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A third way to pastor

As soon as I posted Two Ways to Pastor I thought - I'm missing a third way.

And I can do no better in describing it than to show you this clip from the film "Friends with Money."  The movie feels like it was written by a 1st year psychology student.  And while there are a few interesting examples of relationship dysfunctionality, the denoument to which the whole slushy mess has been heading is this heart-to-heart between Jennifer Aniston and her new man.  Previously, when she'd worked as his maid, he had scrooged her out of full payment and now it's revealed that he's actually stinking rich.  The cad.

No doubt interrogation units are using this film to extract information from suspects around the globe.  The simultaneous urge to laugh, shriek and vomit is wildly disorienting don't you think?

Here is the third way to pastor.  We say to each other, "I've got issues.  (Commitment trouble.  Sex addiction.  Difficulty getting close.  Need for control.)  Don't dig too deep.  Not here.  Just admire the complicated splendour.  Don't confront.  There's no need, I'm seeing a therapist.  We're working it out far away from the actual relationships my sins are destroying.  You have 'issues' too?  Aren't we interesting!"

What's wrong with this model?  Well, cutting to the chase, Jesus didn't die for 'issues'.  He didn't die for your commitment trouble.  He didn't die for your weirdness around women/men/money/authority/food.  He died for your sin.

Therefore, cross-centred pastoral care is not about diving into the dark and alluring waters of Lake You.  We don't plumb the depths to generate labels for our dysfunctions.  No, we uncover depths of feeling, thinking and acting because we're exposing sin to the Light. In the therapeutic world the 'inward look' actually serves to obscure.  It's these labels that justify my sin, not Christ.  In the gospel we aim to diagnose the problem so radically that Christ alone is the solution. In this way 'the look within' is only meant to serve 'the look up'.  (See the cross diagram of the last post)

If you hear me reacting against Pharasaical pastoral care and think I'm capitulating to therapeutic wallowing, rest assured.  I am not interested in 'sharing' for sharing's sake.  I want to flag up here and now that looking beneath surface behaviour is not good in and of itself.  There is an 'inward look' that is pure introspection.  And in the end it serves to hide sin and deny Christ.

But there is another kind of 'inward look' which serves to drive us to Jesus as beggars.  That's what I am arguing for.  My dyfunction (if you want to call it that) is not that 'social situations make me anxious' - my problem is that I'm a sinner and in myself the wrath of God is against me.  Rightfully so - I have developed and nurtured complex, chosen, self-protective, self-promoting, Christ-denying matrices of sin.  And it's not mysterious or brave or profound - it's ugly.  Wrath-deservingly ugly.  And I can't hide it, I can't justify it, I can't atone for it.  All I can do is, in fellowship with you, come into the Light, 'and the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.' (1 John 1:7).

This is what a look 'below the waterline' is about.  It's not about nodding sagely to each other's 'issues'.  It's confessing our sins to each other.  We'll be thinking more about this soon.

But for now I just wanted to throw into the mix this therapeutic way to pastor.

So... there's the Pharasaical world, the therapeutic world and the gospel world.

More to follow...

0 thoughts on “A third way to pastor

  1. codepoke

    If you'd set up a straw man of the problem, you'd have done it a favor compared to this video clip. You're attacking a confetti man here, or maybe a gasoline man. If you can find anyone who defends the thinking behind that clip, you'll have found someone who deserves it.

    But from there you get to a world where all our problems are sin-based? That's irrational.

    Look, I've been down the "Jesus is the answer to every problem" road before, and I know where it can lead. There's a lot of similarity between the statements, "You don't have an 'issue' problem, you have a lack of Jesus problem," and "You don't have a broken leg problem, you have a lack of Jesus problem." If there weren't sin in the world, there wouldn't be obsessive compulsive disorder or borderline personality disorder or any other disorders, but then there wouldn't be death either.

