Pastoral Counselling offers the Church an immense opportunity for diverse ministry within both the congregation and the broader community. Pastoral counselling is normally perceived as an action that takes place only in a counselling room or study. The perception is also that this interaction is limited to the counsellor (or pastor acting as counsellor) and the one or more individuals who face a counselling crisis. This limited view has deprived pastoral counselling of its tremendous contribution to an assembly’s ministry potential.
We face many challenges in the post-modern societies that we live in. It is not only financial constraints and unemployment that people have to deal with. There are numerous other social challenges that the church has to address. In an assembly in close proximity to ATS, the pastor has discovered that more than 75% of his female congregants were abused at some stage in their lives as children. This has a dire effect on their adult functionality and on their experiencing God as a loving Father. Trauma experiences are part and parcel of our post-modern society, resulting in Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome in many peoples’ lives. Intimate partner abuse and family violence is rife in too many communities. The list is almost endless, describing the post-modern life-style that both Christians and non-Christians have to cope with on a daily basis.
The vast majority of communities have numerous churches functioning within their geographical area. Communities are looking at the Church for guidance, help and support in dealing with these life crisis. It would appear that most churches exist as isolated islands untouched by the daily difficulties that the community members deal with. During the past week, one of the ATS students in the pastoral counselling class made the following comment: “It seems as if assemblies are closed-off, `private clubs’ who only look into the inside”. Unfortunately this observation is a rather true reflection of too many assemblies. This community isolation is not necessary the source of disinterest, but rather a lack of knowledge of the community’s various crisis, and in other instances, uncertainty regarding how to address societal issues. The call for churches today is not only to talk about “Jesus is the answer”, but to practically present Jesus as the answer to those communities where churches are situated.
Establishing church growth requires specific, goal-orientated activities by pastors and their congregation members. One of the strategies for church growth is by means of community involvement and uplifting. It is here where pastoral counselling can play an important role. This is possible when counselling moves out of the counselling room where one-on-one counselling takes place. Counselling has the inherent ability to move to a one-on-many ministry. This enables pastors and church counsellors to move “outside the sanctuary”, into the community to present “Jesus as the answer”. A caring church will always be a voice to the community. Pastoral counselling presents the possibility for a church to reach out to its community with goal-orientated, caring ministering members.
This challenge forms an integral part of ATS’ Pastoral Counselling programmes that form part of the BTh-degree, the Diploma in Theology and the Higher Certificate in Pastoral Counselling. In these qualifications, the students are guided in effective counselling in the traditional one-on-one counselling contact, but also in moving into a one-on-many counselling strategy. This places a new, fresh and unique approach on counselling. Reaching communities through counselling strategies that successfully addresses our present day societal crisis places the ministry of the church to the community into another dimension. The challenges of our post-modern societal crisis is not a call for the church to withdraw to the inside of the church’s walls, but it is an opportunity to effectively bring lasting change within communities.
Dr Pieter Oldewage