There naturally are those men in the pastorate whose ministries tilt more in the direction of counseling. And then there are those pastors who give more of their time to preaching. But far from being competing aspects of the pastor’s central charge to minister God’s Word (Acts 6:4) as he shepherds the flock of God (1 Peter 5:2), this article takes the position—based on the following five observations—that the pastor who is personally invested in counseling God’s Word can expect to see increased effectiveness in his role as a preacher of God’s Word.
Counseling Cultivates a Shepherd’s Heart
The pastor who regularly engages in counseling has seen “secret atheism”1Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God, Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 93. enthroned in the hearts of countless counselees as they harbor secret sins. The pastor who counsels has seen the time-proven plague of idolatrous self-love rear its ugly head in his office, as he begs people to worship God aright and to live the life of faithfulness and obedience that He rightly commands.
In other words, such a pastor, while theologically astute and doctrinally grounded, is not aloof and entrenched in an ivory tower. He is not a clinical academician, a stiff stoic, a dry exegete, or an ungrounded pulpiteer. Rather, such a pastor has the potent combination of a theologically-informed mind and dirt under the fingernails. He has communed deeply with the Chief Shepherd, but he also smells like the sheep. The Spirit is plowing through the remaining stony soil in his own heart, while also cultivating his shepherd’s heart.
Counseling Humanizes Preaching
Far from being machine-like dispensers of biblical data, pastors who regularly counsel will preach with a compelling balance of warmth, earnestness, and urgency. Jay Adams helpfully notes: “Nothing enables a preacher to ring the bell in a Sunday sermon like knowing that in counseling he has already helped five persons with what he is about to say. … The man who puts his exegesis to work, not just on Sunday in the pulpit, but all week long in the counseling room, ministering the Word to those in trouble will rattle his people’s windows when he preaches.”2Jay Adams, Preaching With Purpose: The Urgent Task of Homiletics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 37–38.
The pastor who counsels is accustomed to looking across his desk, into the eyes of his straying sheep, and pleading with them to return. He has passed countless boxes of Kleenex across his desk to the broken, convicted, and ashamed. He has mourned, grieved, and cried with his people. A man with counseling credentials like these preaches not only boldly and with conviction, but with a lump in his throat and with tears in his eyes. He does so not as a dramatist, but instead as a result of the genuine outworking of the chiseling work the Spirit of God has done on him through caring for souls.
Counseling Sharpens Preaching
Counseling will also have a sharpening effect on the various tools the pastor carries in his toolbox. For instance, the preacher who has seen—up close and personal—the ravaging effects of sin and ungodliness, will not introduce a sermon on the sin of Achan (Joshua 7:16-26), the account of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), or the believer’s ongoing battle with sin (Romans 7) with a humorous recap of his favorite movie or podcast. Rather, he will introduce his text with language that befits the sobriety and solemnity of such a topic.
The preacher who has walked with his people as they fight various spiritual battles also will have a treasure trove of material for sermon illustrations as he expounds on the text he is preaching. He is sufficiently wise and loving to not shame anyone in his flock by calling them out by name or providing excessive detail in his sermons. However, his former and current counselees still serve as helpful profiles and anonymous case studies for him to draw from as he expounds the timeless truths of Scripture.
Finally, the preacher who has a dual commitment to counseling will more naturally “land the plane” in his sermon conclusions with earnest appeals to his people to believe and put into practice what they have heard from God’s Word. He realizes, as he does when he counsels, that each preaching event could be his final opportunity to communicate the truth of God’s Word. Accordingly, his sermons end with pleas to respond to the truths of God’s Word.
Because he is intentional about making time to break away from his study for the purpose of providing needful counsel to the flock, sermons preached by the pastor-counselor are not scholarly lectures better suited for a seminary classroom, but instead are real-life, accessible messages to which the ordinary church member can grasp, process, and respond.
Counseling Deepens Conviction
Next, counseling will deepen the pastor’s convictions about the sufficiency and power of God’s Word, since he has seen—up close and personal—the transformative power of God’s Word working in the lives of countless image-bearers.
He has seen counseling result in arms crossing, scowls forming, chairs scooting, and doors slamming. He has seen the Word, rightly handled, drive the unregenerate and the deceived away. But he has also seen the Word do its work as souls are saved through the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He has seen the Word break through the hard hearts of spiritually-dead sinners. He has seen marriages restored, broken relationships brought back to life, sin patterns eradicated, faithfulness to Christ established, and lukewarmness replaced with blazing gospel passion.
Such a man, having seen such change brought about by God in counseling, cannot help but have the utmost confidence that the same God is capable of bringing about similar change through his own faithful preaching of the Word of God.
Counseling Increases Desire for Soul-Winning
Counseling will also have an undeniable effect on a pastor’s faithfulness in answering the charge to “do the work of an evangelist” (1 Timothy 4:12)—specifically, from the pulpit. The preacher who is committed to counseling the Word will have an oversized heart for the lost, an insatiable appetite for winning souls, and a genuine zeal for evangelism because, as his counseling ministry has demonstrated many times over, not all who sit under the ministry of the Word are true sheep who are securely in Christ’s fold.
The preacher who regularly counsels has an acute awareness and sensitivity to the truth that not all who profess to be of Christ are truly of Christ. This will fuel him, as he preaches, to help tares see that they are tares, wolves see that they are wolves, and to call on all unconverted sinners within earshot to repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15) as they turn from their wicked ways and to a gracious and forgiving Master.
Fulfill Your Ministry
There are many beneficial effects of being a pastor who is committed to both preaching and counseling. The latter informs, enhances, and strengthens the former. Pastor, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:5)—and specifically, your ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4)—by being a preacher who counsels.
This blog was originally posted at The Master’s Seminary Blog, read the original post here.