    Try telling some man who's been sexually abused that his "issues" are at heart a sin problem, and see whether he opens up to you and blossoms into healthy spiritual life. Or an abused woman that she's fearful because she has a sin problem. Or a neglected child that he needs to get over his sin of self-centeredness. Tell them that none of them needs human understanding or comfort, they just need Jesus. Tell them a shepherd shouldn't bother to address their problems at a human level, because he's got the far more important spiritual level on which to focus.

    The therapeutic model of pastoring is not the pathetic confetti-man you skewer, but humans loving each other with God-given gifts.

  2. Heather

    "Tell them that none of them needs human understanding or comfort, they just need Jesus. Tell them a shepherd shouldn’t bother to address their problems at a human level, because he’s got the far more important spiritual level on which to focus."



    I don't want to presume to speak for Glen, but I didn't see your conclusion to be at the heart of what he was saying. Perhaps you've set up an opposing compassionless, Bible-thumping straw man in order to make a point?

    Our problems *are* sin based. Man trying to be his own god is sin and sin is the reason people hurt. Period.

    That does not mean a pastor must beat a hurting person over the head with how sinful they are and I would be surprised to find out that tactic is something Glen would support.

    Chances are that a broken person such as you described already sees how needy (s)he is. Wisdom and Godly concern would dictate gentle treatment of such a one.

    Jesus said: "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
    Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:12-13

    It is the self-righteous who deserve a good theological thrashing, not those who know they need help.

    Jesus IS the answer. His touch IS therapeutic, only not in the way the world tends to think. He came to heal hearts and restore men to fellowship with God, not make us feel good about our own potential, or to save us from bankruptcy or reverse social injustice. Sometimes those things happen, too--but that isn't the primary focus.

    Believe it or not, there are plenty of pastors and Christian counselors who's approach to helping others is about the equivalent of trying to cure heart disease with a bandage.

    It's the polar opposite of the legalistic "just try harder to be holy" approach and is just as wrong.

  3. Heather

    To clarify: Our problems *are* sin based. Man trying to be his own god is sin and sin is the reason people hurt. Period.

    In saying that our issues are due to sin, prudence demands that we acknowledge that our hurts can also be the results of other people's sin. Telling someone that has been abused that it is because of their own sin IS illogical. Yet, that person still needs to be able to see that we are all sinners and Jesus is, in fact, the only real help for that condition.

    We say these things while bandaging the cuts and holding the person's hand and offering to feed them a meal or driving them to a safe place...

  4. theoldadam

    Great post!

    We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We say that in out liturgy every Sunday, lest we forget.

    We don't even want to be free from our sin...we like sinning.

    Otherwise we would refrain from it. And we do the same sins over and over.

    Do we (by the grace of God) kick a bad habit or stop doing a particular sin? Yes. But usually another one will fill it's place.

    More than sins (plural), it is 'sin' that is our problem. It is our condition. This (I believe) is the proper way to look at sin.

    Now the good news; "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

    Not when we cleaned up or act, but now, as the full blown sinners that each and everyone of us know that we are...or ought to know, anyway.

  5. Glen

    hey Codepoke,

    You should see the comments on the Youtube page! People hail this clip as utterly life-changing. There are definitely fans of this approach! And there are also subtle ways Christians can adopt the same thinking.

    We love to stick labels onto our problems and to think of the labels as the bedrock issues. "He's just got ADHD", "She's diagnosed with narcisistic personality disorder", "He's just not good with people" etc, etc. We're all very tempted to use the *labels* as justifications. I'm advocating that we continue on into and beyond the label (in steadfast love, gentleness and great patience) to keep asking 'Why?'. Because our real justification is not found in the labels. It's found in Jesus and we need to keep going until we've seen the problem as something for which Jesus is the solution.

    Don't forget to read this post in conjunction with Two Ways to Pastor - in which I also reject a Pharasaical approach. I'm totally against dispensing judgements or advice from on high. What I'm advocating is one struggling sinner entering into the mess of another struggling sinner and pointing them to Jesus.

