Pastoral counseling demonstrated at Southern Seminary’s Alumni Academy
Two leading biblical counselors role-played a typical counseling session, teaching a full room of pastors by example during the Jan 7-8 Winter Alumni Academy at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Jeremy Pierre, associate professor of biblical counseling and dean of students at Southern Seminary, and Deepak Reju, pastor of biblical counseling and family ministry at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C., led all ten sessions of the Alumni Academy. The theme of the event was based upon their co-authored 2015 book, The Pastor and Counseling: The Basics of Shepherding Members in Need.
With Pierre playing the role of a blue-collar church member struggling with occasional panic attacks and Reju counseling him, the two put their writing to action. A pre-session form — which Pierre sends to prospective counselees and reviews before the initial meeting — was distributed beforehand to each attendee, which Pierre filled out in character as a man named “John Stubb.” Reju did not discuss Pierre’s character before the session and only consulted the form, so he knew no more than the audience did when the session started and counseled Pierre as he does in real-life sessions.
“What I’m going to attempt to do in my role is just give you representative examples of things that we see in counseling, things you’re going to run into,” Pierre said before the session. Reju then simulated with Pierre’s character the three basic tasks of counseling: listening to the problem, considering responses of the heart, and speaking the truth in love using Scripture.
The live demonstration was the application of lessons Pierre and Reju taught throughout the two-day event. Face-to-face counseling is the place where ministers of God’s Word apply biblical wisdom and encouragement during church members’ most pressing troubles, said Reju, who also wrote On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church and Preparing for Fatherhood.
“In the midst of the mess, we can’t lose sight of the privilege of caring for God’s flock,” he said.
Pastoral counseling must listen attentively to the problem at hand and address the truths of the gospel to it, Reju said. The good counselor does not merely offer “cheap advice” but instead demonstrates how the gospel preached every Sunday morning affects a struggling person’s life, Reju said.
“Consider all the typical self-reliant lies that people tell themselves: ‘I can fix this on my own’ or ‘maybe this gospel stuff is helpful at church but it won’t make a real difference in my life,’” he said. “Your job [as a pastor] is to throw a grenade right in the middle of that thinking, to not let people live by those lies.”
Pierre said pastors should first listen attentively to the presenting problem, then consider how the human heart responds to various involved factors. Pierre described four aspects of believers’ heart response: the circumstances they face, the people who surround and influence them, how they feel about themselves, and how they relate to God. Pastors must think carefully through each of these categories when counseling their people, according to Pierre, diagnosing problems and revealing them gently and graciously.
“As pastors, you need to be heart specialists,” he said.
Pierre concluded the event with two case studies, during which he walked pastors in attendance through how to counsel church members dealing with pornography and marital conflict, respectively.
The academy also featured an open Q&A and a live panel with Pierre and Reju, along with Robert Cheong, pastor of global care at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, and Brian Croft, senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville and senior fellow of the Mathena Center for Church Revitalization.
Alumni Academy provides free ongoing instruction for alumni and prospective students of Southern Seminary. To learn more about the program, visit events.sbts.edu.