t already done so, please take the time to read Part 1 and Part 2.  You can access the handout for this teaching here.  I have numbered the paragraphs to assist us in our discussion.  My commentary will be in blue.


[Beginning part 3 of The Pastor and the Counseling Process]

[1] The Warrant to Interdict:  There are times we are required by the Scriptures to interdict into situations.  That’s what essentially, um, ah, uh, um, church discipline is.  It’s God-sanctioned interdiction into a situation.  Sometimes it’s for safety.  Sometimes we have to act for safety.  Um.  But – but – we are required sometimes to do something that, that falls outside of what seems like counseling, actually interdicting into situations for the sake of safety or the sake of, of, of Godliness.  You gotta be careful there, but that’s just a place, in the light of the Word, we can always hold out, “You know, why don’t you do this – take this one little piece of Scripture and apply this to your life, and let’s just see what happens.”  You can always give them Scripture and just say, “Try this.”  That’s the power of the Word.  [Kris says:  To all you SGM members reading this, I hope that you’re concerned about the really vague way that the concept of church discipline is suddenly thrown into a teaching about counseling.  Given the sensitive nature of the typical counseling situation and the emotionally fragile condition of many counselees, and given the implications of the church discipline process, it’s rather frightening that a group of SGM pastors could be talking about counseling one moment, and then in the next moment be told – in a very general way, with no Scriptural backing or specific examples – that sometimes they are “required to do something that falls outside of what seems like counseling…for the sake of Godliness.”

A key element in many of the survivors’ stories here on this site is that when they went to seek help from their SGM pastor and disagreed with his approach to their problem, that’s when they found themselves going down the path of experiencing the church discipline process.  Almost always, the disagreement the member had was not based upon the member’s refusal to correct an obvious, clearly sinful behavior, as was the case in I Corinthians 5, where Paul gave the church instructions for the process.  Rather, the SGM member was suddenly faced church discipline because they disagreed with their pastor’s assessment of some much more arbitrary and less easily defined “sin of the heart” like pride.

Is a counseling situation – when a pastor is dealing with someone who frequently is emotionally fragile or struggling with some other condition like depression – the place to introduce church discipline?  To “interdict”?

Especially without more specific guidelines as to when such a drastic measure needs to be taken?]

[2] Powlison says, “Change is one bit of Scripture in one area of life, over time.”  The wonderful thing about grace is so often in counseling, we don’t have to deal every situation people face, we don’t have to deal with all the implications.  Where is one area where God does seem to be working, where can I take God’s Word, apply it to that one area, and then let grace flow in every other area.  The issue is not all these situations we have to fix.  The issue is the heart turning from self, toward Jesus Christ in faith.  And God providing grace.

[3] Closing this section, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones:  “As we travel through this journey of life we are to help men and women by a word, a word of encouragement, a word of cheer, perhaps a word of rebuke, but a word that will remind them that they are under God, and that if they are in Christ they are precious to Him.”  That’s our privilege we have.  [Kris says:  Nothing against Powlison or Lloyd-Jones,  but wouldn’t it have been more helpful to hear from Scripture?  I just find the lack of Biblical support in this message staggering, especially considering the effort that was put into quoting human authors.]

[4] Now, what we’re gonna do with the time we have, which is probably when we finish up, is I – wouldn’t want – OK.  Um, let me take about 15 minutes, and I’m gonna go through a situation that’s ongoing, um, with a couple, using this diagram to kind of show you how I would apply it.  Um, just so you can get some ideas, uh, from it.  Um, this is, uh, I’m gonna call them Jeff and Jenny.  Um, meeting with them on a somewhat regular basis right now.

[Kris says:  The sound quality of the next 30 minutes of the recording was not as good as the rest, so there may be some minor discrepencies between what was actually said and what is typed in this transcript.]

[5] Uh, one thing I’ve gotta say is this.  Sometimes – this is done in a Mindjet – do you guys have Mindjet?  Who has Mindjet?  Do you have Mindjet?  You can buy it, you know – it’s not good for everybody, it’s just a way of processing – don’t focus on the program, what it allows you to do is it allows you to expand and – and – and – contract categories.  It’s a pretty cool planning tool.  [Kris says:  Something I find intriguing is how much of SGM’s structure and methods are identical to those of the business world.  The way that SGM “does church” is VERY familiar to anyone who has spent time in the corporate sector.  Some SGM defenders have proudly touted SGM’s “New Testament” approach to the church body, but the reality is that much of their methodology and the tools they use come from corporate America.]  [Unintelligible]  But, one of the things I do, is when I’m sitting down with someone and I wanna pull this up, I – they don’t see, uh, this stuff.  They just see the circles.  And so you could, if you like this, you could draw up your own thing on a piece of paper and – and copy it.  You could do it in Word with just these six markers and this, and everything else you just talk about.  And that’s what you do.  If I showed this to somebody in counseling, it’d freak ’em out!  [Crowd laughs.]  Um, so I just keep it very simple, I show them the six and I talk about ’em in generalities.  It gives me freedom to go different places with them in the future.  I’m not advocating this going in front of somebody.  Just seven circles, one big circle and six other circles, um, is really all you need.  Uh, this is all for us professionals, the rest of it.