    As to the issue of those sinned against: I think that Christian community must also gently enter *pain* so that these gross crimes are grieved as losses which nothing on earth can restore. Again labels can get in the way of this.

    Secondly - and this comes after a lot of love, patience and sympathy - there will be ways in which sin has grossly perverted the heart's response to abuse. The abuse was a wicked, wicked crime and the victim was exactly that - a victim. And they deserve all our sympathy and care. But think for a second about how Jesus would have responded if He were sexually abused? How would sinlessness have responded to that monstrous evil? You'd have to say - differently to us. And in that difference will be the distorting effects of sin. And in my limited experience, (some in person, most in books) addressing abuse will necessarily involve addressing the ways the victim has compounded the evils done to them.

    So, a) I'm not simply into digging around for *sin*. I think going beneath labels to face the reality of suffering is so important. These things need to be grieved as losses and placed entirely out of our hands and into the hands of the Redeemer and His future. Without this, all sorts of denials and perversions and self-justifications and hardening of hearts will ensue. A therapeutic approach that only gets to the label dresses the wound lightly.

    b) Sin is an issue - a big issue - even in the most heinously victimized person. Great care needs to be taken in addressing this. But if we're in for the long haul, we don't help people if we don't address it. And in my experience, the abused person opens up to confess sin when they see you're committed to them. It's they that see the problem - often very sharply. Most times it's unjustified blaming of self for the abuse. But often also there have been compounding sins (e.g. promiscuity following) that they need to bring out into the light. And in that circumstance it is the pastor's great privilege to declare the grace and forgiveness of Christ. But these are all issues that need addressing if we're going to do real good.

  6. Otepoti

    Is that Jack Black? He looks different without his wimple.

    Look on the bright side of this gruesomeness, Glen - he has met a Person, and he's beginning to be ashamed for the way he was. There's a small positive point to be made here, as well as the negative one.

  7. The Simple Guy

    2 Corinthians 1:3-4 MKJV
    (3) Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort,
    (4) He comforting us in all our trouble, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in every trouble, through the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

    Looks to me like the God of ALL comfort comforts us in ALL of our trouble so that we can comfort those who are in EVERY trouble.

    The word "comfort" is a picture word - the picture is of a ship that comes alongside of a sinking vessel and rescues those who are on board. Not a cozy chair or warm blanket, but a rescuer.

    Paul didn't say he "had issues", he said that he despaired even of life itself - so that he could put his trust in the God who raises the dead. - that is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16-17)

    2 Corinthians 1:8-10 MKJV
    (8) For, brothers, we would not have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength; so much so that we despaired even of life.
    (9) But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, so that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead;
    (10) who delivered us from so great a death, and does deliver; in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us,

    So, to summarize what I am saying, if we wallow in our "issues" we miss the "rescuer" and since we have not been rescued, we cannot introduce those in trouble to the "rescuer"

    Not my words or a straw man, but Paul's explanation of his ordeal in Acts 19 and 20. (people tried to impersonate him, and tried to kill him 2 different times - he also had to deal with success - perhaps the greatest struggle of all)

    We are not offering our solution to people, we are offering an introduction to the God who raises the dead and will raise the dead.

    Just the thoughts of a "simple guy"


  8. codepoke

    Thanks, Glen.

    Your comment seems much more accurate to me than your post.

    > He didn’t die for your weirdness around women/men/money/authority/food. He died for your sin.

    > These things need to be grieved as losses and placed entirely out of our hands and into the hands of the Redeemer and His future.

    > Therefore, cross-centred pastoral care is not about diving into the dark and alluring waters of Lake You.

    > I think going beneath labels to face the reality of suffering is so important. ... I think that Christian community must also gently enter *pain* so that these gross crimes are grieved as losses which nothing on earth can restore.

    Of course the comment has it's laughs, too.

