Note: This article has been condensed from Guiding Principles for the Biblical Counselor by Debi Pryde (pages 11-14). Reprinted by permission from the author.
by Debi Pryde
My grandmother firmly believed that the modern practice of men’s counseling women was leading to an epidemic of good pastors becoming vulnerable to both physical and emotional adultery. Years ago, I thought she was exaggerating the issue, so I never really took what she said too seriously. Today, I think she was wise to something that is, indeed, proving to be extremely dangerous to both men and women.
People often expect their pastors to perform services that frankly men should not have to provide. Sometimes pastors themselves wrongly believe God has commanded them to provide these services to women. Most are well-meaning, good men who have assumed this kind of one-on-one work is part of being a good shepherd to the flock God has given to them. Others belligerently assume this responsibility without a healthy fear of their own vulnerability and without regard for what is truly in the best interests of trusting women who need more than a few words of help and encouragement. We have forgotten that God has made a provision for women counseling women. The provision is the ministry of mature Christian women who are qualified by virtue of their experience and testimony of faithfulness to the Word over a period of years.
In Micah 6:4, God said to Israel, “I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and … I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam” (KJV, emphasis added). God tells us it was He who sent Moses and Aaron—but notice that He also sent Miriam! God did not give Miriam equal authority with Moses, nor was she given the responsibility to rule or preach to Israel. What then was her function? Personally, I believe God gave Miriam the ministry of teaching, counseling, and leading the women to practice godly principles of womanhood as well as to observe the very intimate details of the ceremonial laws pertaining to women. God used the ministry of Anna, who prophesied the birth of Jesus; the ministry of Lydia, who gathered women together to pray; the ministry of Dorcus, who compassionately met the needs of poor widows; and He continues to use countless other women who have had hearts for the Lord and burdens for others. In heaven, their successes and failures are measured not by their popularity or the size of their ministries but by their obedience or disobedience to what God instructed them to teach and to whom God called them.
In Titus 2:4-5, Paul instructed Pastor Titus to assign the responsibility of teaching and counseling the younger Christian women to the older and more spiritually mature women. God never commanded women to preach or to teach the Bible in the same way the pastor is to do. That was not Miriam’s, Lydia’s, or Dorcus’ function. Nor should it to be that of Christian women today. Rather, older, more mature women are commanded to teach, to counsel, and to encourage the younger to apply biblical principles in their personal lives and, in particular, to their responsibilities in the home. God has a specific ministry for all mature Christian women and specific topics vital to Christian womanhood they should teach to younger Christian women in particular. For the most part, the Scriptures indicate that this counseling ministry should be one-on-one, but certainly it includes teaching groups of women who meet together for encouragement and instruction.
Years ago, mature Christian women fulfilled an important function in the church body—they provided wise counsel and godly instruction to other women. According to my godly grandmother, who is now with the Lord, a pastor did not commonly counsel a woman on a long-term basis without her husband present. For a woman to confide the details of her personal life to a man would have been considered improper. Therefore, in matters that pertained to women, she would have sought the counsel of another woman in the church who had a reputation for wisdom and godliness. Pastoral counseling with only the pastor and the female counselee behind a closed door was uncommon until psychologists and therapists made the practice acceptable. Women today have been so conditioned to accept the psychologist/counselee model that they no longer question the propriety or consider the dangers of confiding highly personal information to a man in private. I had never thought much about the dangers myself until I became involved in women’s counseling and saw the dangers of this one-on-one arrangement firsthand. I believe we need to reexamine what we’re doing in relation to women’s counseling needs and to rethink the way our women are routinely counseled.
After becoming involved in a teaching/counseling ministry several years ago, I became concerned about the wisdom of men’s hearing the kind of information women routinely seek from a counselor. I honestly couldn’t imagine a man’s hearing what I was hearing, let alone offering the kind of personal advice and direction women often need. Still, there didn’t seem to be a better alternative, so I dismissed my concerns. After all, I reasoned, most women do not even know a female counselor they could confidently confide in, let alone one who could skillfully apply Scripture and practical knowledge to her needs. Over the years, however, I continued to talk with women and to become more concerned about what I was hearing. I talked to pastors’ wives who were heartbroken after discovering their husbands had become sexually involved with counselees. I talked to young women who were confused by a pastor’s affection. I talked to other women who were guilt- ridden about sexual involvement with their counselors or who were fantasizing about their doctors. It was then that I remembered my dear grandmother saying, “These preachers are asking for a heap of trouble counseling women alone in their offices.”
