The Three Main Issues Counseled in the Church Today
As a counselor and professor of counseling, as one might expect, I find myself doing a fair bit of counseling. And I am often asked, “which issues do you face the most?” This is an interesting question, because, though it is anecdotal, it causes me to look back over the years and try and condense and summarize—which central themes are most prominent among those seeking help? But it is also a fascinating exercise, because we are talking about the church—not the world. It would pique my interest to know the three main issues counseled in secular spheres, that would be compelling in and of itself. But what I find intriguing about the present question, is that we are talking about the most prevalent matters plaguing the church—the very people of God. While I readily acknowledge my own experience and vantage point are inherently limited and therefore may not be universally representative, in this post we consider the three primary issues counseled in the church today.
- Anxiety — Everyone has an opinion about anxiety. Some are adamant: “It is never sin, it is purely biological.” Others just as vigorously: “It is always sin, never biological.” And like it or not, it seems everyone faces anxiety—to one degree or another. I cannot quantify how many people counseled in the pastorate or through the counseling institute come in for issues involving fear and anxiety. Please do not perceive this to be conflating two separate categories, for, anxiety is a function of fear, and thus the concepts are closely related. That is, after all, why Christ, along with the rest of Scripture, addresses this topic so frequently. “Do not be anxious about what you will wear” or about your stature, or life, or “what you will eat”. Also, his regular rejoinder: “fear not” or “do not be afraid”. What is more, there is so much New Testament teaching on anxiety, it is hard to miss! “Be anxious for nothing”, or the practical applications of how to rest in the God who delivers us from fear. The counsel of “do not fear the one…” (Mt 10:28) and instead the call to a proper fear, “rather fear [the Lord]”. Elsewhere, we are explicitly encouraged by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 1:7 that we have been given, not a spirit of fear—that is, fear and anxiety are not of our kingdom. Rather we have been given the Spirit of love, power, and self control. The absence of anxiety in the midst of any circumstance is the miraculous possibility of our kingdom, as Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13.
Perhaps the reason scripture speaks so frequently to being anxious, or not being anxious, is because the Lord knows our frame. He knows how prone to fretting we are—and he regularly seeks to stem its steady flow in our lives. Perhaps this is why a pastoral counselor would find himself counseling so much anxiety—because there is so much anxiety in (even) our Christian lives.
- Pornography — Tragically, this issue is far too prevalent in the church. People are enslaved. They are silently struggling, and at times, not so silently struggling. Our world is luring and enticing in this area constantly. It is times like these that I am tempted to rejoice in exclusively raising teenage girls, and not teenage boys in such a sex-crazed culture. Who will set the captives free? Can young men (and older men for that matter!) be expected to control their passions in this area? After all, the world is assailing us with the concepts of “everyone does it”, “it’s normal”, “it’s okay.” In fact, it just might be the repressive, backward Christians who are the ones stifling freedoms. “Why even fight?” And if people do resist, if they do put up a fight, the battle seems like a losing one!
This is because the church often fights this particular battle with mere chariots and horses—computer controls and accountability—not with the means of grace, of word and prayer, believing Christ actually delivers and saves. And so the spiral downward in this “battle” ensues. Despair and defeat set in, and people become resigned to limping along in this sin for years until it is either forced to the surface by a spouse, or until it festers and so destroys the marriage that it tragically no longer “needs” to be addressed.
Many will read this post and continue suffering in silence, battling alone, not exposing the darkness with light, like needs to be done if this sin is going to be addressed. At the least, tell someone. Ask for help.
- Oppression in Marriage — I didn’t know how to categorize or quite capture this heading. I wanted to label it “perpetually unresolved marital conflict” or “hyper-headship” or “neo-patriarchy.” Regardless of the heading, though, the point is the same—men who control women. Sure, I have counseled a few cases where women were domineering and controlling their husbands, but I can count those exceptions on one hand. Far more frequent are the marriages where the husband is proverbially holding down the wife, one way or another, and justifying his hierarchical dominance with the Scriptures. He is functionally baptizing the curse of Genesis 3:16, “he shall rule over you” as though it is God’s ideal and design for marriage. Servant leadership gets reformed—nay, scratch that—deformed, as a heavy hand. And the couple comes in for counseling, wondering why the marriage is shot through with perpetual conflict. It is no wonder one party vies for having at least some voice and the other pushes back, decrying insubordination. It is a vicious cycle and people often come for help when matters have escalated significantly. We as the church need to be able to identify this vile weed in marriages far sooner and seek to mortify it much more quickly.
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “those may be some of the main problems, but where is the help?” Well friends, first I would say, thanks be to Christ that he shall deliver us from all that ails us, sin and all. And thanks for his all-sufficient Word that speaks to every area of life, providing all we need for life and godliness. And secondly, I would say “stay tuned” for future installments as I seek to address these main problem issues faced in the church, and offer true hope and help as is freely offered in God’s Word. Until then, may the Lord continue to deliver us, and “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 7:25) that he is doing just that.
(I had the privilege to interview with Pilgrim Radio on these three prevalent counseling issues. You can listen to the full interview here)