It is interesting to me the number of people who share that they were hesitant, at least initially, to come to a “Christian” counselor, especially a pastor. Why? Because their experience or perception is that they will be judged for certain behaviors or thoughts.
Sadly, that perception is often true in the world of Christians. The majority of the Christian world, including most pastors, operates in the arena of “sin management” which is very focused on what a person does (“Do this and don’t do that!”) instead of who a person is in Christ.
I will have to admit, a sin management strategy is tempting – it would really shorten the length of ministry sessions. A person would come to the office, share about their hindering behaviors and distracting thoughts, and I would simply tell them, “Stop it!” Bob Newhart did a hilarious sketch on TV years ago about this; I have included the link so you can see what ministry sessions could look like. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw
However, while not blind to unhealthy or sinful behaviors, grace centered ministry focuses more on creating deeper intimacy with Jesus by emphasizing a person’s true identity (based on the finished work of Christ) and resolving the things that hinder a fuller, more complete relationship with God. Simply telling a person to “Stop it!” may result in guilty compliance but it does nothing to change the heart and the motivations that drive choices. Make no mistake; grace centered ministry does not ignore sinful behavior. But instead of making a declaration, it asks three questions.
For example, when I am doing premarital counseling I ask the couple directly if they are having sex. Most couples are honest and tell me yes – and it is tempting to tell them, “Stop it!” However, the moment those words leave my mouth they would be heard as, “Pastor Jim says we should stop it” and would be received as condemnation (plus, who cares what a fuddy duddy old man says!).
Instead, I read two scriptures:
- So whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Corinthians 10:31
- And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17
Then ask three questions:
- How does this behavior glorify God?
- Do you do this behavior in the name of the Lord Jesus?
- How does this behavior improve your relationship with God?
While much less dramatic, for a Christian those three questions have much more impact than “Stop it!”