Some years ago, a woman came to me for counseling. Her husband had died suddenly from a rapidly growing cancer, and she was overcome not only with grief but with fear regarding her future. She did not now know who she was or where she was to go. She was beside herself and confused. And so, at her request, I counseled her.
We met almost weekly for six months or so. At the time, I took great pride in my skill as a counselor. I had studied counseling formally. I had spent a year-and-a-half in supervision. And I read in the field constantly. I was pretty good at it, really, and, considering that, since I was a pastor, I didn’t charge anything, I was a pretty good bargain, too.
At the end of our sessions, this woman and I reviewed our conversations. "You helped me," she said. And I replied that I was glad to hear it. "It’s just that..." I could tell she wanted to register a qualification to her praise, a proviso of some sort. There was a "catch" to her gratitude, but she was hesitant to speak of it. "No, no," I said. "I want to hear."
"Well," she continued, "you really did help me work through my grief and my fear, and I have a better grasp on things now. But I thought..."
"Yes?" I said.
"I thought you would use the Bible and pray with me. I guess, since you’re a pastor and all, I thought we would talk more about God."
I was trained at this, so I didn’t show my reaction. But when this woman left, I staggered under the realization that my efforts with her fell far short of the calling of God upon my life. I thought to myself, "She is right. All I gave her was what she could get from any other counselor, and I am, after all, a minister of the Gospel." It was a defining moment for me.
Since that day, I have noticed that I am frequently mindful of some very sobering words that appear in the last chapter of the book of Hebrews. It says there of church leaders -- and that’s what I am; I am a leader in the church, as are many of you. It says of us: "They keep watch over you as [those] who must give an account" (Heb. 13:17). And so, I think about that. I have been entrusted with the care of your souls; I have been charged with preparing you to meet Christ at his appearing. And that is no little thing.
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