Dangers of Counseling!

Standing in the court, the man heard the judge pronounce a sentence of twelve years hard time in a penitentiary. The world collapsed around the man and his family as the harsh realities of the unknown future were only just beginning to manifest themselves in ways that would seem like a horror movie.

Sadly, the man hearing the sentence was none other than Jack Schaap, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana and the president of Hyles-Anderson College. Schaap was guilty of many sins against God, but the crime that brought him, his family, and his ministry into disgrace was transporting a young girl across state lines with the purpose of having sexual relations with her. Some would claim that his problems started by counseling the girl by himself, but the reality is that the problems started long before that.

What is even sadder than Schaap’s downfall is that the breaking of marriage vows and illicit sexual relationships have been a thorn in the side of the ministries founded by Jack Hyles. Hyles, Jack Schaap’s father-in-law, will long be remembered as a man of similar passions in that he was accused of failing to keep his own vows, yet was permitted to remain as both pastor and president of one of the largest Baptist churches and Bible schools in the world.

My heart is sad for what this man and his family will have to go through over the years to come. I am also sad for the young girl who was duped into believing that her pastor was looking out for her best interests in providing many counseling sessions. While I am not going to dissect his ministry, there are a few lessons that must be present or we will find this kind of crime an on-going issue within our churches.

Could this have been prevented? Yes, most definitely! Will this be the last event of this type to bring disgrace into the churches? Sadly, no, it will not be. The way in which this can be prevented and the reasons for why this disgrace will continue is what I wish to address.

Charles Spurgeon, pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London during the late 1800’s, commented to the men that he trained that there were two areas which would quickly bring a preacher to ruin – money and women.

This great advice has probably been reiterated by many men down through the years and is still being taught in several Bible colleges in Counseling 101 and/or Pastoral Theology classes. The problem though is that pastors often forget what they have been taught or they choose to ignore what they were taught because they think they are above the problems facing other pastors who have fallen into sin. They believe they are strong enough to withstand temptations.

Let me attempt to provide a little advice about the dangers of counseling that I have been taught and I pray will keep each of us from falling. I know that such a fall can only be prevented by the aid and strength of the Holy Spirit, but it would behoove each of us to be watchful in humility before God. Pride often can get in the way, and we do not take heed, we will fall.

Pastors, elders, and leaders, I humbly implore each of us to remember the dangers of ministry, especially in the realm of counseling. There is nothing better the evil one would like than to see each leader in local churches collapse in sin and bring dishonor to themselves, their families and the church. I am so sad to see the decline of the church today and I am convinced that much of our current state could be averted if church leaders were being more careful in how they interact with the brothers and sisters in their congregations when it comes to counseling.

First, while we are not going to dwell on this aspect of counseling at this point, we must ensure that all counseling must begin, continue, and end with the Word of God.

Counseling that is based on the latest worldly perspectives, the teachings of Freud, Skinner, James Dobson, etc., or based on any other style that is not centered completely on the Scriptures is wrong and should be considered as unacceptable to any true believer, and its usage should be shunned by all leaders within each local church.

Second, we must remember that there are pitfalls to be avoided. This one cannot be stressed enough. DO NOT COUNSEL ALONE! I remember my Dad teaching his first class to men desiring to be in the ministry. In that class, he reiterated this and it was a principle that I have watched him live by for over 30 years of ministry.

Leaders, we have NO business counseling a young person or a woman without another elder or our wife present with us. There is nothing that can be said, or that needs to be said, in a counseling session that should remain hidden from either our spouse or from another fellow elder. If a person insists that they want to counsel with us alone, my recommendation would be to remind them of your rules and your number one priority – to glorify God in all things. For us to glorify God, we must keep from any possible means of reproach. If they still insist, then I would have good reason to think that they are not coming to you for the right reasons.

Further, one of the reasons this pastor in Indiana fell is because he failed to be accountable to other elders and because his church failed to ensure that he was not a law unto himself. Had he placed himself under the care of godly men just as he demanded from others, I cannot help but wonder whether he would be home tonight with his wife and family instead of counting hours in fear in a windowless cell with a door made of steel bars.

Men, we have NO business allowing our spouses to be counseled by another man without being present with her. If my wife and I need to be counseled, then we should be sitting down together to address our sin and failures. When this is done, we move forward. However, the dangers facing a married couple are HUGE and can often prove to be disastrous if we seek to relegate our God-given responsibilities to somebody whom God has not ordained to be the spiritual leader to our wife or our children. Husbands, we are failing in our vows when we give the care of our wife’s heart into the care of another man. If you have no problem with such an event, then you should not be surprised if immorality is the end result. Even if immorality does not take place, we are still responsible before God to protect her from harm.

Ladies, with due respect, I love my wife too much not to have firewalls in place when I am seeking to give counsel or when somebody is coming to me for counsel. I struggle with enough problems not to face the reality that failure is only a few missteps away at any time. There is nothing that you can say that requires me to have a vow of silence between my wife and I. There is nothing you need to say and nothing that I need to hear that would require me to spend time alone with a woman that is not my wife.