[Kris says:  While I do think that Mr. Farmer was referring to himself and the other pastors as “us professionals” in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, there’s still something a bit off-putting by the idea of one’s essentially untrained pastor writing up notes and making diagrams about one’s counseling situation, notes that the pastor believes one would be “freaked out” by…and notes which one probably would never be permitted to see.]

[5] Uh.  So, Jeff and Jenny.  Let’s talk about, about Marker Number One.  Um, “Having A Common Purpose.”  I’ve known Jeff and Jenny, uh, I was their pastor when they were both singles, I did their wedding, uh, a number of years ago.  I’ve known them.  I don’t, I don’t, I haven’t kept in regular contact with them, they’ve been in a different sphere of the church, but I do have a history with them, uh, both individually and together, and that’s helped me – but that’s a common experience for a lot of us in pastoral ministry, we have some kind of history, but what I don’t have is current history as they interact with me.

[6] But I know some things about ’em.  I know that Jeff and Jenny are about as opposite as you can be, culturally, from where they came from to get married, and – and, uh, it was an amazing thing that they came together and got married.  I know some of what – I know – that, that, that, that, Jeff is [an objective thinker] [Kris says:  I’ve edited out a few of the more specific details in Mr. Farmer’s descriptions of this couple, to better protect their privacy.]  Jenny is subjective to the max.  And so you can sort of imagine where some of their challenges come from.  Um, I know that Jenny has a history of depression.  Uh, she had some significant difficult circumstances happen in her formative years that have shaped, profoundly shaped, her view of life, and have been told certain things about herself for a number of years that really shaped her view of herself.  I know that Jeff is largely ignorant about all this, he knows about it descriptively, but he has no frame of reference of understanding it personally.

[7] And so they came to me and they – and we – and they came in because they were having increasingly, uh, uh, unresolvable conflicts, where almost on a daily basis they was some form of argument and over increasingly irrelevant things, especially in marriage, it was being taken over by conflict.  So if anything becomes something they could have conflict over and they’re unable to move – and when that happens sometimes, what happens is then the relationship fabric deteriorates.  And now trust is starting to erode, now – now bitterness starts to set in.  Um, and, and division starts in the marriage.  They were wise enough to see this becoming an increasing pattern in their lives and they came in to talk.

[8] So, so, when, uh, we just have to recognize, I need to hear their fresh story.  I know their story at a certain point.  I need to hear their fresh story, and their fresh story in some sense changes my perspective of their historic story.  So, so, because we continue to learn and develop and think differently about our lives.  Um, so, uh, I knew the basic issue, uh, uh, I knew something about their differences, um.

[9] It also comes out in – that – that  – that Jenny is seeing a counselor.  Um, a Christian counselor, someone I know.  Uh, and I’ve talked to.  But someone who I would say, though they’re Christian, and respects what we do, would be more what we – would be called an integrationist-type counselor, someone who would use the Bible, but is – but drops over into therapeutic categories, psychological categories, as well.  Um, I think, frankly, from interaction with our church, and materials, this person has been moved toward more of a Biblical approach, but I don’t assume that what she’s telling is what I would be telling.   [Kris says:  Re-read that last sentence.  What do you think of that?  I personally found it staggering in its arrogance.  Mr. Farmer believes that this professionally trained Christian counselor is “being moved toward more of a Biblical approach” because this counselor has been interacting with a Sovereign Grace church and reading SGM materials?  Wow.  Let this statement serve as a warning to all the Christian counselors out there who might have to work with SGM people.  Folks, when we speak of SGM members’ blatant sense of their church’s superiority, this is precisely the sort of thinking we’re talking about.]

[10] So – but you know what, it’s an opportunity for me, so I can, “Oh really?  So tell me what you guys are talking about.”  So one of the things I do when someone is meeting with a counselor is I – “Tell me what you’re talking about, tell me what you’re hearing.”  You know, and – you gotta do it with a happy face.  [Crowd laughs.]  Um.  You know, if you fold your arms like this and say, “So what are you hearing,” you know – you’re not gonna get anything.  “Oh, we’re just talking about my life.”  But – “Tell me what you’re talking about.  Oh really?”  And – [unintelligible] try to find connections, try to find similarities, even with a secular counselor.   “Oh really, they’re saying that, now why do you think they’re say – that’s interesting, where does, what” [unintelligible]  – you’re intaking all the time.  One of the things you have to do as a counselor is always intake with a happy face.  [Crowd chuckles.]  Um, uh, it’s a poker face.  Sometimes you’re hearing things and you’re cringing inside.  But you realize that, “I can’t let them know my game, and so I’ve got to be able to relate to them.”

