Theories and therapies of psychology have invaded, influenced, and indoctrinated much of the Church. Sermons and teachings from the pulpit and classroom are often psychologized and lack their biblically intended impact. Many pastors send congregants to psychotherapists instead of ministering to congregants for soul care. The battle of the psychological versus the spiritual is decided by the content of the pastoral sermons, by the teachings of the church, and especially as seen by the salves and solutions for the trials, tribulations, and troubles of believers being sent to psychotherapists by pastors.
Prior to churches and pastors being open to psychological theories and therapies, the proverbial camel of psychology nosed into the church. It became a way to diminish confidence in the truths of the Bible, i.e., a way to divert believers from God’s ways of saving and sanctifying souls. The way of the Bible is preaching so that believers can be challenged to grow in faith in the finished work of Christ and according to the new life He has given every believer. Faithful believers grow strong during trials, tribulations, and troubles of living, but then a psychological way came along offering help to all, including Christians, who were seeking help for their challenges of life. Gradually, but surely, the psychological way added to or eclipsed the biblical way for many Christians. From that time on, psychotherapy with its underlying theories and therapies have been the contents of sermons and the subjects of pastoral care referrals.
The tempting and then turning of pastors, evangelists, and teachers into being lackeys of psychological theories and therapies appears in sermons and in referrals to psychotherapists. The first stop along this path was the establishment and rise of psychotherapy and then the subsequent pastoral reverence for psychology and referrals to psychotherapists.
How were pastors lured into the idea of referring their people to psychotherapists? In the 1960s and 1970s there was a concerted effort on the part of local mental health associations to establish meetings for pastors to find out about mental health services in the community. What they heard from the psychotherapists was that as pastors they lacked the expertise to help people emotionally and psychologically. While they could be considered experts in spiritual matters, they were not trained in clinical psychology. The psychotherapists present were PhDs or MDs (psychiatrists). The psychological takeover moved gradually, little by little, moving to the present era, until today when almost all pastors refer congregants to psychotherapists or at least are not opposed to such referrals. Think about the fact that psychotherapists have only the fallen and fallible words of the human theorists to offer, but Christians have the true and trustworthy words of God to give for the same problems of living. These psychotherapists, deemed as experts on psychology, cast self-doubt on the pastors, even though they only have words and opinions from sinful mankind to offer. Busy pastors were deceived and yet relieved to find help from the mental health community for one of their time-consuming tasks. Sadly, some were so convinced of the superiority of psychotherapy over ministry for soul care that they left the pastorate and became psychotherapists.
Nevertheless, there were still pastors back then who held back and were constrained to keep to the faith regarding problems of living and how Christians can grow closer to God during trials and tribulations. Others developed what they called “biblical counseling,” but sadly the means and methods from psychotherapy became so incorporated into what they hoped would be biblical, that the same sins of psychotherapy became the heritage of the biblical counseling movement. Now, however, there are even large evangelical churches that have both “biblical counselors” and professionally trained and licensed psychological counselors on staff. We are no longer in the era of the beginnings of the high recognition for psychotherapists. Today psychotherapists are generally more highly regarded than pastors. This radical and reactionary shift into trusting psychologically trained counselors has had a dramatic, detrimental, and devious effect on how many pastors view the Bible regarding problems of living and how they help those who are suffering from the slings and arrows of life. There is a disconnect between what pastors say they believe (i.e., the sufficiency of Scripture) and what they practice (i.e., referral for soul care to psychotherapists or “biblical counselors”). That is because they do not see what is hidden in plain sight. We repeat: Psychotherapists have only the words and opinions of fallen and fallible mortals for the same problems of living to which the Bible already speaks. Moreover, the conversational method of psychotherapy leads to sinful speaking. Furthermore, psychotherapy is limited to self-effort (the flesh); while the Bible is boundless in application through the guiding and enabling of the Holy Spirit.
The first psychotherapist license in America was issued in California in 1958. This begs the question: “What did the Church do with believers who suffered the trials, tribulations, and troubles of life during its first 1958 years without referring to psychotherapists? Answer: The Bible was used through preaching and teaching what God has given to all those who will listen and respond. Then as believers grew in trusting and obeying Christ, they became more like Him. Instead of attempting to please self, they were glorifying God.
The psychotherapy format uses an office arrangement: meeting one day a week for a fifty-minute “hour,” one week after another for a price, one counselee or couple after another in a one-up (therapist) one-down (counselee) relationship. In a church a pastor is not restricted to an office with a desk and chairs as typically with psychotherapists. He has the pulpit, classrooms, homes, and other venues, such as weddings and funerals, where he can expound and explain the truths of Scripture that are essential for life and godliness. Furthermore, the pastor is not alone in the work of ministry when the entire Body of Christ functions, as members help one another. It is critical to know the difference between a psychotherapist’s office counseling and the expansive church relationships that can exist in a church that follows Christ.
