Assignment: Pastoral Counselor’s Identity

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As we continue to think through the process of developing and managing our relational styles, “professional awareness and professional style” must also become part of the discussion. Interestingly, this conversation is not one we will be able to finish in the remaining modules/weeks of this course; however, it is one that we MUST begin. This handout exposes you to the need to describe professional or vocational identity and to manage it wisely through appropriate boundaries and relationships with your soul-care context. Some resist this kind of discussion with comments like…just follow God’s Word and all will be well. In one sense, that is very true; in another, it is a very undeveloped premise.

Consider for a moment, a professional in the Bible that ignored his identity within a relational context. King David, the “apple of God’s eye”, embarrassed God, disgraced his God-given post, and destroyed lives. Unfortunately, this brief treatise cannot discuss the various influences shaping King David’s decision; needless to say, he sinned…BUT it began with a temptation to isolate (i.e., step out of battle: 2 Sam. 11:1) and medicate (i.e., slept with another’s bride: 2 Sam. 11:2–5) which resulted in stepping away from his God-given identity and responsibility to a relational context (i.e., without intentional accountability, he believed his own lie that he deserved self-gratification at everyone else’s expense: 2 Sam. 11:6–27). Until Nathan confronted him, David is presented as a blamer thinking he could do anything he wanted in his God-given assigned part of the world (i.e., he even thought he might convince God to overrule the consequences of his selfishness: 2 Sam. 12:1–23). Thankfully, David repented…but the sad thing was that no apology could repair what he had destroyed. Pastor Joe McKeever wrote about this recently through his 6/8/2013 blog; check it out:  In sum, if we ignore our professional identity, a negative influence may take a very long time to overcome.

In a plea for pastors to pursue the prophetic call of the Bible for radical ministry, John Piper (2002) emphatically declared:

Brothers, we are NOT professionals! We are outcasts. We are aliens and exiles in the world (1 Pet. 2:11). Our citizenship is in heaven, and we wait with eager expectation for the Lord (Phil. 3:20)….The aims of our ministry are eternal and spiritual….There is an infinite difference between the pastor whose heart is set on being the aroma of Christ, the fragrance of death to some and eternal life to others (2 Cor. 2:15–16). (pp. 2, 3)

Most definitely, Piper’s intent is honorable, but would it have been more helpful to say: Brothers, DO NOT BE “earthy” professionals; BECOME “heavenly” professionals! …Selah!

Sadly, Piper’s statement infers that it may not be possible to develop a professional identity that reflects citizenship in heaven. More importantly, with the pressures of contemporary ministry, a heavenly professional identity is needed now more than ever. For example, how do we as ministers of the Gospel remain responsible under-shepherds when we grow tired and weary…and want to isolate? How do we posture ourselves to personally prevent demoralization and secularization which often result in various ethical dilemmas embarrassing the kingdom of our Lord? Perhaps one of the ways we will hear less of “Eternal Trust Brokers becoming Earthy Trust Busters is to imagine how we would think, act, feel, and relate to God, others, and self under a different banner: “Brothers & Sisters, we MUST become heaven’s Professionals!” Moving forward, the Pastoral Counselor’s ‘Identity and Ethics Paper’ will require you to develop a heavenly-grounded and relationally responsible professional paradigm for your soul-care context.

Resurrecting a historic professionalism instituted by our ministerial fathers may be one of the boundary setting tools our great God wants to use in your soul care context. Though we do not have the time for a full discussion on professionalism and its tie to the spiritual formation of ministry leaders, delineating some basic parameters for your future investigation may be helpful. According to Trull and Carter (2004), professional awareness observes the following boundaries:

1. Education. The minister will prepare for Christian service by experiencing a broad liberal arts education, followed by specialized training in theology and ministry. Ministers will also be committed to a lifelong process of study and growth that prepares them for continued service (e.g., a consideration from Inspiration: 2 Tim. 2:15).

2. Competency. The church shepherd will develop and refine pastoral gifts and vocational skills in order to act competently in any situation that requires his or her services (e.g., Inspiration Considerations: Eccl. 12:9–14; 1 Cor. 12:7–11; Eph. 4: 11–12).

3. Autonomy. The minister is called to a life of responsible decision-making involving potentially dangerous consequences. As a spiritual leader, the minister will make decisions and exert pastoral authority in light of the servant-leader model exemplified by Christ (e.g., a consideration from Inspiration: John 13:1–16).

4. Service. The minister’s motivation for ministry will be neither social status nor financial reward, but rather agapē love, to serve others in Christ’s name (e.g., critical considerations from Inspiration: 1 Corinthians 10:24; 13:1–13).

5. Dedication. The minister will “profess” to be attentive to his Master’s bidding (Rom. 12:1–2) in order to provide something of great value, the good news of God’s salvation and the demonstration of God’s love through Christian ministry. To these values the called of God is dedicated (Rom. 1:11–17).

6. Ethics. In relation to congregation, colleagues, and community, as well as in personal life, the ordained will live under the discipline of an ethic that upholds the highest standards of Christian morality (e.g., leadership considerations from Inspiration: 1 Tim. 3:1–7; 1 Peter 5:1–4). (pp. 39–40)

Consider purchasing James D. Glasse’s (1968) timely work Profession: Minister; Confronting the Identity Crisis of the Parish Clergy. A central premise in Glasse’s work is that a minister infers that s/he is an ethically responsible professional every time someone calls on him/her with a problem. With that call for help, s/he is immediately prompted to take care of his/her part of the world and walk in the integrity of his/her profession when s/he asks:

‘What can I do for you?’ If a minister is a professional, he has to be a professional something. This requires that he identify those points at which his profession is to be practiced. He must make clear what he professes to know, to be able to do, through what institution, under what standards, and to what end…The call to the ministry is a call to undertake responsibility for our part of the earth. It is a calling to care for and elucidate a particular intellectual-spiritual tradition in the world. The community may or may not be favorably disposed to the bearers of that responsibility. But it is our work, our part of the world’s work, that we do as ministers. (pp. 44–5)

Hopefully, this exercise will be a catalyst for further investigation into historic “professionalism” and the development of an eternal “professional awareness.”

It is important that you review the following resources before attempting the “Pastoral Counselor’s Identity and Ethics Project”. This handout and course resources will help you do the following:

1. Identify essential elements of our ministerial fathers’ historical professionalism

2. Describe an ethical framework to follow in your soul care context

3. Identify professional partnerships to support your professional paradigm

4. Construct a pre-counseling package to collect pertinent information and convey a safe professional identity

Kollar (2011, ch. 20) and Johnson & Johnson (2000, ch. 9) present an ethical paradigm to foster professional awareness and style. For future reference, the following resources will also be helpful in developing the reality of “professional awareness and style” in your life and ministry. May your investigation be swift and sure as you prepare to provide an awareness that will welcome counselees into a safe and secure atmosphere.

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