People will take everything you have, all the time you’ve got, and all the energy you can spare if you will let them. It will leave you burnt out and you’ll start to hide. Your favorite Scripture becomes: “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” (Ps. 55:6)
But that is not because people are greedy nor are they problematic. It is because they are needy. And if you think about it, that is why we signed up to be pastors and leaders… to help people in need to find Christ’s best!
Often, someone will come to me with a problem that will require counseling. I know, as any pastor might, that ten people with needs can monopolize my week and usurp my energy. So I do, what some may call, referral counseling. It is a five minute assessment, and I usually have another counselor in the room when I do this.
As soon as I understand that it can be handled by this other counselor, I say, “Bill… (or whoever it may be)… Please sit with this counselor and unfold everything you can so he can get a complete understanding or what you are working through. I have the fullest confidence in this counselor not only to help you to resolve this, but that he will keep me abreast of what is taking place with you. Will you do that?”
My hope is that he will say, “Absolutely, Pastor!” That ideal response happens about 80% of the time if you have developed a culture in your church of building up and speaking highly of others whom God has gifted. 15% of the time, the counselee may push back and say, “But you, pastor, are the only one who would really understand!”
At that point, I push back as well, graciously but firmly. “This counselor is well qualified and I have complete trust in him. Plus, it is not me that you need to hear, but rather the voice of the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit lives in him as well as he lives in me. Please sit with him and I know you will hear God.”
Most of the time that suffices. However there is a tenacious few that have been convinced somewhere along the line that unless the pastor does the counseling, it isn’t God ordained.So if this small percentage goes from steadfast to stubborn, I change my stance a bit. I remain gracious but I move from firm to authoritative.
How do you deal with the adamant ones?
Match the person you are dealing with. If they are fragile, you are soft. If they are weak, you are compassionate and kind. If they are cranky, you are firm. If they are stubborn, you put on your shepherd’s mantle, put down the staff and pick up the rod.
All this has to be done in such a way, however, that each person is confident that whatever posture you take, you love them implicitly and that you are genuinely committed to their very best.They must be convinced that you are unswerving in your dedication as their shepherd and pastor, friend and one who will stick by them no mater what. Remember that Jesus died even for the obstinate and adamant ones!
“With the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself astute” (Ps. 18:26).
So here is what I do: When they become cynical or obstinate, I look at them with love and discipline and will address their underlying problem.
“Did you say God had you come here to see me because you had a marriage problem?” (or whatever problem they carry with them at the time).
“That’s right” they may respond.
I then correct them. “I asked you to sit with this counselor and you refuse my counsel. You do not have a marriage problem. You have a submission problem. You cannot submit to my counsel as I have asked of you, and if you cannot do that, I know that whatever subsequent counsel I give will be unheeded as well. Your marriage problem is a symptom of an inner unwillingness to heed anything that doesn’t agree with you. Your struggles will always stalk you until you understand why I am asking you to do this.”
At this point, I become quite directive. I remain gracious, but graciousness is not the same as being passive or inert. Being a pastor requires a measure of confident love… a love that wants the best for the other person, not what’s most comfortable.