Reviewed by: Richard N. Ellis
The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care, by David Powlison. Crossway, 2021. Paperback, 80 pages, $7.99. Reviewed by OP pastor Richard N. Ellis.
I always looked forward to time with Roy Oliver, Ed Kellogg, and Larry Vail, three older leaders I knew best toward the end of their lives. They understood our human weakness and talked regularly of Jesus. They kept the main thing the main thing in their preaching and their personal conversation. They regularly and easily connected Jesus to the everyday details of life and ministry.
David Powlison’s little book The Pastor as Counselor is like that: penetrating and realistic, just the wise counsel we need. He reminds pastors to care for souls individually as well as corporately. “Where ministry is strong, pastors practice in private what they preach in public” (36).
Since Jay Adams’s Competent to Counsel, was first published in 1970, Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation has labored “to restore Christ to counseling and counseling to the church.” In this little book, Powlison, who served as executive director of CCEF, urges pastors to fulfill both prongs of that mission.
In the first chapter, he asks four questions that highlight differences between biblical counseling and value-neutral modern psychology. We are not the “ostensibly well [presuming] to treat the evidently sick” (23). Both counselor and counselee need the shepherd’s voice to quiet the persuasive inner whispers of either despair or self-sufficiency.
The second chapter unfolds five aspects of the pastor’s counseling: our responsibility to counsel, then the opportunity, method, message, and context of counseling.
We all need counseling every day “to awaken, to turn, to trust, to grow and to love God and others” (43). Each of us is susceptible to being hardened by the deceitfulness of our heart’s resident sin (Heb. 3:12–13). We daily need “help overcoming the contradiction between what we know and how we live” (49).
This seasoned saint reminds us that restoring counseling to the church goes far beyond equipping pastors; “counseling” needs to be restored to the people. As Paul puts it, all are called to build others up, as fits the occasion, so that our words give grace to those who hear (Eph. 4:29). Pastors work toward the goal of members gaining wisdom to discern who is lazy, so they can admonish; and who is faint-hearted, so they can encourage; and who is weak, so they can help. Such is the high, and often overlooked, call of 1 Thessalonians 5:14 addressed not to pastors but the “brothers and sisters.”
Pastors, see in your congregation “potential members of your pastoral care team” (56). Are you discipling them so they not only know God’s Word but can apply it aptly, with humble boldness, to help others? Are you providing a context in which disciples are trained and expected to practice effective “soul care” (encouraging, admonishing, helping, and praying for each other)?
The Pastor as Counselor is short, but don’t be fooled by its brevity. An aged saint has given us pearls most of us need so God’s people speak the truth in love to one another and the body grows to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13–16).
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