When, for sixteen years, we headed a soul care ministry to those suffering from personal and interpersonal problems, those of us who ministered along with others in the church did things that do not happen in counseling. We list only some of the many relational things that occurred that do not generally happen in biblical counseling.
Being available 24/7 was possible because the ministry was shared rather than one person having a “case load.” Moreover, several different people may be involved in ministering to one individual in need.
Visiting a person at home, hospital, or workplace would occur naturally as necessary because these are simply fellow believers experiencing problems of living. Thus, neither a specified place nor restricted office hours can interfere with ministry as in psychotherapy.
Shared meals and refreshment times are opportunities for fellowship and ministry as fellow believers and friends, whereas with psychotherapists such activities outside the therapy office are considered “unprofessional.”
Providing food, money, and such practical assistance as child or elder care, help with household chores, etc. are included in the benevolence activities of local churches. In addition, a church member could provide information regarding social services provided by the city and county. The person who ministers personally may be the one to perform these additional acts of love or they can be shared with other members of the Body of Christ.
Praying for one another and praying together personally, on the phone, or through other means of communication.
Expressions of love and care in the local fellowship, including hospitality, ongoing encouragement, sending cards for various occasions (from congratulations to condolences).
Relationships that continue and develop further after the initial trial, tribulation, and trouble ends. The paid relationship in psychotherapy does not go beyond the counseling time, where “time is money” and bills and salaries must be paid.
Shared dependence on the Lord where no one is in a one-up position and the one in need does not become dependent upon a therapist. All are at the foot of the cross seeking Him and His provisions.
The above are merely examples that biblically and practically distinguish a church from a therapist’s office. The local church puts to shame those who offer their 50-minute relationship hours with a price that pales in comparison to what happens in a truly biblical local church free of charge and given in love. These are all in addition to the vital worshipping and fellowshipping together, which would be absent in psychotherapy.
The local church is the place for pastoral care and the mutual edification of all believers, under the authority of the foundation laid by Scripture and as given by Jesus Christ. Members are called to care for one another and build up the Body of Christ through mutual encouragement, admonition, confession, repentance, forgiveness, restoration, consolation, and comfort.
Imagine, if you will, a church dedicated to providing such a comprehensive ministry preached from the pulpit and heeded in the pews. It needs to be known through teaching and preaching that those with individual, marital, family problems of living will be able to receive ministry in the fellowship rather than being sent out to psychotherapy or made to endure the sinful conversations of the biblical counseling movement.
Believers have been given the very Word of God, the Holy Bible, the Creator’s instructions for living, the great doctrines of the faith that can work incremental to monumental changes in those who will trust and obey When we consider all that has been committed to those who are called to be pastors, teachers, and evangelists, we declare that every pastor trained in God’s Word by the Holy Spirit has all that is needed for soul care and can exercise it from the pulpit. Paul exhorted Timothy to be committed to that which was committed to him without tarnishing it with anything else that may sound appealing and seemingly scientific regarding the soul.
We pray that pastors will recognize that they have far more to give than psychologically trained counselors can ever give, and they can do it through preaching and teaching. Not just more and better, but perfect, because it is what God, Himself, has given. We also pray that those with the responsibility given them by God will minister soul care according to the Bible rather than abandon their responsibility by sending their flock to hirelings or using their means and methods of soul care. We further pray that the doctrines and teachings of the Bible will greatly encourage all pastors and teachers to minister soul care with confidence and that God will work His will in those to whom they minister.
Despite the warnings and recommendations in our book The Psychological Way/The Spiritual Way (1979), these psychological theories and therapies eventually invaded all the Church from all levels of education to all denominations and organizations encompassing all facets of Christianity including individual pastors. Thus, the Church simply followed the world where the theories and therapies of psychology had already infected and influenced society at large regarding the soul and convinced many pastors of a need to refer individuals, couples, and families to psychotherapists.
How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Rom 10:14-15.)
Biblically based sermons depend on words and communication. Words can be powerful and life giving. They can also be destructive. They can be true, and they can be false and deceptive. They can engender faith. They can cast doubt. Pastors carry a grave responsibility as they preach and also as they are called to protect God’s children from error and deception. What is hidden in plain sight must be brought to light by pastors everywhere as darkness has taken over much of the church as soul care has been polluted and/or replaced with sinful psychological conversations.
Pastors need to reclaim their calling and responsibility to the point where they will agonize as Paul did when he wrote: “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you” (Gal. 4:19). And those in the pews need to respond as the Holy Spirit enlightens them to biblical certainty about the way, the truth, and the life.