As a women’s counselor, I know that emotional intimacy is the doorway through which even a good woman becomes attached to and sexually aroused by a man. I also know that even godly men are aroused by the intimate descriptions and helplessness of female counselees. So why do we ignore all the warning signs and disregard the biblical provision God has given to meet women’s counseling needs? And why do we make ourselves vulnerable to all kinds of unnecessary temptations? What man or woman who became emotionally or sexually entangled through counseling with the opposite sex ever thought the situation was dangerous before the entrapment? What’s so distasteful about requiring a woman’s husband or the counselor’s wife to be present if her counselor is a man? And what’s wrong with making it an honor for women to grow older and more spiritually mature so they can be useful in a counseling ministry to women and thereby relieve godly pastors of this task?
I believe we are reaping the results of neglecting to encourage and to train mature Christian women to fulfill their God-given ministry to younger women. This failure has led not only to the acceptance of a man’s counseling a woman but also to unscriptural relationships that have opened the door to immoral behavior. The legitimate ministry God has given to spiritually qualified Christian women, who have godly marriages and faithful children, has been rendered obsolete. Christian women without right recourse are increasingly resorting to women’s programs, Bible studies, and self-help books that are laced with pop psychology. In an effort to hear women address their needs and to give biblical solutions, these needy women are often turning to psychologists and Christian radio broadcasts that offer a confusing mixture of Christianized psychology. Tragically, this confusion and lack of discernment are leading women and their families away from the sufficiency of God’s Word and not toward confidence in Christ!
For all the information out there on everything from exercise to sexual dysfunction, women lack the instruction and counsel that truly relies on the wisdom of God’s Word. The Scriptures say, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). Our young women are too often floundering spiritually and destroyed for lack of knowledge—not for want of experts or even preaching but for want of the application of Scripture to their specific problems. Though we have a plethora of Christian books offering solutions, the ability to apply the Scriptures to life’s problems is scarce. Young women need mature, godly mentors they can go to for counsel when their problems require help to solve. It’s no wonder they secretly turn to the world’s psychologists as often as they do. If a modest woman is uncomfortable going to her pastor or if a godly pastor sees the addressing of a woman’s personal issues as being improper, to whom do they turn for help?
We desperately need older women in our local churches who are mature in their spiritual walk and who can provide biblical instruction for younger women. We need older women who can counsel and teach women, helping to equip them to build godly marriages and families. Sadly, however, the older ladies are often no more skillful in the Word than the younger women are. Some women have “retired” from church work and are no longer faithful in their local churches. Others quietly go to church and are never encouraged to assume a teaching or counseling ministry to younger women, even though they are well-qualified and spiritually gifted. Instead of using faithful and mature Christian women to counsel and teach, churches often use younger women who have not yet raised their families or acquired experience and skill in Scripture application. Still others have merely resorted to providing women’s craft classes, exercise clubs, or fellowship with no spiritual instruction at all.
Christian women can find craft classes and exercise programs outside their local churches, but the world cannot possibly give them help for the true needs of the heart! The local church alone has the responsibility and ability to fulfill their women’s need for encouragement and biblical guidance in their daily living. This ministry is all the more crucial in light of the fact that society is relentlessly undermining the biblical structure of the home and discouraging women from placing a high priority on their spiritual well-being, on mothering, and on home-building. Many thriving, exciting, and popular women’s ministries are built on what women want and on what they think is important rather than on what God has commanded women to teach and to do. Just as Saul attempted to do God’s work apart from God’s plan, thinking God would be pleased, so many of us are trying to please God on our terms rather than on His. Like Saul, we tend to focus on the results of our efforts while God focuses on obedience, faith, and faithfulness born out of a desire to love and to please Him. How often we sacrifice what is right for what is good!
God says in Micah 6:4, “I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.” Miriam made a grave mistake in assuming God gave her equal authority with Moses, and in so doing she sinned and marred her influence and ministry. But God called and prepared Miriam for a specific ministry among women, just as He called and used Dorcus and Lydia. My heart’s prayer is that more pastors will consider training qualified women to take over a portion of the pastor’s work with ladies—women who are willing to work under a pastor’s authority and direction and who are willing to learn the skills to counsel women effectively. I sincerely believe it would be a blessing to godly pastors, a blessing to the women whose gifts would be used, and a blessing to needy women who would benefit from a female counselor. This arrangement might also begin a new trend that would protect many good men and women from the destructions of adultery.
|Debi Pryde has taught ladies’ Bible classes and spoken at retreats and seminars for the past 30 years. A certified biblical counselor, she is particularly burdened for women and for the problems they face in today’s world. She has published a variety of Bible studies and books, including Secrets of a Happy Heart, Happily Married, and Precept Upon Precept. She and her husband, Tom, are active members at Lighthouse Baptist Church (La Verne, CA). You can read more about Debi, about her ministry, and about her rose garden by visiting her website.|