    > You should see the comments on the Youtube page! People hail this clip as utterly life-changing.

    Yeah? Britney Spears has 4 million twitter followers, too. They get what they ask for.


    "The therapeutic model" is an undefined phrase. Based on your post, I took you to mean something much more inclusive than your comment would indicate. Yes, victims sin and need Christ. Yes, we hide behind phariseeism and victimhood. Yes, these sins must be mortified, and it's the job of a wise pastor to skillfully navigate those waters.

    I react when you seem to take on therapy itself. I realize we're mutual admirers of Larry Crabb, but your post seemed to distance itself from half of his work. Sure, he's knocked the counselling profession from it's lofty arrogance, but he's not quit hearing issues as issues. He teaches a rounded approach to emotional damage that includes truth and repentance, but also includes the gentleness you evidence in your comment, too.

    Thanks for the response.

  9. Glen

    Craig - those are such helpful comments, thankyou. I think this avoids those twin dangers of Pharisaism and therapeutic collusion. And you highlight very well how 'issues' can *prevent* us going deep into our struggles - so that we find at bottom a Rescuer.

    Codepoke -

    I think Crabb is concerned to oppose both Pharasaism *and* a therapeutic culture. Most of his books are written for church cultures and therefore take aim at the Pharasaism. But get him in front of an association of counsellors (Christian or otherwise) and he let's em have it on the kinds of issues I address here.

    He's the source of my thought-experiment regarding Christ being abused. He uses this often to get people to think of sin as the problem to be addressed even in the midst of terrible victimhood.

    He also tells the story of a woman who'd been horrifically neglected in her childhood and who stormed up to him after a talk and hectored him with a mixture of self-pity and embittered fury. After listening for 10 minutes about how her parents had imprisoned her in the attic for days at a time, he asked her - "How did you pray when you were imprisoned?". She flew into a rage, how dare he..., I hated God... how can you ask that... etc, etc. She went away furious. But came back at the end of the day a different woman. She seemed broken and contrite - and spoke to Larry about how her heart had hardened over the years. He said "Would you like a hug?" And this very hard woman meekly nodded and they hugged.

    That's the kind of Crabb stuff that I think really treads the third way - not therapeutic, not Pharasaical. Deeper than both. And therefore harsher on sin and softer in compassion.

  10. codepoke

    Um. Yeah. I agreed with you, right? But now you want me to believe Crabb would agree with you, too. :-/

    I believe Crabb would do a double backflip for your clarifications, but the original post?

    > That’s what I am arguing for. My dyfunction (if you want to call it that) is not that ’social situations make me anxious’ – my problem is that I’m a sinner and in myself the wrath of God is against me.

    I don't think Crabb would say this, or a few other of the things in your post. This is too simple, too easy, too false. You have a dysfunction because the wrath of God is against you? It's a non-sequitor at best, and scripturally misleading if I understand Jesus' reaction to people in need of healing. He tended to start by announcing they were forgiven then move rather immediately to healing them. His ministry was rather thin on harsh statements aimed at people who called themselves broken.

    Again. I agree with your clarifications.

  11. Heather

    Why does it matter what Larry Crabb says?

    Aren't we supposed to take all human teaching back through Scripture instead of compare one fallible man's statements to another fallible man's statements?

  12. codepoke


    Glen and I both respect Larry Crabb's thinking and practice in this exact area of discussion. Crabb has put a lot more time into this study than I have, and has a proven track record of actually helping people (me, for example.) Referencing him is both a way of establishing a base of agreement and a way of noting differences.

    Jesus firmly rebukes those who put the traditions of men above the word of God, but scripture also firmly commands us to pay attention to gifted people on Earth (Hbr 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of [their] conversation. ; Phl 2:29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness; and hold such in reputation: ; 1Th 5:12 & 13 And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. [And] be at peace among yourselves. ; 1Ti 5:17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.)

