My dad told me a long time ago, “Find out what everybody else is doing and don’t do it.” I have found this little bit of advice to be beneficial at times. As a pastor sometimes I observe other pastors and preachers and I read about church leadership, church growth, vision-casting and fundraising, and I do the exact opposite. Be refreshingly uncommon at times. For example, my wife and I see a marriage counselor and have no problem sharing that publicly. How can I counsel couples on the importance of checking in with a counselor when I’m not willing to do the same? A marriage is like a car motor. You have to change the oil every now and again. If not, your motor will lock up. New motors are expensive. In pre-marital counseling, I have learned to schedule at least two follow up counseling sessions in the first year of a couple’s marriage (oil changes).
Counseling, like mental health, has a wart-like stigma attached to it. Often people from neighboring towns will come to see me for counseling. They travel 45 minutes or more, not because I am a great counselor, but because I am not their pastor and I don’t live in their community. No one in their lives can know they are dealing with any kind of issue. If they could, they would schedule an appointment after dark and exit their car wearing camouflage. Why is it acceptable to secure a financial counselor, a tax advisor and a fitness coach, but seeking the input of someone regarding one’s marriage or children or one’s sadness or anxiety seems a little daunting? Pastors need to lead by example. The best leaders are the best followers.
Men often have an issue with counseling. Who wants to discuss conflict, and get acquainted with their lack of empathy, intimacy or poor communication skills? Yet, who wants to deal with these issues after they have metastasized themselves in the relationship after decades of frustration? I went to a “Catalyst” conference some years ago; the theme was “Tension is Good.” Without tension we get into trouble. You know that a marriage is in big trouble when a couple stops fighting. The absence of fighting is the presence of apathy. Apathy is a killer; get help before it shows up and takes root.
Often times “awkward is good.” The thing people want most in counseling is change, but the thing that people resist most in counseling is change. Most any change that feels awkward is likely productive. Seek awkward with the instruction of a good counselor. What is awkward for you? Admitting faults? Asking for forgiveness? Asking for help? How are these wonderful “voids” working out for you?
Women tend to want to go to counseling. In a marriage context, I think that women think that getting one’s husband to counseling will make things so much better. Once the counselor gets “him” fixed things will be great. Often wives realize that they too have some issues that interplay with their husband’s baggage. It all works out. Once trust is established with a counselor, counseling isn’t like getting a root canal.
How could you benefit from some decent counseling this year? If you were to give me a written resume of your life, and it included your areas of relational and emotional weaknesses, and I read it and gave it back to you, would you hire that person to totally run your life without any help? Consider sitting down with a counselor this year. I encourage you to make the healthy maintenance of your life a priority and not an unobtainable luxury. You and your relationships are valuable. Your spouse is valuable, your children are irreplaceable, and the time is now to stem the tide of all that would cause those precious relationships to be compromised. Let’s get counseling as needed and shed the stigma attached by encouraging others to do likewise. Let’s make changes for the better and let’s show those around us that they are important. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
Dr. Gary Hewins is the President of lifepoints.org, a coaching and consulting ministry to ministry leaders and preachers and the Senior Pastor of Community Bible Church in the picturesque mountains of Highlands, N.C.