[Kris says:  Once again, go back and re-read that last paragraph.  This portion of Mr. Farmer’s teaching really bothered me, particularly as I listened to it a second time.  The first time around, it sort of felt like he was advocating a more accepting stance toward outside counseling, something that SGM used to actively preach against.  I mean, Mr. Farmer is, after all, instructing the pastors to make effort to appear to be open-minded.  And that would be a good thing.

But again, as we saw in the first section of this teaching, what he’s advocating isn’t actually open-mindedness toward the mental health profession.  Rather, he’s advocating that the pastors cultivate the appearance of open-mindedness.   Big difference.

Frankly, if I’m going to my SGM pastor for counseling – and Mr. Farmer has already established that the pastor-member counseling relationship is based upon a more personal and permanent dynamic with a different level of trust and many different assumptions than the relationship that would develop between the member and a professional – I would want to interact with my pastor and be able to trust that he is being honest and open with me in his responses…including his facial expressions and his body language!  I don’t want to have to wonder if he is wearing his “poker face” as I’m describing my situation.

Is it OK to bank on the personal elements and the trust inherent in the pastor-member relationship on the one hand while at the same time putting on one’s “poker face” and merely pretending to be open-minded on the other hand?  If my pastor is condemning me in his secret thoughts, I think I’d rather know this, instead of being led down some phony garden path of feigned acceptance.]

[11] And you know it truly is, what I’ve found, is, “Do I trust God?”  When I hear somebody’s receiving bad counsel or is receiving medication in a way that I think is unhelpful, and I go into unbelief, then I can’t help.  You know.  And so I’ve gotta say, “Lookit, God, you’re bigger than this medication, you’re bigger than this counseling they’re in, you’re bigger than this advice they’re getting.  You’re able to speak.  Your Word is more true than anything else they’re gonna hear.”  And so I don’t worry too much about that.

[12] So, so we’re engaging, um, over it, so we’re talking about it, she’s telling me about it, and I’m thinking, “Ah – ah – ah – that’s not helpful, too much, I don’t think, in this situation, from what I understand things are – you know what?  Um, I’ll just go with it for right now.  Ah, and she’s also being medicated for depression.  She’s – she – and she – and one of the things that comes up, the story, is that she was on medication, and then she – she weaned herself off of the medication, and things tanked.  And so one of the things I’m doing – and again, we can dialog over this – uh, I wanna be careful, cuz I don’t wanna be advocating medication.  But, I do believe that – that if we make medication the issue, we drive medicated people away.  Um, most people, if someone comes to me and says, “I’m on medication,” the kind of question I’ll ask is, “So, is it helping you?  Tell me what it’s doing for you.”  And I’ll let them describe…

[13] Eight times out of ten, someone will say, “I don’t think it’s really helping, I don’t want to be on it.”  And they’d love to find a way off.  Now I’ll say, “Great.”  Or if they’re saying, “Yeah, I’m on it,” I’ll say – then I – sometimes I’ll say, “How’s your doctor?  Is your doctor – do you feel like you can talk to your doctor about it?”  And eight times out of ten, “You know what, I don’t think I can talk to them about it.  They [unintelligible] probably want me on it [?]”  So then I’ll start to instruct them, I’ll come alongside them and say, “Well, you know what, I think that if you’re gonna be on medication, it’s important for you to have a doctor that understands what your desire is relating to your medication.”

[14] I – you know, I used to fear that I’d find people who are – who are addicted to medication in a sense, that they’re emotionally addicted to it.  I don’t typically find that in my world.  Um, maybe you do, and maybe they’re out there.  I know they’re out there, but the medication in our culture right now is driven by expediency in the medical world.  And people feel that.  They feel, “I’m being medicated but nobody’s helping me with my problems.”  And so the idea of medication as wonder drug is no longer really where people come from.  They talk about medication as, “Well, that’s all they’ll do for me, is medicate me.”  And – and – they’re discouraged by it.  And so we have opportunities, if we don’t overreact to it, that the culture is transitioning.  Medication is driven by industry, not by need.  And, um, and so – we have opportunities.

[Kris says:  Opportunities for what, exactly?  I think we see here some pretty clear evidence as to what SGM’s assumptions and beliefs about medication are. 

Personally, I’m curious if Mr. Farmer’s “8 out of 10” figure – his assertion that 80% of people on medication are unhappy about taking it – is even accurate.  Or could it be that because of his position of authority and his clear bias against medication, as well as the leading questions that he asks, the members who come to him for help feel obligated to tell him what he clearly wants to hear about medication?] 

[15] Now, there’s certainly exceptions to that, there’s certain medications if they’ve [gone on?  Gone off?  Unintelligible.]  they might kill somebody.  We have to understand that.  But, uh, I think in generally speaking, we can engage people in their medications in a very helpful thoughtful way and they could – and they could – they could  be, ah – and – and – and – we can become part of that process of the management of it.

