Church Therapy is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes as I write this blog each and every week, I think to myself, “Wow, I am making this sound so easy…” And it isn’t. There are reasons some people do not want to try this model of Christian counseling. So I’m just going to be honest with you — Church Therapy can be hard on a counselor. Being in the role of therapist in the midst of a church community is tough in ways that most other therapists do not experience (except perhaps those who work in a small town and serve that community). Pastors may experience the weight of their vocation at times in similar ways, but there is something much deeper and more complicated when the inner work of therapy is involved.
I have wanted to quit on a few different occasions. At times when I felt blamed for people’s problems, or at times when I was “fired” by someone in the church. I have been treated badly in some of these moments, sometimes by people who needed my help even though they no longer wanted it. A church therapist must be in a state of constant surrender to the process, to the other person’s autonomy, and to God as the one who owns every aspect of this ministry.
Every time I have considered quitting, I have looked at the specific roadblocks that were getting in my way. Every single time they were things like pride, ego, selfishness, unforgiveness or anger. In the end, I have not quit (and at times become more determined than ever in my calling) because all of my obstacles have been things I no longer want. In all my moments of hardship, the Holy Spirit was busy rooting out character defects in me. And so I have remained a church therapist because it produces spiritual fruit, both in my life and in my clients’ lives. But I would be lying if I did not admit that this process can be deeply painful as much as it is rewarding.
Doing the Church Therapy model well means loving deeper. If I were in private practice, I would not have to face the person who just left me an attacking message the next time I show up at church. I could be done with the people who refuse my help. I could keep my personal life and my professional life and my spiritual life all in nice neat boxes like everyone else seems to get to do. And some say that is a better model. But in the end, I don’t want that life nor do I think it benefits the counselor or the client in the long-run. Through the Church Therapy model, I am forced to deal with my own pain and my own shortcomings. I cannot run away when it might seem easier. I must love deeper than I have ever loved, even when it is not returned. In doing so, I am refined.