Voices Break Silence.

Whispering. Roaring. Unwavering.

[Un]Helpful

I wrote in that newsletter post that my pastor said he needed to know everything about my caregiving case, and that he would not simply trust my perspective. But what I didn’t mention was that our discussion eventually morphed into something more personal. It shifted to him suggesting he counsel me. When I balked at the idea he asked, “Ann Maree, what other man is speaking into your life?” I remember feeling my stomach drop. I think my answer was really a question; “like, besides my husband?” I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea I needed another man speaking into my life. I remember telling him I wasn’t comfortable being counseled by a man (I’m still not). I had horrible counsel from a male counselor in the past and I didn’t ever want that experience again.

Flee or appease are my go-to responses. But appease was not going to be an option this time because I knew I would never feel comfortable meeting alone with that pastor again. So, I fled. Literally. For a whole week I holed up in a condo by myself, fasted, and prayed. I was in fear of losing my church community, having to give up work in ministry, or worse; losing my husband.[1] I spent the week desperately seeking the Lord for His direction.

There’s yet another fault line in the role of male authoritarianism as it relates to woman-to-woman care. I think the question we next need to carefully consider is, if ordained[2] men are primarily responsible for shepherding care that happens in the church, what makes them qualified? If caregiving is under their authority, what kind of coursework have they done to prepare?

Left Brain Counseling

In my first go-round in seminary my degree was an MDiv with a biblical counseling emphasis. The school had a fledgling biblical counseling program, and it made sense for me to devote my electives toward a future of providing one-on-one care. The emphasis amounted to about 30 hours of classwork. My male MDiv classmates with aspirations toward ordination had only one required course in one another care, “Intro to Christian Counseling.” I was disappointed to watch many of them do other classwork (or worse, surf the internet) during the counseling prof’s lectures.

The only class on anthropology for an MDiv was tucked away in a Systematics 1 course. We briefly studied man as he was in his original state, in his state of sin, and in his state of salvation during a portion of one class period.

It was in my doctoral program I finally had a class devoted to anthropology. Nine years of school and only one opportunity to learn about the “prophet who explains God and proclaims all His excellencies.”[3]

What might be the thinking behind seminaries training people helpers in only one (theological) direction?

At the beginning of the modern biblical counseling movement, Jay Adams wrote a book to pastors called Competent to Counsel. In the Introduction, Adams wrote that, early in his ministry, he was approached by a church member in need of care and he had no idea what to do. Adams openly admitted this lack of counseling training in our seminaries. But his encouragement to pastors regarding their competency was that many, if not all, human mental conditions are a result of sin,[4] therefore the most natural “physician” is a pastor. Theological training is consequently sufficient for providing care.

Ok. Why am I boring you with seminary education details? Well, let’s break it down and then apply it to a woman’s care.

Seminarians learn systematics, doctrine, languages, ethics, and interpretation. We learn what a church is, what a church does, and how to preach. There are lessons about other religions (Islam, for example), philosophy, ethics, church governance, and church discipline. We walk through each book of the Bible, learn about sanctification, history of Christianity, missions, covenants, and apologetics. We learn that humans are fallen sinners. We are tested on the Confessions. In one, 2-credit hour counseling course we come to understand God uses His people to care for one another and what the differences are between counsel in society vs. counsel in the church.

Men who pursue a pastoral profession then seek ordination. What this means is they commit to the sufficiency of Scripture, the Confessions of Faith, the Catechisms of the church, and the form of government in their denomination. Pastors are accountable to “the brethren,” called to glorify God and the Gospel of His Son, committed to the peace and purity of the church, promise to exemplify piety, and rely on God for strength to perform their duty.

If you’re still trekking with me (and God bless you if you are), you’ll notice seminarians don’t learn a whole lot about people other than their sin/salvation/sanctification. I’m not saying this is unimportant. There are many ways to pastorally care for sinners, encourage saints, and provide the balm of God’s Word when people suffer. In fact, theological training is imperative if we are to properly handle the word and carefully apply it to God’s saints. This is one way we faithfully fulfill the great commission. In a sense we can also say this is how we faithfully fulfill the greatest commandment; rightly handling the Word is loving the Lord by faithful obedience to His (not our) instructions for the good of His people.