[Kris says:  Does SGM think it’s a good idea for untrained pastors to become “part of that process of the management” of a member’s medication?] 

[16] Um.  So.  Ah.  Depression medication, um.  And so I got to know some of their story and so I was able to catch up with them.  About the Gospel.  Obviously they’re both believers so they’re – very confident in that, uh, historically and in the present, but I could recognize that – that the Gospel has taken hits in their lives.  [Kris says:  Once again, Mr. Farmer is speaking of the Good News of Jesus as something that seems like less than a historical fact of Jesus’ defeat of death, sin, and the devil.  Once again the Gospel is spoken of instead as something that can “take hits.”  I just find this terminology odd.  The Bible never speaks of the Gospel as being able to “take hits” or be detracted from by the trials of life.  Why do SGM pastors speak of it in this way?]  One of the things I’ve recognized with Jeff is that he is – he is – his solutions to the problems are all pragmatic.  They don’t require any faith, they don’t require anything from God to do.  They’re just – it’s not because he – he’s committed to that, it’s just because that’s where he’s gotten to.  “What do I gotta do to fix her?”  So his gospel deficiency is he thinks he – the Gospel is what you do in order to have the right to be able to fix your own problems.  That’s his functional gospel.  You believe this so that now you have the right to fix your problems.  So one of the things I’m recognizing is that I have to help him recognize that his solutions, though logical, started from that frame of reference, though they – so one of the things I’m helping him with is, “Yes, that’s a great idea, but if you’re not trusting in God, it’s not gonna work.”

[17] Oh, man, who said that today?  You hear so many great things at the conferences you forget where they come from.  [Crowd chuckles.]  Um, but – but if you, uh, ah – I don’t think I’m gonna go there, gotta get it into context, ah – but – so – so – I recognized that with him.  With her, I recognized that, that she is having – I asked her about her devotions, her – and she’s having intense devotions.  She’s not working, she was debilitated by, by the depression.  And that’s the way she’s understanding herself, debilitated by the depression.  She couldn’t handle the pressure, and so she’s having like four-hour quiet times.  But we’re on – what is she doing in her quiet times?  She’s just journaling.  She’s spilling it out into a journal.  She’s basically regurgitating bad stuff and feeding on it.

[18] [Chimes sound]  That means it’s, um, 12:30.  OK.  Um, so – so anyway, she’s uh, so I get, OK, I got to help her see that that’s not healthy devotions.  That’s a wrong understanding, built on a wrong understanding of the Gospel.  The Gospel isn’t – devotions not meant for me to get what’s out here onto paper.  Devotions are meant for me to get what’s out there into my heart, into my thinking on a daily basis.  So that’s a Gospel issue for her.  So I just – we talk about that a little bit and I move on.

[Kris says:  Does the Bible condemn spending 4 hours journaling?  Where in Scripture would we find God’s thoughts about one’s devotional habits being a “Gospel issue”?  I’m not necessarily disagreeing with Mr. Farmer’s ultimate advice to this woman, but it just seems to me that if pastors in Mr. Farmer’s audience are going to receive an example of weighing in condemningly on a member’s personal devotional habits, there ought to be some more specific Scriptural guidelines for doing so.] 

[19] Um, building community.  One of the things that’s happened is they feel difficult – they don’t – they – they – they don’t – it’s hard for them to relate to people because they don’t feel people have these kind of problems that they have.  They do.  They just don’t sense that, so as a result, they’re just kind of a fringe on the community group.  In fact, they had some challenges with the community group leader so one of the things I had to do is I had to say, “OK, part of what we’re gonna do, we need to decide if this is the best small group for you.  If it is, you need to commit to it.”  And so, part of what they had to do in this regard was, they were gonna have a conversation with the – with the community group leader about how hard it was to relate in the community group, and I just helped them.  “I think you need to have a different kind of conversation, I think you need to have the kind of conversation that says, ‘How can we better invest in the group?'”  And so they did that.  Um.  And so one of the things we did – but I had to initially say, “Listen, I’m not gonna tie you to the group, as if that’s punishment.  You know, this group is not meant to function as – as punishment.  If it’s not working, we’ll find you one.”  And they realized, “OK, well let’s try this one.”  And so they were able to get them better connected in the group.  But I couldn’t – I told them, “We can’t move much farther if you’re kinda on the fringe of the group.”  Ah.

[Kris says:  So it would appear that CLC’s stance on the assigning of care groups has softened a bit.  There have been situations where pastors were far less open-minded and actually did make sticking with one’s originally assigned care group seem like some sort of punishment.  So this change is a good sign…if it reflects an across-the-board CLC policy that would be available to all CLC members.]

