In this column we raise the question of a man counseling a woman or a couple. We are raising this question about a specific kind of biblical counseling. The specific counseling context that is part of the question is that of, namely, a woman or a couple receiving counseling for personal, marital, family, or other such problems of living that is generally carried on over a period of time.
The most prevalent and universally unquestioned practice in biblical counseling is that of a man counseling a woman or a couple. Even though more and more women are counseling men, the practice of a man counseling a woman or a couple is still the standard in the biblical counseling movement. The primary counselor is most often a man and the primary one counseled is a woman or a couple.
We all know that this prevalent practice has caused the downfall of many pastors, elders and church leaders, who will now confess that such a practice should not exist. Is that reason enough to cease such a practice? Or, in addition to the possibly disastrous personal consequences, are there biblical reasons why a man should or should not counsel a woman regarding her problems of living?
Should he or shouldnt he?
Readers' Responses to "You Decide" (from PAL V4N3)
Ever since the church became enamored with counseling, the common practice has been that men counsel women. But, is such a practice biblical? Or, if it is allowed by Scripture, what guidelines does the Bible provide? We asked our readers to decide: "Should he or shouldnt he?" May the following responses encourage you to delve into Gods Word when deciding what to do in lifes extremities.
Response from Mississippi:
In the March/April, 1996 Psycho-Heresy Awareness Letter you noted that "the most prevalent and universally unquestioned practice in biblical counseling is that of a man counseling a woman or a couple." You then went on to ask the question, "Are there biblical reasons why a man should or should not counsel a woman regarding her problems of living?" You specified that the counseling context in question was that of a "woman or a couple receiving counseling for personal, marital, family or other such problems of living that is generally carried on over a period of time."
lt is obvious and beyond question that nowhere in the scriptures is there an example or a directive for a man to be meeting in private for intimate personal conversations with a woman who is not either his wife or his daughter.
The counseling specified above is completely inappropriate as it places the counselor and counselee in a highly volatile situation as usually the counselees problem involves more than may be readily apparent at first glance. A woman meeting in private over an extended period of time with a man who is not her husband about intimate personal matters is bound to form some type of emotional bonding with that individual as she shares intimate details of her life. This sort of bonding between a man and a woman who are not married is improper and has been the foundation of many sinful acts including adultery of thought as well as physical adultery. We are commanded in Scripture to "flee temptation" and to "abstain from all appearance of evil." This type of counseling ignores or denies that these special temptations exist and it also ignores the scriptural imperatives just mentioned. The biblical counselor should recognize "that the heart is deceitful above all things and is desperately wicked." However, he often only sees this in others and not in himself and therefore considers himself above temptation in this situation and he therefore often ends up promoting sinful thoughts, attitudes and/or behavior in either himself or his counselee or both. He should take note of the Scripture which states "let him who thinketh he stand take heed lest he fall."
In Titus the second chapter we are instructed specifically who should disciple (or admonish, or teach , or counsel) others in the church. And from these verses it is clear that older, more mature and holy women should be the ones instructing younger women (it should be noted that, even then, backbiting, slander and gossip, which often occur in so-called modern biblical counseling, are not allowed). The noted commentator William Hendrickson stated, "No one, not even Titus, is better able to train a young woman than an experienced older woman." Paul, in writing to Titus, gave a good reason why older, more experienced godly women should be teaching the younger women and that was so that "the Word of God be not blasphemed." In the context of what is so-called "biblical counseling" today, the Word of God is clearly being blasphemed. Sadly enough, this could be easily avoided if everyone (counselors included) would respect and follow Gods Word and keep and do his commands.
How can a woman have a better relationship with her husband when she is intimately bonding with another man in private? How can she be respecting her husband when she is repeatedly meeting with another man in private to discuss her intimate personal matters and even possibly sharing with this person her husbands sins, problems, failings and weaknesses? How can another man meeting in private with a woman teach her how to be a good wife or a good mother since he himself has never been and never will be either of these?
In ignoring Gods directives themselves, it appears that many counselors today are doing little more than satisfying their egos and fattening their wallets by their reliance on vulnerable counselees of the opposite sex. Again, no man has any biblical warrant for meeting privately with other women in so-called extended counseling relationships. The Church as a whole should stand up against this ungodly practice of our age no matter who is performing it (ie, secular counselors, pastors, or even so called Christian or Biblical counselors who may or may not be associated with CAPS, AACC, or even NANC).
Response from California:
You raised such an interesting question in the third installment of your "You Decide" series. Should a man counsel a woman or a couple?
1 Corinthians 14:35 gives us the principle that women are to bring their questions to their husbands at home. I have heard varying interpretations of this verse. As a woman, the one I find most offensive and degrading is that this was a cultural mandate necessary because the women were disrupting church services by shouting questions to their husbands across the room. ("Hey, hubbywhat did the pastor mean by what he just said?") Somehow I simply cant believe that the women in the early church were so childish and ill-mannered. By taking in the whole counsel of Scripture, my husband and I have concluded:
1. The husband is to be the spiritual leader of his family, acting in the role of priest and prophet. Thus, he is responsible to teach his wife. (This is not to say that the wife should not sit under the proclamation of the Word, but that the husband bears the primary responsibility for the religious instruction of his family.)
2. Anyone or anything that usurps this role of the husband is clearly unscriptural. There are several problems and objections that come to mind:
This last situation is one that many women express as their reason for needing to seek counsel from their pastors. However, it often becomes a self-perpetuating problem. The wife seeks biblical counsel elsewhere because her husbandshe feelswill not give her such counsel. The husband sees no need to give her counsel, since she is seeking it elsewhere.