But equally important is to faithfully interpret God’s people. The two go hand in hand (Matt. 22:37-40). A study in humanities is not antithetical to loving God, relying on His Word, and counseling people accordingly. Yet, learning more about how to exegete a person is the void in seminary training.

Much to my regret, this approach is also how I—as the person in charge of training female caregivers at my church—developed the shepherdess curriculum. It was (and is) a left-brain approach to counsel. The women in our shepherdess ministry had big hearts and, as seasoned women who had been walking with the Lord through multiple experiences, great compassion for their sisters. The weakness in their care appeared in their theology.[5] So, to accomplish the 400-hour internship for my MDiv, I developed a comprehensive theological training. This is what was to become the video training for the Help[H]er Resources. At that time, I bought into the idea that theology (the study of God) would be all that was necessary for counseling His creation, and then I spread this “half brain” belief.

When Helping Hurts

To summarize, seminary (theological) training for counseling care conveys three main points. God’s Word is sufficient, pastors (and those trained theologically) are competent to counsel,[6] and everyone sins.[7] To illustrate how detrimental this is in providing care for women, consider the following.[8]

God’s Word is sufficient.

I want to state at the onset that I believe this is 100% truth. God’s Word does what He intends it to do.[9] You don’t have a name like mine (Goudzwaard—god’s word, as my mother pronounces it) and not acknowledge the high calling to defer to the truthfulness and beauty of the Scriptures. But some (may I say, too many) church leaders define that to mean they are not to integrate any ideas found in society.[10]

Let’s just say there’s a case of abuse in the church. The world would tell us it happens frequently (#metoo) and that the victim is not at fault (sounds like scientific materialism). Church leaders consider this claim an overreaction (#theskyisfalling) and so-called victims dodging responsibility for their own sin. Therefore, leaders don’t see the need to administer a lethality assessment and prioritize the victim’s safety,[11] they diminish the woman’s perspective, and—if either party won’t “obey” the pastor’s challenges from Scripture—one or the other or both are considered insubmissive to God given authority. Church discipline ensues.

It happens. Often.

Theological training equals competency

I do not regret pursuing a seminary education to enhance my care for God’s people. I just want to acknowledge it wasn’t enough. I’ve had to pursue additional training (abuse, domestic abuse, trauma, global trauma, various methodology) in order to dignify the women I care for and get them the help they need. This issue of integration has been a perennial in the BC movement from the beginning, and it is way beyond the scope of this post. For the sake of brevity (HA!) let’s just say this line of thinking results in a lack of pursuit for expert, professional insight or unbiased, third-party investigation, deference to other pastors/church leaders no matter what the expertise of a helper, and the idea that the victims are to wait for leadership (pastor, session, elder board)[12] to grant permission prior to determining any responses.

Everyone sins

Yep, yep, yep. I agree. There’s no realm of life devoid of this impact of the Fall. Yes, victims sin. Yes, victims sin in their response to evil. No, nobody is perfect. No, there are no leaders who respond to reports of crises perfectly. We’re all in the same sin-filled boat. I get it. But is sin-finding a helper’s primary goal? Consider what I wrote in my DMin project,

“In When Helping Hurts a book written for people helpers both at home and around the world, the authors write that the first step in helping the “poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development.”[13] Scripture categorizes all people broadly as “poor,” and in particular the oppressed (Luke 4:18).[14] So it’s appropriate to map this framework on to any efforts of helping all kinds of people, “the least of these both at home and around the world.”[15] In particular, it maps well onto the type of spiritual and physical healing a biblical counselor can help a victim achieve following domestic abuse.

