Pastoral Counseling is not a lecture but a process. As students, this has been pounded to us over and over again. The tendency to monologue during counseling sessions for those in the teaching and preaching ministry are very high. However, as discussed in my previous articles, it is also by those in the said ministry that pastoral or nouthetic counseling are best conducted because it is to them that God has entrusted the spiritual, psychological, and sometimes, even physiological care of His flock. So what exactly is this process?
Obviously, the very first stage of counseling is making the contact. These contacts are not only limited to the formal arrangements made by the parishioner or client with the counselor but also during informal settings, including what Dr. Harold Sala in his Counseling Friends in Need, refers to as “peer counseling.” These informal meetings often occur during social gatherings such as parties, family reunions, funerals, weddings, parent-teacher associations, and the like. That is why, according to Dr. Wayne Oates in his An Introduction to Pastoral Counseling, “The pastor and other religious workers, therefore, can never become so professional in their pictures of themselves that they underestimate the importance of informal relationships both as powerful ministries in and of themselves and as points of vital contact for beginning more formal counseling relationships.”
Aside from informal settings, the initial contact may also be in the form of formal pastoral visitation and counseling. In smaller congregations such as community or house churches, pastoral house visitation of parishioners are quite common. However, as far as megachurches are concerned, this practice seems highly impractical if not altogether humanly impossible unless the pastoral complement of the church is large enough to cover each and every household in their membership. To alleviate this, house visitations are usually delegated to the deacons or discipleship group leaders who have a more personal and intimate relationship with their respective group members. Nevertheless, pastoral visits, whether done by the pastor himself or other church leaders gives the ministers a opportunity to know their flock better. This enables them to effectively assess their members’ current situation in life such as their economic status, vocational issues, and interfamily tensions, which in turn helps them in counseling their people when the need arises.
On the side of the parishioners, pastoral visits give them a sense of value and belonging to the local church they are members of. Such feeling aids them in their ability to perceive their minister as someone who truly cares for them thus making it easier for them to open up their problems for counseling. Finally, pastoral visiting helps establish that relationship of rapport, of confidence and affection, between counselor and client without which the entire procedure is impossible.