[20] So.  Building the community.  Uh.  Um.  Discerning Wisdom and Foolishness.  Again, what I did is I – I – and I kind of with Jeff, I talked in the realm of pride as a concept, and in the realm of unbelief, though I think they both fit for both of them.  The reason is, I think, is you’ll see legalistic tendencies, self-righteous tendencies in the area of pride, you’ll see depression, discouragement, in the area of – in the area of unbelief.  I don’t like to categorize things like that too much, but you look at truths in people’s lives.  Um – so – so I – we just talked about that in general.  Um.  But an amazing thing happened in the process of this.

[21] Oh – the other thing is,  in the area of community, and I encourage you to consider this.  If you go to meet with any period of time, make sure you always – they – they find a friend and bring them with them.  I would encourage you to try to do this as much as possible as a – as a – as a practice.  If you’re gonna commit to meeting with someone a series of times, “OK, what you’ve gotta do is find a friend who – a couple – maybe another couple, if they’re a couple, who’s gonna come with you, cuz I wanna make sure that when you leave here, there’s somebody to talk to about this stuff.”  They’re not there for any other reason, just to listen.  And the couples usually benefit from it.  You know.  And it builds their relationship.  I know the guys here at CLC do this, and I stole it from them.  But I think to be able to have another couple there who’s part of the process, who’s not carrying a heavy load.

[Kris says:  It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see a hundred pitfalls in the practice of bringing other people into a counseling situation.  Has SGM ever disclosed this expectation in their membership documents?  Are potential members informed that SGM has a major bias against professional mental health intervention (even Christian professional mental health intervention)?  Further, are potential members informed that if they pursue the more approved option of counseling with their pastor, they will eventually be expected to involve other people in this counseling process?

Personally, I’m horrified at the thought of this sort of intrusion, of involving church friends in what are typically deeply personal situations…ESPECIALLY in marriage counseling.  I wonder what trained Christian professionals think of this practice?]

[22] It’s also interesting when it helps people realize how isolated they really are.  “So you mean you – you have nobody in mind that you could – that would come in and sit with you?  Well, maybe that’s more important now than what you think the problem is.  We’re gonna focus on that.  I think before I can help you with this, you guys have to reengage in relationships.  Now, I can find somebody for you.”  But, sometimes it’s pride that says, “I don’t wanna ask somebody.”  And so, even sorta saying, “Go and talk to so-and-so.”  Sometimes people won’t have people – we might tell someone, “Oh, you hang out with them?”  “Yeah, I guess they could…”  Sometimes, it’s like, “Oh, I don’t think they’re mature enough to help us.”  Oh…I love that.  [Farmer laughs heartily.  Crowd laughs with him.]  “Oh…oh…YOU’VE got problems, they don’t seem to have problems…but they’re not mature enough to help you with your problems.  Remember – we talked about this pride thing?  You might look at that.”

[Kris says:  Ouch!  So…on the one hand, Mr. Farmer stated previously that this couple have felt isolated in their problems because they did not believe that other couples had problems like theirs.  He apparently tried to reassure them that they were not alone.  But now he seems to reveal his own assumption that the people who SEEM to have their lives together (because THEY aren’t at that moment seeking counseling) are somehow more mature than the folks who are asking for his help.

And…wow…I cannot imagine how horrible it’d be to have sought help from my pastor only to be practically coerced – through implying that if I fight it, I’m demonstrating my pride –  into involving someone else in my situation, someone I’m not particularly comfortable with involving.  Horrible.]

[23] Um.  So.  Uh.  And then, um, and then we start with “Heart Transformation.”  We just started down this road and we’re in this road right now.  An amazing thing happened, and I’ll kinda close this toward where we’re going – ending with this, the last time we met, um, the – and you’ll see all these sort of things sort of start weaving together – uh, Jenny said, did I call her Jenny?  Yeah, Jenny.  Said, uh, “I was talking with my counselor the other day, we’ve been talking about an issue of – of misplaced shame.”  That’s not really a Biblical category, it’s a therapeutic category, though it’s – it’s one of the more relatable ones.  Misplaced shame.  And she said, “I’ve been thinking about how I’ve, you know, I’ve had this grief I’ve carried, and the counselor’s wondering if it’s misplaced shame, that I – sometimes [edited by Kris for personal details] when I was a child.”  And – OK, this is all very therapeutic, not without some relevance.  But therapeutic in its orientation.

[24] And she said, “I was in my devotions,” – and we’d talked about it, and she’d transformed her devotions, she was not reading – she wasn’t – she was reading more than writing.  “And I felt the Lord just showed me, He showed me everybody has shame.  And I’ve always felt so different, cuz I’ve felt like shame that nobody else has.  But God showed me, that’s why Jesus died, for my shame.”  And – and – and – she did her own instantaneous, by the help of the Spirit, reorientation of her thinking.  Out of therapeutic categories.  Really instantaneous.  It was given to her by God.  “You know what?  I’m normal.  Of course I’m ashamed, because I sinned against God.”  And she brought all that into the category.  What I’m able to do right there, I’m not counseling at that point, I’m just celebrating.  Let’s have a – I’m just making connections at that point, “Do you see this?  And see how this?  And one of the things we talked about before, and all this, and how this all?”  You know.  And she’s like, “No, I never saw that.”  And her – they’re both going – her husband’s going, “Whoa.”  All I’m doing at that point is taking truth that I know to be true and applying it into a live situation that God gave them.  And we’re covering all this stuff.  And all of this stuff comes into play, not necessarily in my words, but I’m able to hearken back to, “Remember when we talked about this, and how you felt like you were stuck here, and you couldn’t do this, and now you see that, you know,” – well, well we had to stop, we had to celebrate, cuz nothing but God can deliver you to this point.

