Elders as Counselors--
The Most Important Thing to Remember in Marriage Counseling
Part of what you will do as a church leader--and particularly as an elder--is to counsel people. They will come to you--you will not have to go to them. They will seek help, but they seek to have the help given to them in the gentlest of ways. They hope for an ideal blend of realistic help and gentle manners in the personality of the elder.
If at all possible, have your wife present for any extended conversations with women who say that they need to talk with you about their marriages. Where it's not possible, have the door to your office open the whole time, at least, in an environment with a lot of passers-by.
Libraries have been written about how to do counseling effectively. Even if I had credentials as a professional counselor and "knew it all," I couldn't write it all down here; that's what graduate schools are for. But what the woman (usual case) or man (less likely) who comes to you for marital counseling is hoping--hoping with all her might--is that you will concentrate on being her brother in the Lord. If you can just remember that your role is to be an older brother in the Lord and not anyone else, it is not likely that either she or you will be any the worse for the experience.
If you are being her brother in the Lord, as she describes her situation and pours out her tale of woe, scriptures will pop into your mind. "I need to give her Genesis 2: 24 first; follow with I Peter 3: 7 next in her situation; then Ephesians 5: 21 and following; I remember a research study on this topic from my reading recently." If those are the kinds of thoughts that are popping into your head as this Christian sister is telling about the difficulties she and her husband are having, this will turn out okay. You will be able to remain her brother in the Lord and be of immeasurable help to a struggling marriage. And the things you tell her will not be things you will have to be ashamed of when she someday reveals her visit to her husband and talks about what you said.
If what you are experiencing as your sister in the Lord is describing the situation is "pretty hair, nice makeup, beautiful eyes, and feminine figure," you are not the elder she needs to be talking to. Thank goodness for God's design that elderships be constituted of multiple men! Shuffle her off to another elder who may be able to be more objective about the situation. The last thing your sister or her husband need is for you as an elder to be "drawn offsides" by the feminine features of your counselee. If her husband has any idea that his wife is going to someone for marriage counseling, he will be hoping that the counselor (that would be you) will be (1) Godly (2) fair (3) will suggest things that he will have the capability of doing (4) unwilling to take advantage of the situation. Someone in this counseling situation (that again must be you!) has to keep his head on straight and apply the scriptures in ways that fit their particular situation. Satan lurks. "We are not ignorant of his devices"--II Corinthians 11:14.
The wife will reveal her husband's particular weaknesses as she visits with you. If you refuse to pounce on those, but rather to hold up her husband as a good Christian man who may be having some difficulty focusing on certain things, you may soon be able to counsel with both of them and bring them back together. The joy you will feel from letting the Lord work through you in those ways is indescribable. It is absolutely beyond words. It will make you glad you are an elder.
Books that have been useful in preparing these lessons include:
Anderson, L. (1993). They smell like sheep. West Monroe, Louisiana: Howard Publishing.
Gangel, K. O. (1984). So you want to be a leader! Camp Hill, Pennsylvania: Christian Publications.
Grimsley, R. W. (1964). The Church and its elders. Abilene, Texas: Quality Printing Company.
Lewis, J. P. (1985). Leadership questions confronting the church. Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate.
Lewis, J. P. (2008). The question of instrumental music in worship. Searcy, AR: Truth for Today World Mission School.
Sanders, J. O. (1989). Spiritual leadership. Chicago, Ill: Moody Press.
Strauch, A. (1991). A study guide to biblical eldership: An urgent call to restore Biblical church leadership. Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers.
White, J., & Blue, K. (1985). Church discipline that heals: Putting costly love into action. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press.
Yeakley, F. R. jr. (1980). Church leadership and organization. Arvada, CO: Christian Communications.
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