Why is Pastoral Counseling Important?
The world in the context of 21st century has been growing so fast and drastically bring the so-called change within the global society. Such a change always multi-dimensional, such as in economic, social, political, cultural and even religious life. One of the most important instruments that needs to be noted here is globalization, where the information and technology become decisive and important for the entire humanity. In one side, we all are indebted to the globalization that has greatly influenced the life of our society in many ways. Informative technology is a best example on how globalization has made a great contribution for us all. People use this kind of technology to empower themselves, in order to be more intelligent, informative, updated, widely-connected, and even economically benefited. None cannot deny that globalization has shaped our life totally.
On the other side, globalization has also something to do with the problems occur in the society. We cannot agree that this phenomenon only offers many positive impacts which are good and beneficial for the society, but also bringing about many problems at once. In term of social impact, the use of technology for example has limited the social place within the society where people become more individual (self-centeredness). This individualization brings about the isolation from the public by which people will just focus on themselves and forgetting that they are a part of the real society. In term of economic, the globalized world also becomes more competitive and expensive, while many people especially those who are economically weak become more marginalized. In term of culture, the globalization has created what they call a global village by which the world is now presented in a monogenous face. That means that local culture no longer plays an important role in people’s life due to the interest and dependency to the modern life that is brought by the globalization. Of course, there are many other negative impacts of the globalization that I do not mention here, but by touching on those three impacts I would like to emphasize that the globalization arrives with its double-effects to the modern society.
In this context I can say that someone’s personal life is also threatened by the modern life or globalization. It is not overwhelming to say that this global reality has made people become stressful or frustrated when they cannot adjust themselves in the wave of globalization. Economic failure, for instance, makes them unable to access good education, health, technology, and other basic needs. It will of course cause any mental troubles and when they cannot deal with and manage them, such troubles will be destructive for themselves as well as for the others. In 2009, many people in Indonesia decided to suicide and even the country is now considered as same as Japan, China, and Korea where the risk of suicide is really high. The World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that in 2005 there were approximately 1500 suicide cases every day in Indonesia. The causes are various, but there are some cases that linked to the economic frustration due to the economic failure or poverty. When we talk about economic failure in the current context of a globalized-world, we should consider the impact of the globalization itself.
Another reality that we have to take into account here is the global disaster. The term used here – disaster – not only refers to ecological disaster, but also social disaster. The ecological disaster is one of the Indonesian contexts, from the west to the east Indonesia is threatened by the earthquake, flood, eruption, and even tsunami. This disaster is called ‘nature-made disaster’. The disaster hits people irrespective of their backgrounds and causes many victims. Those victims go through crisis in many ways, such as economic, social, health, and psychological problems. Those problematic conditions have led them to a mental crisis. Another kind of disaster is ‘human-made disaster’. This kind of disaster can be seen in cases like HIV AIDS and drug abuse victims. It is true that this is created by people, but apart from what have caused them, the victims go through mental problems especially when they appear in the public sphere.
Based on the above description about the crisis caused by the globalization and the disasters (ecologically and socially) to personal life, I can note that pastoral counseling is needed and its role becomes more important, urgent, and decisive. Yakub B. Susabda says that pastoral counseling, and even general counseling – psychological approaches – is urgent and inevitable. The pastoral counseling will help people to go through their crisis, to be able to manage their psychological emotion, and to grow as healed individuals. Susabda defines the activity of pastoral counseling as a therapeutic conversation between counselor and counselee by which the counselor is trying to guide the counselee into an ideal conversation or conducive atmosphere that help him or her to see what is happening and why he or she responds it in that specific emotion and behaviors. Leroy Aden as quoted by Mesakh Prasetya also describes that pastoral counseling is a Christian perspective, Christian approach to be precise, ‘to attend’ in counselee’s life in order to heal him. According to these definitions we can note that counselor as well as counselee plays an important role in the counseling process. In addition, pastoral counseling as an activity is differed from pastoral care. Those two concepts have always been used interchangeably as if those two concepts are same. Krisetya shows that pastoral care is a paradigm that can be implemented in preaching, evangelization, and Sunday services, but pastoral counseling takes ‘conversation’ as a specific method.
