Thursday, February 8, 2007

Pastoral Care and Pastoral Counseling

First of all, I would like to thank Isabella for her helpful comments on yesterday's entry. It is worth reading.

In thinking about the topic of psychology and the church, I recalled a couple of resources that are helpful in defining the boundaries and role of the pastor in helping people in need. Back in 2001 I ran across a book in a bibliography of one of Veith's books that caught my eye. It was Pastoral Care Under the Cross by Richard C. Eyer (CPH, 1994). This was by far the best book on pastoral care that I had read over the course of my ministry. I emailed the author and complimented him, and told him that this should be required reading for every seminarian. It now is, at least in Ft. Wayne (Does anyone in St. Louis know if it is there??) Writing from the perspective of a career hospital chaplain, Dr. Eyer takes you through the varied human experiences every pastor would encounter even in a more typical ministry. His paradigm is very Lutheran, and very helpful: the theology of the cross. In addition to discussing issues of suffering, sickness, faith and healing, he then offers more focused treatments of specific groups: the elderly, those with AIDS, the dying, mourners, mental illness, the depressed and a ending chapter of medical ethics (of which he has also written a second volume, which I think is entitled Holy People, Holy Lives.)

Dr. Eyer notes that "there has been a subtle shift from the spiritual to the psychological, so that we no longer see ourselves as God sees us but as the psychologist sees us. When a man is charged with a senseless, violent crime, he is not thought of first as a sinner but as disturbed or mentally ill" (15). Eyer thus defines the challenge of pastoral care as trying "to move the sufferer from feelings of helplessness to a holy perspective" (19).

Eyer is careful to distinguish pastoral counseling from pastoral care, a differentiation, I would admit, that is often blurred or unheeded by many in ministry today. While the first is important in its own place and time, and requires the ear of a pastor to hear and proclaim and apply God's Word, pastoral care is that dimension of the office whereby the pastor is enabled to "suffer with the parishioner." The pastor enters into the realm of suffering as one who bears Christ's name, and brings the perspective of the cross to order the chaos of pain. And out of the cross comes the greatest healing: the absolving voice of the Savior.

There is always the temptation for pastors to slip into the role of counselor, trying to mimic what he believes is the superior way to help his member. Eyer, however, as one who has been in the midst of the pain of serious mental disarray, notes that what often struck him was "the loss of spiritual counsel available to people in hospital psychiatric units when their pastors play therapist instead of being pastors" (124-125).

A second resource that is helpful in this discussion, is an article written by Dr. Harold Senkbeil, now a professor at our Ft. Wayne seminary. His article is included in the festschrift honoring Dr. Marquart, entitled Mysteria Dei, and published by Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne (2000). The article is entitled "Generation X and the Care of Souls." He draws upon the ancient sources of long neglected wisdom from the ancient and medieval church, especially landmark works done by Clebsch and Jaekle (Pastoral care in Historical Perspective), and the work of Thomas C. Oden, among others.

Dr. Senkbeil is perceptive when he notes that "Psychotherapy is effective at ferreting out the truth, but it has no cure for the soul." On the flip side, though, he notes as well that "spiritual care has the cure, but is often inadequate to uncover the truth" (300). He recognizes that there is a role for both disciples in the overall care of the troubled. Thus, he notes with others in this discussion, that "there is room for a friendly partnership between psychology and spiritual care, provided that psychology assumes a servant role within the historic framework of the spiritual care" (288; emphasis added).

One area, not touched on directly here, that needs to be further addressed in this discussion, is the often forgotten and underused area of Private Confession and Absolution. Perhaps this would be a good discussion for a future post.....


sam said...

I'll let you know if that book is required when the books for next quarter get posted. Currently the shelves are empty.

sam said...

I just wanted to let you know that Eyer's book is used in our P-103 Pastor as Counselor course here at the seminary. I went and checked the bookstore shelves this morning.