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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 Yinkahdinay.wordpress.com


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