The pastor who counsels, as he enters the pulpit, has a stomach of steel. He is rock-ribbed. He is used to looking across his desk, squarely into the eyes of his straying sheep, and pleading with them to return. He is accustomed to presenting biblical truth to the religiously-proud and challenging them on whether or not they have been born again. At the same time, he has passed countless boxes of Kleenex across his desk to the broken, convicted, weak, despairing, ashamed, helpless, and hopeless.
For those who have given their lives in service to Christ by laboring in the fields of pastoral ministry, the collective words of the Twelve—“we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4)—have been engraved upon our hearts and our minds. While our apostolic charge to be devoted to prayer is largely self-explanatory (1 Thess. 5:17), the parallel instruction to be dedicated to the “ministry of the word” has additional nuance and texture. This is so because the “ministry of the word” spoken of in Acts 6:4 has multiple dimensions, including, among other things, the devotional intake of the Word, the focused study of the Word, the discipleship-oriented (oftentimes one-on-one) communication of the Word, the didactic teaching of the Word, and the pulpit-based preaching of the Word.
The purpose of this article (the first in a two-part series) is to dispel the notion that there is (or ought to be) a distance between two specific aspects of the ministry of the Word: the counseling of the Word and preaching of the Word. There are men in the pastorate whose ministries tilt more in the direction of counseling than preaching (and vice versa). But far from being distinct or competing aspects of the pastor’s principal charge to minister God’s Word as he shepherds the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:2), the counseling and preaching of the Word are (or should be) close cousins in any Bible-centric ministry. This article will take the position that the pastor who is personally invested in counseling God’s people with God’s Word can expect to see increased effectiveness in his role as a preacher of God’s Word. The case will be built upon five areas in which a pastor’s counseling ministry will inevitably strengthen his preaching ministry.
Counseling Cultivates a Shepherd’s Heart
As a pastor personally counsels his flock with the Word, the Holy Spirit will progressively plow through the remaining stony soil in his own heart, while also cultivating his shepherd’s heart. When he reads theological gems such as Stephen Charnock’s seventeenth-century classic The Existence and Attributes of God, he not only can intellectually process, but can pastorally confirm, such truths as these:
all sin is found in secret atheism. … Every sin is a kind of cursing God in the heart; an aim at the destruction of the being of God. … A man in every sin aims to set up his own will as his rule, and his own glory at the end of his actions.
The pastor who is regularly engaged in counseling has seen such “secret atheism” enthroned in the hearts of countless counselees as they harbor secret sins.