Pastors and Counselors

Charles Malcom Wingard
Professor of Pastoral Theology
Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson

This is a transcript of brief remarks delivered by Dr. Wingard, Professor of Pastoral Theology and Dean of Students at the RTS Jackson Senior Banquet on Mary 14, 2021.

Tonight, I’ve been asked to offer a few words of encouragement to graduating counselors and pastors. So, here we go: I encourage you – counselors and pastors – to acknowledge your need for each other. Pastors need working friendships with counselors, and counselors need working friendships with pastors. Both pastors and counselors will have more powerful ministries if they work with each other.

Pastors deal with things corporately and cannot be involved intensely with the personal issues of each member of a growing congregation – the needs are too great. And here’s the really sad thing – the more gifted a pastor is at counseling, the more people will show up at his study to be counseled. If a pastor is not careful, the time he needs to prepare for pulpit ministry, to deliver routine pastoral care, and to oversee church administration will disappear. Sadly, his success as a counselor can contribute to his failing in the shepherding work to which God calls him.

Pastors can also be pushed beyond their limits. So can congregations. As the moral dissolution of our society accelerates at a frightening pace, even mature congregations can be overwhelmed. They lack the personal resources and the practical know-how to care adequately for the long-term consequences of addictive behaviors, and trauma, and broken family systems that transmit destructive conduct from generation to generation.

Counselors – we pastors need you! You invest your time in incorporating the individual into the larger body of Christ.

And counselors – you need us. The men and women you serve need the preaching of the word, the sacraments, prayer, and the fellowship of the church to reach full maturity in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The relationship that we have at Reformed Theological Seminary between counselors and pastors is rare. When you move into your new position, that relationship is likely not to exist at all. Pastors will have to find counselors and counselors will have to find pastors who will share the work of ministry.

Think about the work you do. Pastors – you preach, teach, and disciple. Counselors – you deal specifically with the deep ravages of sin that are addressed most ably by those who have experience – experience that can only be obtained through long hours of involvement in the lives of struggling men and women. Counselors recognize common patterns of sinful behavior. Counseling experience gives them an understanding of the shape that repentance must take and the direction that the person of faith must walk.

I am painting with large brushstrokes, and there’s considerable overlap in the work pastors and counselors must do. I still do a fair amount of counseling, and I remember going to James Hurley to get advice on a kind of sinful behavior I had never seen in 34 years of ministry. I hadn’t seen it, but Dr. Hurley had and, sadly, many times. I needed the fruits of his many years of counseling experience in order to counsel wisely. Pastors, you will need that kind of resource in your first church.  Together, counselors and pastors strive to make people holy and whole.

You graduates are scattering to different fields of service across the United States and around the world. You will be busy. RTS provided an environment in which Christian counselors and Christian pastors study together. What was given to you at RTS, you will now have to build on your own. I encourage you to establish that network of relationships wherever God sends you. It’s your responsibility. Work together as pastors and counselors to bring the healing of the gospel to a broken world. You will need each other to serve God’s people. And you will need each other to care for each other. Ministry and counseling bring much joy. Not a day passes without my being grateful that God called me to ministry. I don’t want to do anything else.

But there’s heartache, too. The Lord’s servants are never exempt from any of the suffering common to fallen humanity. Our Lord learned obedience through what he suffered. So will we. Any affliction common to a fallen world can become yours – problems at home, chronic illness, tragedy, depression, anxiety – you name it. We’re not exempt from it. And in addition to the problems common to fallen humanity, there are the new additional problems that come from following Jesus Christ in an increasingly gospel-hostile culture. Although we know that the outcome of our suffering is our holiness – our Christ-likeness – we often find ourselves hurting and discouraged and confused. When that happens, counselors – you will need your pastor. And pastors, you will need your counselor. God is for us in Jesus Christ. And because we belong to God, we are for each other in Jesus Christ. Pastors and counselors – be there for each other.

I have enjoyed being a part of your lives and will miss each of you. In the future – if I can ever help you in your ministry – I know you will call me. Thank you and may the Lord be with you as you preach, shepherd, and counsel to the glory of God!