I’m not sure what you think of when you think of pastoring, but what I think of (if I were a pastor) is the preaching, the craft of sermon writing, the books, the Bible studies. Of course, it’s all fun in my mind (which means I assume too much about myself if I think my Bible studies would be riveting). But counseling usually isn’t on the top of what I want to do. In fact, dealing with people’s problems is almost never what I want to do. So for those who are new pastors, counselors, or who have little experience counseling, Jonathan Holmes has written a book to help get you on your feet and to begin to wade in the waters of counseling and reconciliation.
In Part One, Holmes lays down the basics of counseling couples. Holmes’ goal is to “leave you with a solid, biblical theology and methodology to help you navigate through the world of marriage counseling” (18). His stated conviction is that “God’s Word is sufficient and powerful enough to address the deepest of marital issues and robust enough to assess the everyday issues you will encounter in marital counseling” (18).
“Gregory the Great called pastoral care and counseling the ‘art of arts,'” as pastors meet troubled marriages with “the hope of the gospel” (25). We can’t “separate preaching the Word from counseling the Word” (25). But are pastors with a Bible enough? Isn’t this what psychiatrists are for? Holmes quotes E. Brooks Holifield who wrote that the problem we are seeing now is that so many people are preoccupied with “psychological modes of thinking–modes which have tended to refashion the entire religious life of Protestants in the image of the therapeutic” (25). Yet when the Bible is reduced to mere psychology, we miss the point. (It should be said that Holmes doesn’t dismiss psychologists (275).)
As Christians, our union with Christian determines how we live and treat those around us. We are to speak truth in love (Eph 4:15). This includes all believers, and this includes the pastor speaking biblical truths in love to his counselees, and trying to grow them (though it is God who brings the fruit) to speak honestly and lovingly to each other. The pastor publicly proclaims and privately ministers God’s word.
Holmes gives tips on how much time pastors should spend counseling, while reminding them that counselees teach their counselors more than counselors teach their counselees. Counselors learn “the hard but good realities of shepherding and overseeing,” as well as seeing that they aren’t much different from their counselees at all (30). Counseling provides a look at “a living hope, a resurrected christ who promises to complete the good work of grace he began in them” (31). Holmes has a chapter on the importance of forgiveness (and another one on love as self-sacrifice), what it is, what it is not, and helpfully gives suggestions for role playing and meaningful homework.
There is a very practical final chapter on structuring the initial sessions you have with a couple (the first one may be the only one you have).
In Part Two, Holmes provides specific issues you will face in marriage counseling. He doesn’t provide every kind of issue, but he does provide ten chapters on specific issues that you will face as a counselor ranging from adultery, pornography, when a spouse isn’t a Christian, abuse, lack of (good) communication, trouble with children, surviving miscarriages and loss of children, lack of intimacy, and issues with in-laws. Holmes not only provides a way forward theologically through these issues, but gives practical tips for the counselor to advise the couple to do during the week to grow in their relationship together as they work through their problems.
Holmes concludes his book with Part Three reminding you ten ways to take care of yourself and strengthen your soul, such as paying attention to your own marriage, God’s word is sufficient to do God’s work, you need enough rest, and you can’t do it all on your own.
This is a very helpful book, especially for those who are either new at pastoring or who haven’t had much counseling experience. Holmes gives a lot of practical advice on what to think through before and after your meetings, like how to start and end a case without overpromising and under delivering. He encourages admitting that you are limited in your own knowledge and experience, and that referring counselees to those with more experience is not a sign of weakness. Holmes points you to many good counseling resources through his footnotes. If you are a pastor and/or counselor, take note! Use these books. Read his footnotes and the advice he gives there. Go to the weblinks he provides (see for instance the weblink on p. 58, fn. 5. It points you to a website with sample counseling forms if legal paperwork or informed consent is needed).
Counseling is not an easy task, but Holmes helps you get on your feet with an appropriate help without flooding you with information (e.g., the fourth volume of Richard Baxter’s outline of practical Christianity was 1,047 pages). Buy this, read it, and keep ready it on your shelf for your first years of counseling.
- Author: Jonathan D. Holmes
- Jonathan Holmes serves as the pastor of counseling at Parkside Church in Ohio, is the founder and executive director of Fieldstone Counseling, and serves on the council board for the Biblical Counseling Coalition (BCC).
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Zondervan (March 5, 2019)
Disclosure: I received this book free from Zondervan. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.