The authors define “Relief” as a need that is urgent, requires emergency provision, and relief from suffering. “Rehabilitation begins when the bleeding stops; it seeks to restore people…working with the victims as they participate in their own recovery.”[16] “Development’ is a process of ongoing change that moves all the people involved…closer to being in right relationship with God, self, others, and the rest of creation…to fulfill their calling of glorifying God.”

As you can see, there’s a step prior to helping restore people to one another and to God and it only happens, “when the bleeding stops.” It is not possible to begin addressing our own (sin) issues unless we are no longer in danger from evil. We must not take this lightly. Women in crises are depleted, diminished, perhaps even hemorrhaging, and what they need most is a touch from God.[17] If we misdiagnose them in this time of need, we inflict harm upon harm. Carefulness—do no harm—is imperative in all counseling care.

Do your leaders[18] know how to do this?


[1] My husband’s direct report was this community pastor. I told my hubs I fully expected he would have to choose between me and the church—and that statement proved prophetic.

[2] Additional catch words and phrases to pay attention to may also include, “created order,” “special instruments,” “ordained,” “rulers,” “leader,” “head,” “unique privilege,” “essential worker,” “overseer,” “divinely appointed,” “dominion,” “order,” “divine authority,” “authoritative role,” “his calling,” “ordained shepherds,” “their shepherding responsibility,” “authoritative leader,” “spiritual authority,” “decision maker,” “divinely ordained,” “accountable,” “ordained leader,” “headship.”

“A helper in this context would affirm this God-given leadership, assist primarily the leaders (assist the woman in crisis secondarily), rely on leaders for the care of women, serve the brothers in their oversight, offer advice only after given approval, resist undermining authority, demonstrate respect for the “office,” remain accountable, report to leaders, advocate for the leaders, represent them, act as the leader’s helper, offer correction to the woman in crisis, encourage trust from the woman for her leaders, limit confidentiality, protect leadership from getting overwhelmed by the situation, and challenge the woman’s sinfulness” God’s gift to mankind.

As with a similar list on my post (Let’s Start at the Very Beginning), some of these terms are biblical and can/will be used in a positive sense. For a better understanding in your context, you may want church leaders to define and clarify their position and how it might impact a caregiving ministry for the women in your church.

[3] Bavinck, Dogmatiek.

[4] Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel, xvii.

[5] The “we” in this comment includes me. “What we learned was that equal to, if not more important than, life-experience is a solid and deeply lived theology.” Christina Fox, editor, Susan Shepherd, Alongside Care, 80.

[6] In fact, they are those God holds responsible.

[7] None of this is untrue. What I’m saying is it’s not particularly helpful in many (not all) ways.

[8] I admit these scenarios are a very generalized simplification. However, in five years devoted to advocating on victim’s behalf, these situations are textbook responses by most untrained church leaders.

[9] Scripture is the framework we use to determine the truthfulness of what we learn both inside the church and in the world.

[10] This thought is also connected to their understanding of the responsibilities of ordained men.

[11] No matter the type of abuse. As Reformed thinkers we do not make clear distinctions between the inner and outer man. What impacts one impacts the other. Considering that emotional, verbal, and spiritual abuses impact the human brain—a part of the outer body—all abuse can be considered physical.

[12] As in, permission to divorce in cases of infidelity, desertion, abuse, etc.

[13] Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts, How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself (Chicago, IL. Moody Publishers, 2009, 2012), 99-100.

[14] “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4:18).

[15] Dr. John Perkins in the 2009 foreword of, When Helping Hurts, 10.

[16] Ibid., 100.

[17] Yes, this is a demonstration of help that can be discerned biblically (i.e. biblical counsel). And, in fact, it’s a helpful counsel—as is secular methodology—which may also be helpful in the same situation. But the question remains, where are pastors learning how to read Scripture with an eye for application to significant crises—in particular for women?

[18] I did meet men in seminary (and beyond) who were genuinely interested in learning how best to help the people for whom they would provide care. In fact, I know a few who, after graduating with an MDiv, came back to get a MACC, or pursue a DMin in biblical care. These are pastors who are sincerely concerned with how they shepherd.

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