In the cases where a woman legitimately needs to seek counsel outside of her family, I believe she should consider seeking counsel from a godly older woman (a Titus 2 sort of relationship; it is interesting that this role of teaching and counseling women is not given to men) or from a godly couple (perhaps the pastor and his wife). Ideally, so as not to usurp the role of the womans husband, he [the husband] should be part of the counseling as well. (Perhaps most ideally, the pastor should first counsel with the husband before he and his wife agree to counsel with the couple. In some casesphysical abuse, for examplethis may not be wise or possible.)
I have been told by couples who have had a ministry of counseling women (often single women) that they found that sometimes women were resistant to being counseled by the wife. Often they resented the presence of the wife alongside her husband. These couples believed that this resistance was because the counselees attempts to gain sympathy or to manipulate the counselor emotionally were completely lost on the wife, who often had a great deal of discernment into the true nature of the problem.
It seems obvious that God has given woman to man in order to be a helpmeet for him. This helping relationship certainly extends to counseling situations as well. It is tragic that many pastors do not recognize the value of their wives and attempt to be self-sufficient in areas that they should not be. Even more tragic are the disasters that have come about in some cases as a result of men counseling women.
It also seems obvious that there are some areas so sensitive that it is probably inappropriate for a man to be involved in the counseling relationship at all. I believe that propriety (which is sadly lacking in our society today) and a sense of modesty would prevent a pastor from discussing certain subjects with a woman other than his wife.
Unfortunately, in the church today, we have strayed far from the course of wisdom in these areas. Not only are there tragedies which have led to the downfall of pastors and elders, but there are situations where women have not received the counsel they needed because men were simply not in a position to understand or help. (Again, there is a reason why God ordained that the Titus 2 teaching/counseling relationship be between older women and younger women and not between men and women.) As well-meaning as the men were, they would have done far better to have referred the counselee to another woman.
The solution for the church would seem to be:
1. Elders should be expected to counsel and minister with their wives. I believe that this is one of the reasons that the qualification for eldership is that the elders household be in order (the wives are supposed to be qualified to minister as well). I also believe that there is certainly biblical precedent for couples ministering as a team.
2. When a woman seeks counseling from a pastor, he should (unless to do so would put the womans physical safety at jeopardy) request to meet with her husband before agreeing to any sort of counseling relationship with the woman. If the husband is unwilling to meet with the counselor, but is willing for the wife to be counseled, she should be referred to another woman or counseled by a couple.
3. In the case of a single woman no longer living with her parents or under their direct authority, the pastor should refer her to another woman for counseling or counsel her with his wife present.
4. In keeping with the Scriptures that advise us to avoid the appearance of evil and to flee temptation, it would seem wise that a man would never desire to put himself into any situation where he would be alone and unsupervised with a woman who is not his wife or a relative. Thus, no man should counsel a woman alone.
5. Men should be cautious that the topic of counseling is one that is suitable for them to be discussing with a woman who is not their wife (even if their wives are present). In fact, menand women too for that mattershould be careful that they are not taking on any role that God did not intend for them.
6. Churches should be willing to recognize that there is really not any situation where it would be advisable or necessary for men to counsel a woman without other women being involved in the counseling situation.
7. The counselors need to be careful that they are not in any way usurping the role of the husband.
8. The church needs to train its older women to minister to the younger women, so that this "need" for male counselors would be greatly diminished.
Sorry that my response was so lengthy! This is an issue that has troubled me quite a bit over the years. I hope that my thoughts on the subject will be helpful to someone or, at the very least, an encouragement to you.
Response from New York:
Our modern church set-ups allow for pastors and elders (who are as the Bible commands, men) to counsel with single women, divorced women, and women having marital struggles. As these women sit and speak with a man about troubles, they can begin to feel attraction to this man who is a shoulder to cry on, who "understands" etc. . . . This can go a long way toward destroying her marriage and/or destroying his. Here is a woman who appreciates him, who listens to him and trusts his counsel (lets remember that many pastors do not have the strongest marriages). Men should not counsel women alone for the sake of sexual purity, and because the Pastor/Elder is also usurping a mans authority over his wife! I know this may be well received as your stand on Biblical Counseling.
Response from Washington:
PsychoHeresy Awareness: The question is the wrong question. it should be, "Should she go to a male counselor?" Scripture answers this quite succinctly. "...if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church." 1 Cor 14:35 How often have I become nauseated in "prayer meetings" during "share time" as women TELL ALL about their husbands in the Church. It begins to approximate Pauls words, "... but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not." 1 Tim 5:13
If wives were following Peters admonition, "...that even if some [husbands] do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear" then they wouldnt have the "problems" they feel they need to get counseling about; since their "problems" are usually complaints about how their husbands are treating them ... as they are unwilling to be in submission to their husbands.
If a [male] pastor or elder does speak with a woman, ideally it should be either in the presence of another woman, with the door open where there is no chance for hanky panky, or in a public place where there can be no opportunity for trouble to get started. Paul exhorts Timothy, "Exhort ... older women as mothers, the younger as sisters, with all purity." 1 Tim 5:2
Response from Texas:
My wife (now ex) and I were directed to a "Christian shrink" to help us with the problems we were experiencing in our marriage. Interestingly, there was no offer from any of the elders of the church to counsel us! We started to go an a weekly basis to see our Christian Shrink, who never quoted from nor used the Bible in her counseling of us at all. After some time, my wife and I decided on a one-year official separation, during which time we would focus on working on our problems separately, at the end of which wed reunite, hopefully, to a better relationship. My wife flew to [another state], while I stayed in [original location], and she began attending [a church], where she also began receiving counseling from a male counselor there. I guess [the male counselor] felt she needed some special attention and offered to marry my wife! Well, to make a long story short, she divorced me and married [her male counselor]. Im very opposed to males counseling females!!!
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