7 Ways I Would Do Pastoral Counseling Differently Today

CAVEAT: I continue to hear of tired, often frustrated church leaders these days. Just in case you’re a weary church leader this Monday, here are two posts to encourage you as you start this week:

8 Reasons You Should Not Quit Ministry on Monday

9 Reasons Not to Focus on the “Greener Grass” on Monday


I pastored 14 years in Ohio before I became a seminary professor, and I’ve done many interim pastorates since then. In my early days of ministry, I did A LOT of pastoral counseling—and I probably learned a lot about the process. In fact, below are some ways I’d do counseling differently today as a pastor. I’d love to hear from other pastors to see what you’ve learned, even if you disagree with my direction.

  1. I would, I hope, have gotten over myself. By that, I mean that I hope I’ve realized by now that I can’t be the answer to everyone’s problem, nor am I obligated by my pastoral role to have all the answers. I thought otherwise as a young pastor.
  2. In general, I would do less counseling. In essence, my door was always open to my congregation—and it was not uncommon for someone to unexpectedly walk through it. I gave so much time to counseling that I sometimes failed to protect adequate time for sermon preparation and prayer.
  3. I would limit the number of sessions I have with a counselee. I’m not sure what that limit would be, but I suspect I’d limit it to three sessions—at which point I’d refer the person to another counselor. Thus, knowing Christian counselors in the area would be a must.
  4. I would spend much more time in the Word in a counseling session. I’m sure I referred folks to the Bible in those days, but I didn’t always start there. Making this change, of course, means knowing Scripture passages that speak to the common woes of humanity.
  5. I would spend some time with a couple in pre-marital counseling, but I’d refer the majority of their counseling to someone more trained than I. As long as I know counselors I can trust, I’d use their services. They often have more experience and more access to tools (and greater knowledge in how to use them) than I do.
  6. I would lead the church to adopt a budget line item to help defray counseling costs for needy church members. Especially for those whose insurance won’t cover counseling, I would want the church to assist them.
  7. I doubt I’d call what I do “counseling.” It is that, but it’s more than that—it’s discipleship. I would want to emphasize that our time together is to help both of us grow in Christ.

Pastors, what are your thoughts?




  • Jonathan Lafferty says:

    I thought it was very insightful for you to call it discipleship rather than counseling, especially since your purpose is to point them to Scripture and help you both grow in Christ.

  • Patti Steen says:

    I am not a pastor, but as a counselor, I appreciate all your points. I prefer that a pastor at least consider a session or more before they refer someone to me, so that they have the opportunity to know their church member in a deeper way and so that their knowledge of the sufferings and trials “common to man” would be heightened. It also helps the member to feel valued and cared for. However, I do appreciate that because of the time and expertise involved, referral may need to occur quickly. And I serve to assist in this area as the pastor sees fit. I also value the financial assistance that several churches in our community provide to aid their members in defraying counseling costs. Thank you so much for your suggestions.

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