Parents, we are acting in a foolish manner if we are permitting our young children to be counseled by anybody in a private situation where they are alone with the counselor. It is our responsibility to care for them as a gift from God for only a short time.

Had the parents of the young lady in the sordid tale from Hammond, Indiana, been more observant and taken their responsibility more seriously to protect their daughter, she would never have been alone with her pastor! While the pastor was wrong, so were they for allowing the situation to get out of hand. Their daughter lost her purity and is scarred for life because their pastor failed to be a man of integrity and because they blindly put their trust in a man who was human. He was lifted up to a status to which no minister should ever be raised.

I realize that some may think this is harsh, but this is a harsh world in which we live. We are responsible first and foremost to our Lord to hold fast our testimony. We will fail to keep that testimony if we do not protect our hearts and our minds from the dangers that are constantly pressing in upon us. Husbands, it is our duty to disciple our families. If more were doing this according to Biblical patterns, there would be far less need to go to “counselors.”

This warning is not meant to paint all counselors with the same brush. It is my desire that it be an encouragement to us as we pursue the way of the Master in an area of our lives that we have fallen prey to the idea that counseling is a paid profession and that it is to be done in a secretive manner that can be detrimental (and often has been) to the bonds that unite husbands and wives, and also to the bonds that help bring parents and children together.

Lord willing, I intend on sharing more thoughts on counseling in the near future. My prayer is that this will prove helpful to our readers.

9 thoughts on “Dangers of Counseling!

  1. Mark, a very well written blog. you raised many good points about pastors and leaders and their need to be aware of their own weaknesses and their need for accountibility before others. No Christian man who is fulfilling his role as a counselor should ever be placed in a position of counselling a woman by himself. That’s only asking for trouble. He may be one of the most respected, strongest, and godly leaders within a Church, but he is still a man who is vulnerable to the temptations that an attraction woman may pose to him, as well as a potential threat to his marriage. May God raise up wise leaders who see their need of God and their need for being accountable to others. May they have a true understanding of their vulnerabilities and take action to protect themselves from very costly failures that Jack Schaap fell prey to.

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  2. Proverbs 6:32, Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding, he who does so destroys his own soul.

    33:, Wounds and dishonor he will get and his reproach will not be wiped away.

    Glaringly disturbing. This man has not only destroyed his own life, but his family, church etc, have to live with what has taken place.

    God’s name is dishonoured, yet again, and the church has to live with it.

    Where is the real fear of God in this day and age? You have to ask, if people really feared God, trusted His word, would things like this happen?

    Then you remember 1 Corinthians 5, where sexual immorality is mentioned.

    Maybe, if we remember that God is watching us, and that we have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ, would sin be the attraction to us that it is?

    God knows.

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  3. Mark, an excellent article. I would add that, EVEN IF I AM NOT TEMPTED, the safeguards you describe are essential. Why?

    1. By establishing the pattern, the safeguards are in place for the situations when temptation might be present.
    2. It protects my reputation and the reputation of the person I counsel. This is vital (I Timothy 3:7).
    3. The less people HAVE to trust you, the more they WILL trust you in those situations where they have to do so. By establishing safeguards and holding to them strictly, you demonstrate your commitment to prudence and purity. You make it so it is very rare that they have to trust you, and so give them confidence in those rare situations. The people who are always creating situations where we have to trust them are the ones I’m hesitant to trust.

    The Schaap tragedy has many components, and I suspect there are things we don’t know, and don’t need to know. The lack of safeguards flowed out of a culture established by Hyles that I call “Man of God Syndrome.” (I wrote about this syndrome, http://mindrenewers.com/2013/03/08/no-imperial-ministers/). Though there were many other problems at the church, the greatest problem was the exaltation of a man. Hyles was exalted, unrebukable, “you must not touch the Lord’s anointed,” etc, etc. When he died, they treated Schaap just the same.

    I am thankful the church apparently did not try to cover this up, that they removed him from the pulpit and went to the police even when it was not yet evident that laws had been broken. Not a church I would endorse, but they seem to have mostly done well in this regard.

    Warning: mentioning Hyles or Schaap in a blog post can tend to draw a lot of emotional and off-topic comments. 🙂

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  4. Another pitfall to watch out for is counseling or conversations with the opposite sex via social media and/or e-mail. I imagine many illicit relationships today either start online, or are fed via online interractions. Your thoughts in this area Mark would be appreciated.

    p.s. very good article and sage advice.

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  5. Good stuff! What a good warning. Preachers can’t be reminded too much of the danger of temptation in counseling. Guard rails and personal sanctification is so important!

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  6. I may disagree with Johnny Hunt’s Arminian theology, but when I and some other fellows went to a men’s conference he was adamant in stressing the importance of men not counseling women alone. He told the story of, I believe, George McDonald (correct me if I’m wrong), a great man of God, who himself fell into this same snare. How dare any of us think ourselves strong enough to never succumb to temptation as so many have.

    The most grievous thing about this story, even more than the harm done to the man, his ministry, his family, is the damage done to the name of our Lord, even as God was most wroth with David because his sin gave occasion for the enemies of YHVH to blaspheme.

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