An inner resolve began forming within me: I was not going to wait to be asked anymore. In the secularizing times in which I am living, God is not taken seriously. God is peripheral. God is nice (or maybe not so nice) but not at the center. When people want help with their parents or children or emotions, they do not ordinarily see themselves as wanting help with God. But if I am going to stay true to my vocation as a pastor, I can’t let the “market” determine what I do. I will find ways to pray with and for people and teach them to pray, usually quietly and often subversively when they don’t know I am doing it. But I’m not going to wait to be asked. I am a pastor.
– Eugene Peterson, The Pastor, p.142
Peterson recalls how a local psychiatrist called together the pastors in his county to spend Tuesdays learning about counseling and diagnosing a host of mental and emotional issues. The point was not to train the pastors as professional counselors, but to assist them in identifying issues that could be referred to mental health professionals in times of need.
What he discovered was that the temptation grew to view the people of his congregation as problems to be solved, rather than souls for whom Christ died. Not that it was bad to help people in need, of course – far from it – but he had to remember that his primary vocation and calling was as a pastor, a shepherd of souls. Rather then focus his efforts on mental health counseling, as appealing as the idea was and is, he had to stay true to his calling to guide people of the Resurrected Christ toward life as God’s people.
This kind of life has far more to do with spiritual discipline and living, with prayer and holy living, than it does with the diagnosis and cure of mental and emotional issues. I do not take lightly what lessons I learned in my pastoral counseling course. Nor do I take lightly that pastors are often the first point of contact and first line of defense for people who need help. That said, this chapter provides needed focus to understand that I am primarily a pastor, not a mental health professional. My role is to be present, to listen, to pray, and to teach people to live in dependence upon God as disciples of Jesus. The times will come when people seek counsel, but I must take care to discern what my role will be. Of course I will help when I can do so with compassion and competence, but it is a good reminder that a pastor should be a pastor, a doctor should be a doctor, a counselor should be a counselor, etc.
Know your calling and vocation, and live it. Do not attempt to live the calling and vocation of another.