As a pastor, I have the opportunity to do quite a bit of counseling. I get to sit with the people that I care about deeply and delve into the problems of their life. As I’ve been doing this more and more over the last 6 years, I’ve learned many valuable lessons. Most of my lessons were taught to me by a big fat hairy mistake.
For example, asking questions like, “Who do you think you are?” or “You did what?!” and “Describe exactly how you broke into that…” may not be the best counseling questions. Our course I am being facetious, but there are just certain things you shouldn’t ask – or perhaps more accurately, certain ways you shouldn’t ask things.
Christ is our best example for how to carry ourselves in a counseling session. While He dwelt on earth he served humbly, identifying with us in order to reconcile us. In the same we too must be humble and brotherly, treating those that we counsel or shepherd with great respect. I like the way that Paul explains how he ministered to those in Thessalonica. He wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, “But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children.  So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Here are four practical ways that I strive to respect my counselee in our sessions together:
- Respect hopes all things and believes all things. For the most part, if a person tells me they are telling the truth, I believe them. I let them know that I am taking them at their word, and I pray they are being honest, but I believe them when I am told they are telling me the truth.
- Respect is honest with the person about my agenda (and limitations) as a counselor. I don’t cover up that I am a pastor. Usually somewhere early on I let them know that my goal is to lead them to believe in the Gospel, depend on God for salvation and further guidance, and to trust the Bible as their authority. Even if they say they won’t or never will, I say something like, that is fine for now, but you need to know where I am coming from…
- Respect identifies with the other person. I strive to show them how I have things in common with them or how I’ve struggled with some of the same feelings in the past. My vulnerability with them (within bounds, of course) drives to greater intimacy about the issues they share and we discuss.
- Respect is being a good listener. When you really listen to a person, you gain respect easily and quickly. The reverse happens when you don’t listen. Over the years I’ve learned, people listen to people who listen.