Category Archives: relationship

8 Changes I’ve Made as a Church Counselor

counselor working

I was thinking about how my perspectives and behaviors have changed since being a counselor – and specifically a Christian counselor practicing in a church.

Although I do not officially carry the title of pastor, I often am seen this way. It may partially be my age, but it is more likely the “office” which I hold. I have, at different times, been addressed as “Pastor Dave” and ‘Father Dave” (as in a Catholic priest).  It always reminds me that we who work in a church setting carry a responsibility that goes beyond any specific job title. Like it or not, we are held to a higher standard as representatives of our church and more.

  • I stay aware of my visibility in my church and in the local community. I don’t always know who is watching. That means that my “at work” and “off work” behavior must match. That would be a good definition of operating with integrity. I want to be viewed as sober in all of my actions.
  • There are parts of my life that I must keep to myself. All of us hold passionate beliefs about some subjects, but I must be careful about what I express. It is not appropriate for me to share my political viewpoints publicly. It could make some people feel very unsafe and mistrusting. It is the same with social issues that are “hot button” topics.
  • I work hard to be a good listener. That requires listening at a deeper level than I had been used to. I watch more carefully to people’s body language and nuances of speech. I try to understand what the speaker needs from me: a platform to vent, empathy or advice. I must concurrently listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
  • I have to watch every word that comes out of my mouth. I no longer have the luxury of uncensored conversation. People will weigh and judge my words. Because I can be viewed as an authority they often take what I say very seriously. I have had people quote my words back to me many years later.
  • I have stripped my speech of cursing and extreme adjectives. I must be “wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove” in my communicating. I want to be an encourager and build people up in love.
  • My educational focus has changed. I realize that continuing to grow as a counselor requires an ongoing pursuit of relevant knowledge. I must be aware of cutting edge trends as well as solid Biblical counseling principles.
  • I treat social media as if the whole world is reading my posts. The metrics that I get back from this blog show that there are many readers beyond our borders. Automatic language translators make that possible. Hello China, Korea, UK, Russian Federation, Brazil, Ukraine, France, Germany, Spain. Canada and many more.
  • I get to wear jeans and wear a beard to work. Flip-flops are optional.

 

Another Relational Red Flag

redflag

You have been there. You are standing in a customer service line at a local store and the woman at the front of the line is arguing with the store representative. She gets louder and louder and more insistent and belligerent. You cringe. You are embarrassed for her, and you are feeling a lot of empathy for the employee.

I must admit that in the above scenario I always pray that the bully is not a member of our church. In “Christian-speak” we call it “blowing your witness”. That is when your spoken beliefs and your actions do not match. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Christians have been labeled hypocrites – because in this case it is deserved.

In our premarrieds class I call this out as a red flag issue. I will ask the students to evaluate their partners. How do they treat service people, or wait staff in a restaurant? Are they kind and respectful towards them, or do they treat them as if they were lesser people? And why is this important? Eventually you will become the target of their displeasure and you are likely to be treated just as harshly or disrespectfully. Or you will have to stand by, perhaps in a public setting or in front of friends,  thoroughly embarrassed while your beloved is having a temper tantrum.

Yes, there are times when it is appropriate to be assertive. But this does not mean hostile and angry. I have found that the old saying “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” is largely true. Kindness is much more likely to motivate someone to help you get your needs met than rude or arrogant behavior. When I need to deal with a situation where I desire a corrective response I use phrases like: “I noticed that….”, or “I would like to bring something to your attention”, or “ I would like to request that….”.  I usually get good results.

From a Christian standpoint, Jesus suggests that it is better to take the hit, than to insist on getting our way. He never confronted anyone for selfish reasons. Instead he defended the weak; those that were being oppressed or taken advantage of by the religious leaders. Why was he so stern with these Pharisees? They were misrepresenting God to the people.

It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance. Our objective with our Christian brothers and sisters is restoration, not rejection. And our goal with others is to win them over with our love. That can’t be done if we are “pitching a fit”.

Pastor Tim Keller suggests that the solution in marriage (especially) is learning to forgive before confronting. It will change the whole interaction from primarily being a selfish pursuit (wanting only to be heard rather than to restore). Instead of seeking to punish, lecture or condemn, the goal is to connect, to understand and to reconcile.

Red flags mean stop: course correction needed before proceeding.

Romans 12:10 (NIV) Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 

Philippians 2:3-4 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 

Ephesians 4:15 (NLT) Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 

John 13:34-35 (NLT) So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

Meaningful Touch – Is It Safe?

touch

Our church, Christian Assembly in Eagle Rock, California, is known for great teaching, music and hugging. When we are on our game (which is most of the time), you would feel us leaking warmth and connection. It is both intentional and authentic at the same time. Most people welcome this expression of our sincere desire to let everyone who walks through our doors know that they matter.

Nonsexual touch is a wonderful thing. It can be comforting and healing, and for some people particularly, reaches a place in the heart that words alone cannot touch. It can convey love, care, acceptance, and safety. It is necessary in so many of our relationships to create a strong bond. Babies need it to survive and thrive. Husbands and wives keep their love and connection vibrant with affectionate touch.

But there are some for whom physical connection feels threatening. Past experiences have written a different story — one of pain or fear. There are times when this is easier to detect in someone than others. They may back away when approached or become rigid when hugged. You might notice a startle response or a negative overreaction to your overtures.

At our church our staff and leadership teams are trained to be particularly aware of these signs and the need to maintain good boundaries so that we are a safe place for everyone.

When a person has experienced deep trauma, every interaction with new or unfamiliar people may be suspect. “Is this a friend or foe? Are they safe or should I be ready to protect myself?”  Sometimes this is not conscious or intentional, but rather an autonomic response coming from a more primitive part of the brain. This “reactive brain” signals a “flight, fight, or freeze” message to the rest of the body.

What can you do if you sense someone’s resistance to your authentic attempt to reach out to them?

  • First, don’t be offended. If you don’t know them or their back story, you have no basis to understand what might be operating in them at that moment. Unfortunately, sexual and physical abuse is much more prevalent than you might imagine. In many families the people that should have offered love and protection were either inconsistent or victimizers.
  • Second, it is always better to be cautious with touch. Be particularly aware of non-verbal messages and be respectful of another person’s personal space. Even if you think you know someone pretty well, you could still cross an invisible boundary and create an awkward situation.
  • Third, know your own heart. Make sure that your intentions toward another person are pure. Don’t try to get your need met at the expense of another person. Make sure you are not using physical connection to control or manipulate another person. The connection needs to be wanted and reciprocal.

Touch can be powerfully good or powerfully damaging. It is the other person’s interpretation that gives meaning to the exchange. Now, as Dr. Laura would say, “Go and do the right thing.”