I consider myself to be a missionary. However, my biggest single role is the administrator of a counseling center. There are forms of counseling that are distinctly evangelistic. But “normal” pastoral care, counseling, and chaplaincy typically works within the “faith context” of the client/patient, and assumes (to a large extent) that the person already has the answer they need inside of themselves.
This comes off as being distinctly in conflict with missions. And perhaps this seeming conflict is quite real. But perhaps before one jumps to final conclusions, analysis of the similarities and differences is valuable.
Similarities between Missions and Pastoral Counseling:
- Both are person focused. That means that both in missions and in pastoral counseling, the primary concern is the well-being of the client/respondent.
- Both are holistic (wholistic). That is, both are (or should be) focused on the whole person— physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.
- Both are interested in correcting bad thinking, bad behavior, and bad relationships.
- Both reach out beyond the confines of the local church and the universal church.
- Both do (or should) be concerned with issues of Love and Justice. This means that morals/ethics are important to both.
- Both share the use of common tools such as religious symbols, rites, prayer, and more (especial in Pastoral Counseling within the context of chaplaincy).
But there are some obvious differences:
- Missions seeks a specific type of spiritual transformation (conversion to Christianity). Pastoral Counseling seeks spiritual transformation generally within the existing faith system of the client.
- Missions seeks a specific type of spirito-social transformation (member of a community of Christian believers). Pastoral Counseling seeks spirito-social transformation within the existing faith community of the client.
- Although both share religious symbols and rites, it is possible that a chaplain/counselor may be expected to use the symbols and rites of the client, not that of the counselor.
<In other words, Pastoral Counseling is not normally involved with proselytization.>
There are some apparent differences that are not differences at all. Particularly, there are a lot of differences in terminology/jargon. Much of this comes from the fact that the modern missions movement and the pastoral care and counseling movement grew up independently of each other as separate sub-cultures of sorts. Different terminology often makes one think that there are differences where there are none. There are also some differences in common theological stands. Missionaries tend to be more conservative in their theology (regardless of religion or denomination) while Pastoral Counselors tend to be more liberal in comparison. However, this is trend, not a necessity.
So are Missions and Pastoral Counseling compatible? I believe looking at the above points, the two are at least 80% compatible. But what about the final 20%? I am not sure I have the complete answer for that. But here are some thoughts.
- For clients within the same faith community as the pastoral counselor, the incompatibility with missions greatly reduces.
- Some missions methodologies start through working in and through the faith/cultural context of the potential respondent. The C4 or C5 models for church growth in a Muslim-dominant culture works within and through many things that are distinctly Muslim in symbol and rite. Another one would be in the area of redemptive analogy, where the myths, rites, symbols, and beliefs of the respondent are used in the missions outreach.
- Some counseling aspects come closer to missions. Part of counseling goes well beyond “finding the truth that is within”. Counselors also seek to reframe to lead to new realizations within mental, emotional, social, and spiritual areas. Since change, growth, and epiphany are all parts of the healthy counseling experience, pastoral counseling is (or can be) in some ways rather similar to missions.
- Pastoral Counseling utilizes non-judgmental dialogue, which breaks down barriers between two people. There is a growing realization that this is also valuable in missions.
Taking these additional points into account, the conflict between Missions and Pastoral Counseling may be reduced to approximately 10%. This 10% is important and should not be ignored. However, many missionaries, mission agencies, and churches reject pastoral counseling in a missions environment because of misconceptions about good mission work and about pastoral counseling.
Am I completely comfortable with my role in both missions and pastoral counseling? No, I still have the tendency to compartmentalize, or drift to one side or the other. I still wonder whether pastoral counseling would become more effective if it placed greater emphasis on conversion. I also still wonder whether missions would ultimately become more effective if it focused more on dialogue, relationship, and wholistic growth rather than on a quick allegiance encounter (statement of faith).
Hopefully a better understanding of each will lead to healthy missions and healthy counseling that both lead to wholistic health and healing of the whole person.