Pastoral Counselor and Counselee: Two Important Subjects in Pastoral Counseling
In counseling process there are two important subjects whose significant and important roles – counselor and counselee. A counseling cannot be done without the participation of both counselor and counselee since that counseling itself is a conversational activity between two people. That means that the counseling posits them as central figures. As a conversational activity the process of counselling has to be seen as dialogical which means that it involves two different actors, even more. Susabda describes that the relationship in counseling is a dialogic interpersonal relationship, not monologue, by which all aspects of their life involved in that conversation.
If the counseling is identified by Susabda as dialogical, Krisetya by following Wayne E. Oates says that the activity is ‘trialogue’. According to him, when the counseling itself is a Christian activity it must involve not only counselor and counselee, but also God, even this third actor becomes central. He sees that the conversation is attributed as pastoral counseling as far as it relates with God. It means that the counseling is consisted of God, counselor, and counselee. That is what Krisetya means with ‘trialogue’. I agree with the idea of trialogue as put by Krisetya because all Christian activities should be directed toward God as the basic of Christian faith. It is not easy indeed to see the concrete participation of God in such process, but the ability of the counselor to present God by using religious resources such as scripture, prayer, religious instruments, and other religious symbols indicates that God is involved there. John MacArthur, Jr. further elaborates that the divine participation of God can be explored in the life of counselee. The work of the Holy Spirit is active in the process of counseling and indicated by the successful efforts of the counselee to overcome the crisis he or she goes through.
Apart from whether the conversation is just dialogical (Susabda) or trialogical (Krisetya), the participation of both counselor and counselee implies that, as main subjects in counseling they become essential. The question raised now is about what counselor or counselee is. According to Oxford Dictionary, counselor is used as a term to identify ‘a person trained to give guidance on personal, social, or psychological problems’. In general counseling, the counselor is usually a person with psychological background (the person who have studied psychology academically). In pastoral counseling, the counselor is also the one who have been training specifically to guide a person in crisis. The thing that makes general counseling and pastoral counseling a bit different is the background of the counselor – they are not psychologist nor psychiatrist. The one who have studied theology or pastoral counseling and even priest are considered as pastoral counselor. Susabda identifies counselor (not only priest) as the one who has a specific role in church ministry. A counselee is defined as a person who is going through ‘mental problems’ (mentally sick) because of the crisis that has influenced him or her destructively. The problem changes him or her into ‘a person in crisis’ in which the life is stagnated. When stagnation happens someone will fail to find the meaning of life. It is the fundamental thing in crisis experienced by the counselee. So that, in order to help him or her growing, the counselor must begin by helping the counselee realize that his or her life is meaningful. To conclude, we can say as simple as this: “counselor is a person trained professionally to help person in crisis and counselee is a person in crisis who needs help from the counselor”.
What Does John 10:11-18 Say About Pastoral Counselor?
The counseling initiated by the Church is grounded on the biblical teachings, especially in the New Testament narratives. The popular text usually considered as biblical basic for the pastoral ministry is, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock’ (I Peter 5:2-3 - KJV). The text implies that the church, as represented by the elders, is responsible for the sheep among them. The task of feeding the flock of God is not an optional, but obligative to the church.
If we explore the idea of the writer in this letter, we will not explicitly see the images of the counselor according to I Peter. Such images are here understood as a set of qualities that the counselor should have. But if we read the text in detail we can note that there are some ideal qualifications indicated by the writer when giving advices to the audience. Even though I will not focus on this text to explore how the writer speaks about the counselor, I will herewith mention four qualities according to I Peter 5:2-3. First, the text emphasizes that the counseling be done “without any constraint”, which means that the counselor consuls the counselee willingly or heart-fully. Second, since the counseling is purely a Christian ministry, a Christian counselor should do it without taking any advantages, particularly economic advantage of the counseling itself. The advice of the evangelist, “not for filthy lucre”, reminds us that the counselor is called just to help people going out of the crisis and growing. Third, the position of both counselor and counselee seen as equal partners in counseling, so that the counselor cannot be as if ‘the lord’ over the counselee. And fourth, his life must be ‘an ensample’ to the counselee, he cannot advice something that he himself unable to achieve. For example, if he guides the counselee to have courage in dealing with the crisis while he himself is unable to go through his own trouble the counseling will not be effective.