    Paul, though, seems to rebuke those who say they only follow Jesus.
    1Cr 1:11 & 12 For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them [which are of the house] of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.

    The thing is reality and not appearances. I think Glen overspoke and I'm saying so. He clarified his meaning, and that helped me. But to have this discussion referencing only scripture would be difficult at best. I don't see a verse in scripture that unambiguously teaches how to blueprint a house, repair a wagon wheel, or best help person who's been psychologically damaged to both heal and come to grips with the sin their flesh has added to their injury.

    Take, for example, the Lord's laws regarding defiling skin diseases. He teaches how to know you've got one and how to honor Him if you're cured of it, but not one word about how to make it go away.

    Gotta run. Lord bless.

  13. Heather

    Thank you Codepoke,

    Yes, I am very aware that we ought to be wisely chewing the meat and spitting out the bones of our godly leaders.

    I wouldn't try to detract from the ministry of any man who is being used by the Lord to bring people to Himself.

    You are right, individuals with unique concerns need to be treated as individuals even as they are introduced to the singular source of Life. There is plenty of Scriptural evidence to support this truth.

    On the other hand, I have noticed (not so much here, but as a general observation) that Christians often will tend to attach ourselves a little too firmly to the man by which God speaks. Churches can split over something really dumb like the way pastor M insists that only certain hymns are what God wants to hear while elder J believes it is okay to sing more upbeat, modern stuff. Both men can be deadly sincere and truly desiring to honor the Lord, but people will rally behind whoever they think is right and totally forget to ask God what is most pleasing to Him (things like deference to others in areas the Bible does not specifically call sin)

    The result is exactly the type of thing Paul was addressing in 1 Corinthians.

    Actually, the entire letter was mainly directed at the prideful, unloving, people-centered attitude of the Corinthian believers.

    The people who said "I am of Christ" were likely saying it in the same spirit as the name droppers who had tossed out "Paul" or "Cephas" in an attempt to get recognition.

    I think Paul would have wholeheartedly supported the idea of following Christ alone, but was reprimanding those people because they were saying one thing with their mouths and proving by their behavior that they were really only following themselves.

    That said, I do understand that it is perfectly natural to have special affection for someone God has brought alongside you when you were drowning in despair. I think this is natural and appropriate. I thank God for and highly respect those who are willing to reach out as Christ did and compassionately help pull others out of the muck of this life. That is something all believers need to be about. I don't at all think that is wrong to show appreciation to those people as long as it is kept in mind that people (even very godly ones) are imperfect.



  14. Glen

    Hi Codepoke,

    On further thought, Larry would (at least in writing) phrase things a lot more helpfully than I did in the post. When I diagnose our problem as 'the wrath of God is against us', it does sound like a non sequitur. My desire is to frame things more in terms of God's *verdict* than our worthiness or unworthiness. It's an attempt to be a bit more Lutheran in counselling - if our problem is God's verdict then the only solution is another verdict, God's justification. But just left hanging out there it does sound like a non sequitur.

    When Larry speaks of 'our clenched fist' or our 'willful determination to make life work apart from God' he's joining up the biblical categories with people's struggles a lot better than this post.

    But for more on Larry against therapeutic models there's always his talks at a Desiring God conference on the codependency movement:

    Or I just pulled down 'Finding God' from the shelf. Here's a fairly typical paragraph picked more or less at random:

    "Many Christians have rightly recognized how a bad self-image generates the terrible pressure to perform. But they wrongly assume that its root is self-hatred. They teach that if we can overcome our hatred for ourselves and learn to rest in God's unconditional love, the pressure to measure up will vanish and we will lead happy, productive, meaningful lives. This reasoning has a serious flaw: the root problem behind the pressure to perform is not self-hatred, but rather the determination to handle disappointment without ever turning to God, without ever acknowledging personal evil, and without ever gratefully accepting mercy. We prefer to see ourselves as wounded in our relationships, not sinful before a holy God." (p129)


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