One of my disappointments with most of the congregations I’ve been a part of stems from the sharp break that occurs in the minds of people one second after a worship service concludes. During a service our hearts, minds, and souls are directed to the worship of God. It is a glorious time of renewal, confession, faith, celebration, mourning, hope, peace, longing, joy—really all the emotions that characterize the spiritual life of the Christian. But it seems that within a finger snap the mood of the congregation and nearly every individual switches into what I call Happy Hour mode. Conversations and weekly reunions commence without a view to what we just learned and experienced during the last hour. I’ve always longed for my church family to use the time after the benediction to speak to one another in the Spirit. After all, many of these people I only see once a week. How are we to ever grow close if we don’t open up to each other in order to minister and in turn be ministered to?
Powlison’s essay is about how most Christian counseling is built upon an Arminian mindset at best and a secular mindset at worst, and how faithful and practical biblical counseling built upon practical Calvinism could return to our churches. I think his assessment that biblical counseling (according to the Bible) should be public (the preaching of the Word), private (a meaningful personal devotional life), and interpersonal (the body conversationally ministering to each other) is astute and practical. In his essay, it is the interpersonal aspect of counseling that he emphasizes because (1) it is lacking in our congregational life, and (2) the Bible places particular emphasis on the body counseling the body. Perhaps he presses the point too much when he says “public ministry (preaching, teaching, worship, Lord’s supper, modeling [he couldn’t mean fashion modeling in church, could he? Ha!]) gives hearers generally applicable truths applied to somebody else’s specifics” (p. 499). My experience is that when preaching is done well and when the Spirit applies the preached word to my heart, the preacher’s message becomes profoundly personal, almost as if the message was meant for me alone. Ideally this is how all listeners should hear the sermon, as opposed to when we deflect the message by thinking “I hope so-and-so is listening right now—he really needs this message.” But Powlison hits the nail on the head when he identifies interpersonal ministry as a vital ingredient of counseling that is sorely lacking in our congregations. Could it be that so many drop out of our church life to church-hop (or worse, to drop out for good) because they are searching for meaningful, interpersonal ministry?
I will certainly try to engage in interpersonal acts of ministry after the worship service is done, during the week by being intentional with friendships, family, small groups, etc, and will strive to make this aspect of counseling integral in my future ministry if I am called to pastor a congregation.