Now, I will explore another passage from the New Testament that specifically speaking about the counselor as one of the important figures in pastoral ministry. John 10:11-18 describes about the Good Shepherd, a title that is attributed to Jesus. This Christology is trying to show that Christ, the One who has been identified as the Shepherd, is a Great Counselor all the time. This figure is an ideal type of the Christian counselor by whom all must learn.
Systematically, John 10:11-18 is an integral part of 10:1-21 under the pericope ‘the Good Shepherd’. I deliberately focus on verses 11 to 18 because those verses contain a clear and explicit definition or qualification of the counselor, rather than verses 1-10 which are presenting Jesus as the Door. It is true that in verse 2 the writer has said that the one who is entering through the door is the Shepherd (a counselor takes an appropriate approach to be a partner of the counselee), but the following narratives in vv. 11-18 dominantly speak about the Shepherd with his basic features. Yet, we cannot read the verses apart from the preceding verses because the elaboration in vv.11-18 is ‘a minor modification’ of vv. 7-10.
Based on John 10:11-18 the trusted counselor should have these following qualifications:
a. A trusted counselor: moved by empathy and compassionate
John begins his narrative in vv.11-18 by taking ‘I am saying’ to introduce Jesus to his audience. This style is unique to the Johannine tradition as it appears in many parts of the gospel, such as in John 14 where Jesus is presented as the way, truth and life. In this passage such saying is to help the reader identifying which is the good shepherd and which is not. According to verse 11, a good shepherd is the one who is giving his life for the sake of the sheep. “Giving life” should not be understood literally which means that the counselor dies for the life of the counselee, but otherwise it symbolizes ‘empathy and compassionate’. The gospel uses that concept (giving life) to refer for Jesus, the Great Counselor who has sacrificed his life for the entire world. The Christ event becomes a real manifestation of the divine care, empathy, and compassionate for all his sheep. A counselor should take the path the Jesus has taken in order to become a trusted-Christian counselor. Empathy as well as compassionate become two important and fundamental features in counseling. Empathy will stimulate someone to share his compassionate to other (a shared compassionate). Without empathy the counseling will not be effective to help the client growing in crisis. Empathy as differed from sympathy is a condition in which the counselor can posit himself ‘as if’ he is the counselee and feel what the counselee feels.
b. A trusted counselor: a nonprofit-oriented servant
Unlike the secular counseling, the pastoral counseling is a ministerial activity that does not target on profit. As pointed out above, in doing this kind of ministry a Christian counselor expects not ‘an economic advantage’, but the growth of the counselee. John compares the good shepherd with the hireling by telling that the good shepherd or the trusted counselor will help people without any expectation to get something in turn, but only the hireling helps the sheep to ‘get paid’. I think that John’s critic is still relevant to our current context where many pastors (not all) expect to get paid every time they minister the congregation. This practice indicates that the pastoral ministry has been commercialized. A trusted-Christian counselor knows that he is different with the hireling and obliged to serve them without any other interests.
c. A trusted counselor: accompanying the counselee throughout the crisis
Another quality of the trusted counselor lies on his willingness to accompany the counselee throughout the crisis. John says that in time of troubles the good shepherd will not leave the sheep alone whatever happens, but he guides them one by one and make sure that none is left. This feature makes a trusted-Christian counselor totally different with ‘the hireling’. This parable implies that being consistent in doing counseling is also important since the psychological or mental dynamic of the counselee needs to be observed continuously. This is to help the counselor taking appropriate approach toward the counselee.