[25] And – and – and, uh, therefore, “What does obedience look like?”  “Oh, I think it looks like this.”  She came in with obedience desires and obedience steps.  Speaking to the idea that our pastoral counseling, because we’re walking along with people through decades, not simply sessions, we have the privilege of being able to wait and let God show people things that He intends to show them while we simply shepherd the flock of God.

[Kris says:  This is a good statement.  Yet the entire rest of this talk – giving all sorts of strategies for guiding the process, for getting people to see their situations in very particular ways – seems to contradict the notion of “waiting and letting God show people things that He intends to show them.”]

[26] So that’s just an example, we’re still gonna talk about things, we’re still gonna meet together, cuz we’re ne – but now we’ve turned a corner and we’re moving to what does obedience look like.  What does change look like for a season.

[27] So – so that’s basically it in terms of application.  Any questions you guys have, lot of materials, I recognize.  But I’m always wanting to get you understanding – [voice in the crowd, unintelligible]  I feel that way.  [huge crowd laughter]

[28] So, with the remaining five, ten minutes, any questions you guys have?

[29] [Voice in crowd]:  Why do you believe that idolatry…[unintelligible]…are not able to be brought up…[unintelligible]

[30] [Mr. Farmer]:  What I’m – that’s great – if pride, unbelief, and idolatry are not words, not labels I’m gonna put on, what am I gonna use?  [Kris says:  Why the need to label anything?  Why can’t a pastor just listen, just offer comfort and a sympathetic ear, at least for the first several sessions?]  Well, first of all, it’s not that I wouldn’t use the terms, it’s just that I don’t want the label to be the focus.  And so I might – idolatry is typically one that would challenge, because it really doesn’t fit somebody’s normal understanding of life.  And even sometimes as much as I know this is an idol, the first thing I’ll do, I’ll say, “What do you mean by that?”  And I’ll realize they’ve imbibed language but haven’t applied the language.  So sometimes I’ll use “desires.”  So I just wanna have other words to try to fit the situation.  So pride – but pride – one of the reasons I talk about pride is, uh, as something – in – in those words because I wanna introduce them as categories, but with idolatries, I want people to feel it and to feel the weight of it more than it be descriptive terms, I want ’em to feel the weight of what I’m doing.  It really is – so you’re basically saying, “You’re – you’re worshipping, you’re building your life around something that’s in opposition to what God wants you to build your life around.”  So if – I’m gonna talk about control, somebody, “You know, boy, it seems like you get really bent out of shape when you’re not in control.”  So I might not ever use the word “idol,” but of course I’m talking about an idolatry of control.  And I’ll say, “Interesting, the Bible talks about this.”  Powlison talks about how idolatry is the Old Testament reference to what in the New Testament is called sinful desires.  But really it’s, uh, it’s an Old Testament picture of a New Testament reality of sinful desires.  So, I’m not opposed to the language, I just wanna make sure that the language isn’t – we’re not talking language without depth to the language.

[31] Other questions.

[32] [Voice in crowd]:  Yes, um, can you elaborate a little bit on asking someone into a counseling session?  That’s new to me, are you talking about, like, all your counseling sessions…[unintelligible]…another couple coming in with them to all the sessions?

[33] [Mr. Farmer]:  No, what I’ll do is, I’ll meet with somebody and – and maybe even meet with ’em two or three times to determine sort of where we wanna go.  Thinking about this process, where do I see this going?  But if I feel like, you know what?  I think I wanna – th – there’s advantage here to meet on a more consistent basis for a season of time, then I’ll say, “I love to do this” – cuz recognize, you guys are pastors, you can’t do this with everybody.  You can’t – you can’t have weekly appointments with everybody you’re gonna meet with.  [Kris says:  Then why is SGM so biased against outside counsel, even Christian counseling?  If SGM pastors are so aware of their limitations in this capacity, shouldn’t SGM align itself with a group of people who ARE available to help those who need help?  Shouldn’t SGM explore perhaps reaching out to some Christian counselors who would be available to pick up their slack?  Or do they have biases against those ministries as well?]  But for those of you feel like right now, it’s either necessary or particularly helpful to have weekly appointments or whatever it is – regular appointments, scheduled in advance – I’ll bring somebody in.  I’ll say, “Let’s get somebody else in here.”  So I won’t do it with everybody.  But if it looks like it’s gonna be consistent, I’ll do it, because otherwise they’re gonna get focused on me and not on what’s being done in the process.  So.  [Kris says:  How would bringing in someone else help the counselee to focus on “what’s being done in the process”?  Wouldn’t the third party just serve to place the counselee’s focus on yet another person, rather than “the process”?]

