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The Pastor as Counselor: The Call for Soul Care

by David Powlison
2021 / 76 pages

Some have difficulty applying adjectives like “kind” and “compassionate” to biblical counseling. But when I think of the late David Powlison, those words spring straight to mind. Though I never met him personally, I’ve been blessed by many of his books, articles, and talks. In all of them I hear the voice of someone kind and compassionate, someone you can readily recognize as a disciple of our Lord Jesus. This little book, Powlison’s last, is no different. He loved God and he cared about people.

As the title indicates, it’s written for pastors. It’s about the pastor’s calling to take care of souls. However, Powlison wrote it hoping that others would listen in as well. This is because, as he writes, “All Christians are meant to become wiser counselors.”

Being a pastor, I know how easy it is to either neglect or deflect the work of counseling. But Powlison makes the case that pastors can’t forget their sheep and they shouldn’t be too quick to pass off their sheep to “professionals,” especially those who aren’t Christians. He points out how “Counselling is not essentially a technical enterprise calling for technical expertise. It is a relational and pastoral enterprise engaging in care and cure of the soul.” This is true for every type of counselor, Christian or not. But unbelieving mental health professionals are handicapped:

…they serve in pastorates with no God and no church. They aim to restore straying, suffering, willful, dying human beings. But they consider Christ unnecessary to their pastoral work. As a matter of principle, they will not lead strugglers to the Savior of strays. You know better.

Powlison proceeds to explain how pastors should redefine counseling. Perhaps it would be better to say how pastors can play a role in restoring counseling to the church, because I think that’s what Powlison was aiming at.

The second chapter explores the uniqueness of pastoral counseling. According to Powlison, pastors:

  • have a unique responsibility to counsel
  • have unique opportunities to counsel
  • do counseling in a unique manner
  • counsel with a unique message
  • counsel in a unique community context

Indeed, pastors are able to counsel unlike anyone else. Realizing that should motivate us to take it seriously and pursue it with excellence.

I can heartily recommend this little gem to my colleagues in pastoral ministry. As mentioned above, others can benefit from it too. In that regard, if I would have just one small criticism, it’s about the fact that Powlison doesn’t address elders. Elders are also called to pastoral counseling and the church only benefits when elders take that calling seriously.

So whether you’re an ordained full-time pastor or an elder with a pastoral responsibility, do take a couple of hours to chew on the meat offered in this book. We can all learn not only from Powlison’s kindness and compassion, but also his experience and wisdom.

Dr. Bredenhof blogs at

Up Next

Adult fiction, Book Reviews

Greg Dawson and the psychology class

by Jay Adams 2008 / 149 pages This is a novel, but it'd be more accurate to call it a textbook masquerading as a novel – the goal here is education, not entertainment. Jay Adams' fictional protagonist Greg Dawson is a preacher who lives near a Christian college. Some of the students want to know the difference between the psychological counseling theories they are being taught and the biblical counseling Greg Dawson uses. Via a series of informal conversations with Pastor Dawson, the students learn that the psychology they’re being taught at their Christian college is built on secular counseling theories. They are asked to consider just how many different secular counseling theories there are. These theories claim to be built on insights into what Man is really like, and yet the different theories disagree with one another, and sometimes wildly. So how are we to evaluate them? Dawson points students to the Bible, asking them to examine how many of the theories line up with a biblical understanding of our inner nature. So long as these secular theories understand Man outside of our relationship with God how can they understand what Mankind is really like? Dawson asks them to also consider that most of these theories don't acknowledge our sinful nature, or understand our purpose here on earth. As the back of the book details, some of the other issues explored include: the difference between apologizing and forgiveness the place of evangelism and faith in Biblical counseling Is all truth God's truth? some specific issues such as depression, mental illness, and marriage Adams is only one of many experts to consult when it comes to biblical counseling. Others include Ed Welch, Heath Lambert, Wayne Mack, Paul David Tripp and David Powilson. But this book is an ideal introduction to the subject – the novel format makes for an easy, yet highly educational, read. And if you like this one, you'll be interested to know Jay Adams has written two other "Greg Dawson" novels: The Case of the Hopeless Marriage and Together for Good: Counseling and the Providence of God....

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