d. A trusted counselor: knowing and understanding the counselee
John defines the Good Shepherd as simple as this; he is the one who knows his sheep and is known by them. John Painter identifies such a knowledge as a mutual knowledge. By saying that - I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine’, the writer does not only show the feature of the counselor, but also provide a clear definition of it. I think that in counseling a counselor is expected to know and understand the client better, inside out. The Greek word used by the writer in that text is ‘ginosko’, which means ‘better understand’. The process of knowing and understanding should happen since their first encounter and will continue throughout the encounter. The counselor knows and understands not merely the client’s personal identities, in term of his background, family and social setting, but also able to identify his mental dynamic, including the ways he takes to respond the crisis and what he expects. The knowledge and understanding of the counselor will help him to take appropriate approaches to the counselee.
e. A trusted counselor, a counselor to all people in crisis irrespective of their background.
One of the contexts in Indonesia is religious and cultural diversity. As a part of the country, the Christian church has to deal with such context, so that its ministry should also take into account the existence of people of other backgrounds. In this context, a Christian counselor will -willingly or unwillingly- face the counselee of different backgrounds – different church denomination, different ethnic and even different religion. The parable of John 10:11-18 has anticipated it by stating that “other sheep which are not of this sheep; them also I must bring”. “To bring” is translated from the Greek word, “egegein”, that also means “to lead” or “to guide”.
I believe that the statement of Jesus is a clear expression of his care to humanity. He crosses over the border that Christianity has created between them and other fellow human. The words clearly indicate that helping people in crisis should go beyond any border. He helps people not because they are his followers, but merely because they are people in need. The gospel shows that many of those whom Jesus has helped are not his followers. In addition, Painter gives another interpretation of the text. Acoording to him, this should be interpreted in relation to the preceding passages, especially in the context of comprising both a good shepherd and the hireling. He says that in order to prevent the counselee of falling into the hands of the hireling – those who will just take advantage of him – the shepherd needs to guide him too.
In counseling ministry, people of different backgrounds cannot be overlooked or refused, but led and guided in case they need our help. The counselor must be open for all people who go through crisis irrespective of their background. In a cross-cultural or cross-religious counseling, one should have the so-called ‘intercultural sensitivity’. He must understands the contexts where the counselee comes from and without any hidden agenda to Christianize him. This is the important thing in a cross-religious counseling. Many Christians focus on how to christianize as many as possible people through their ministry, including the counseling. Helping them to know Christ or to go through the crisis with Christian values does not mean that they should be christianized.
Based on John 10:11-18 I can conclude that a trusted counselor is the one whose counseling is based on his empathy and compasionate, counseling without any profit-orientation, acompannying his client throughout the crisis, knowing and understanding his counselee better, and having an intercultural sensitivity (counseling people in need irrespective of their background). Without these five qualities of the counselor the goal of counseling itself cannot be achieved.
 Yakub B. Susabda, Konseling Pastoral (trans: Pastoral Counseling). (Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia, 2014), p.5.
 Ibid., pp.6-7.
 Mesach Krisetya, Bela Rasa Yang Dibagirasakan (trans: A Shared Compassionate). (Jakarta: Penerbit Duta Ministri, 2015), pp.72-73.
 Ibid, p. 72.
 Yakub B. Susabda, Konseling Pastoral, p. 10.
 Mesach Krisetya, Konseling Pastoral, pp. 75-76.
 John MacArthur, Jr., “Peran Roh Allah Dalam Konseling Alkitabiah” (trans: the Role of God’s Spirit in Biblical Counseling) in John MacArthur and Wayne A. Mack, eds. Konseling Alkitabiah (trans. Biblical Counseling), (Malang: Gandum Mas, 2009), p. 177.
 Mesach Krisetya, Konseling Pastoral, p. 40.
 John Painter, “Tradition, History, and Interpretation in John 10” in Johannes Beutler and Robert T. Fortna (eds.), The Shepherd Discourse in John 10 and Its Context. (Cambridge: Cambrdige University Press, 2005), p. 61.
 Yakub B. Susabda, Konseling Pastoral, p. 41.
 John Painter, “Tradition, History, and Interpretation in John 10”, vv. 64-65.
 John Painter, “Tradition, History, and Interpretation in John 10”, vv. 65.