[34] Other questions.

[35] [Voice in crowd]:  [Unintelligible]…Um, you tell the story about…[unintelligible]…could you maybe just give us some insight into how this situation would…[unintelligible] responsive to…

[36] [Mr. Farmer]:  The situation I just described?  Yeah, how the situation I just described became, uh, more formal.  Uh, they came in, you know – I’ll meet with anybody.  Um.  And – and – so – they came in, we talked, caught up.  You know, usually a situation like that, we catch up, get the basic situation.  Uh, I’ll usually say, “Great, you know, why don’t you try this” – I’ll give ’em some counsel.  Um.  “And then let’s meet together.”  You know, and so – whether it’s two appointments, by the second appointment I’m usually thinking, “Do I wanna – do I wanna – does it look like there’s something here.”  And there’s some situations I realize, you know, these people aren’t really serious about change, they’re really serious about symptom relief.  And so I’ll let them sit and simmer a little while, until they’re ready to address real change.  I’m not gonna spend a lot of time with somebody.  Even if the problem looks like a disaster, doesn’t mean I’m gonna throw a lot of time into it until I recognize that they’re – they’re – wanting something beyond, “Fix my circumstances.”   [Kris says:  Wow.  Just wow.  So the reality is, if you have a problem in SGM, you can seek help from your pastor.  But don’t expect to get help unless you can demonstrate that you’re basically able to work on fixing your own problem.  If you have an absolutely huge, insurmountable problem, you’re just out of luck?]

[37] So that’s a lot of them.  [Kris says:  “A lot” of people approach Mr. Farmer for help but he turns them away because he judges them to just be wanting him to fix their circumstances?]  This couple I realized they’re serious here.  They see something, they want to change, there’s love toward one another, they’re not battling bitterness.  They’re – they’re – the grace of God is at work here, how can I feed into that?  [Kris says:  So the grace of God is NOT at work in situations where people feel unable to help themselves?  The grace of God depends upon people’s demonstrated efforts at self-help and self-improvement?]

[38] [Voice in Crowd]:  [Unintelligible, punctuated with Mr. Farmer saying a listener’s “Yeah”]…well like after church, you’re talking to a couple…[unintelligible]…maybe…[unintelligible]

[39] [Mr. Farmer]:  Yeah.  Well, yeah.  If you’re at church.  Well, a lot of times one of the challenges we face in counseling is that it comes at us from all different crazy directions.  Um.  And so one can be after church.  And so you’re sitting there, and you’re, you know, someone comes up [mimics hearty pastor’s voice], “Hey, how you doing?”  [Then mimics high-pitched wail of parishioner’s supposed response.]  [Crowd chuckles.]  [Kris says:  That this group finds this funny speaks volumes.  I’d hate to be the hapless SGM member who breaks down in unexpected tears in front of one of these guys, assuming I’d found a sympathetic listener.] Uh.  What I typically do right there is I say, “You know what, let me pray for you, and then let’s set up a time.”  And I don’t ever set up a time there.  Because I’ll forget.  [Laughs heartily.]  And I’ll think, you know, they’ll come in, and I’ll be, “What are you doing – oh that’s right, we talked about” – Um, I’ll say, “Listen, email me.”  I – I do things through email.  Gives them a chance to have easy connection with me.  I don’t have a secretary to set things up.  I do things, personal interaction, email.  Um.  And so then I’ll say, “Let’s sit down and talk about it.”  That’ll give me a sense of, this is just a, “I don’t know where we were, you know, we had a bad night, here’s the real situation,” or if it’s continued.

[40] Sometimes I – I’ll, uh – it can work in other ways, too.  If they’re a couple or a situation where I realize, OK, this person is trying to get me to manage their life, sometimes what I’ll do is I’ll say, “OK, listen, let’s connect after church for fifteen minutes.”  And I’ll start weaning them away from counseling hours into smaller sessions of time.  Or I’ll – I got one guy where I’ll always schedule him backed up against another appointment.  Um.  So that I recognize that he could go forever, and, and – uh – or I’ll say, “Let’s do a phone call,” backed up against another appointment.  What I’m trying to do is I’m, that’s part of shepherding.  You know, shepherding is not, “Whatever you feel like you need, I’m here to supply.  Shepherding is like, “I don’t think you need to talk to me as much as you think you need to talk to me.

[41] And so I’m gonna help you talk to me, I wanna make sure you know I’m available, but I – you know – I’ve got another guy who just emailed me, who’s – who’s going through a divorce and – I’m trying to balance out this sense of wanting him to feel my availability.  But he doesn’t – he seems to want to handle it like, call me when he’s in need, as much as I say, “Listen, email me, we’ll sit down, we’ll talk.”  He’ll grab me in church and want to have long conversations.  We’re wrestling right now.  I maybe at a point where I’m saying, “Listen, Bob, we’re in a pattern right now where you grab me and then [for] an hour we’re in my office and we’re talking about something.  You don’t seem like – it doesn’t seem like something happened today, it seems like something happened a couple days ago, but you feel the way you gotta engage me is this immediacy.  Bob, I’m not gonna be able to talk to you like that.  If you wanna talk to me on a Sunday, email me, and we’ll set something up.  For somebody else, I’m there, I’m instantaneously there.  So you’re – part of shepherding is what’s good for the care of their souls in the way they handle situations.  Not everybody handles the same way.

[Kris says:  Again, I understand that in a pastor’s life, there will still be practical considerations.  And yet, I keep getting the feeling that so much of this advice Mr. Farmer’s dispensing to these pastors is all about THEM, about serving THEMSELVES, rather than the “flock of God.”  There seems to be this underlying assumption that pastors occupy some sort of superior position of always knowing better than the people themselves what the people need.] 

[42] Um, we’ll take one more question.

[43] [Voice in crowd] [unintelligible] …Uh…[unintelligible]…about confidentiality…and, uh, self-induced…[unintelligible]…

[44] [Mr. Farmer]:  OK, yeah, the issue of confidentiality relating to certain extreme cases, spousal abuse being one how we handle like that, um, probably a short answer is each state has different laws on – on what you’re allowed to keep confidential.  Um.  And how you keep that confidential.  Uh.  As a church, one of the things we make – make people be clear on – well – that’s a tough question – uh – I don’t ever have total confidentiality where someone can – can hem in to not sharing something.  Certainly if, say, somebody shares something and I think I need to go to the police, I’ll go to the police.  But I also on our pastoral team there’s no confidentiality that doesn’t allow me to share with the pastoral team.  I don’t share things with my wife.  Or anybody outside the pastoral team.

[45] But if somebody is talking in the world of – of – the – of things that they may assume confidentiality, sometimes I’ll stop and say, “Listen, it sounds like you’re assuming that I – that I’m gonna keep this a secret.  I – I need to draw on another pastor sometimes for wisdom, and so if you don’t want me to do that, then don’t share it with me.  Um.  So – so there are situations like that.  Spousal abuse, I think, you know – my basic – my fallback is, uh, is, uh, “That’s for the police.”  Now, how people engage the police – but I – I believe in the police.  Um.  And I believe they have a role to play.  And I don’t try to protect abusers from the police.  Um.  What I do try to recognize is sometimes abusers use the – the – the – activity of the police can make things difficult.  So I do preparation for that.  But I would never – I would never consider the police outside the bounds of the grace of God to hem someone in.  In fact it can be very necessary.  So.

[Kris says:  I’m glad that Mr. Farmer acknowledges several times that there is a place for calling in the police.

I’m troubled, though, by the idea that SGM folks are basically guaranteed a lack of confidentiality in counseling situations. 

First of all, within SGM’s culture – as we have clearly seen just from statements Mr. Farmer has made in this talk alone – there is a strong bias against any outside mental health help.  If you’re an SGM member and you want to make your pastors happy, you will only go to them for help in solving your problems, since they are clearly uncomfortable with the notion of your receiving counsel from a trained professional, even someone who is a trained Christian professional.

But you won’t receive much help unless you are well enough and healthy enough to take an active role in helping lift yourself out of your problems.

And if you need additional counsel, your pastor will demand that you involve other people in your counseling sessions.

Moreover, your pastor will never guarantee that he will keep your problems to himself.  He is free to share whatever he deems necessary with anyone else on the pastoral staff – or anyone who in his mind might be “part of the solution.”

SGM members, were you ever TOLD that this was how it’s going to be?  Did you understand, when you were given CLC’s Starting Points document, just how Appendix G would play out in reality?  Are you comfortable with this?

(It’s my guess that the only people who are comfortable with this lackadaisical approach to confidentiality are the people who have never themselves actually walked through SERIOUS mental health issues…or been close to someone who has.]

[46] Guys, thank you for coming, and your time.

[Loud applause.]

[47] One quick thought before you go.  You might look at this and say, “I like this,” but you wanna move things around.  That’s OK.  It’s not designed as a – it’s just designed as a tool that you can take and play with however.  There’s no copyright on it, so do what you whatever you wanna do with it. 

[48] [Announcer’s voice]:  You’ve been listening to a message by Andy Farmer which was given at our 2009 Pastors’ Conference and has been made available to you through Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Sovereign Grace is primarily devoted to planting and caring for churches.  We also hold conferences, train leaders, and publish books, music, and audio and video messages.  For more information, visit www.sovereigngraceministries.org, or call us at 301-330-7400.

© 2009 – 2013, Kris. All rights reserved.