Seven Reasons Why Many Pastors Avoid a Counseling Ministry

I recently conducted an unscientific but revealing social media poll. I asked pastors to share with me what aspects of pastoral ministry they enjoyed the most.

Counseling was listed last, at least indicating it was their least favorite aspect of ministry. So, I went back to these pastors and asked a follow-up question. I wanted to know why so many pastors were avoiding counseling ministries today. Their responses were clear and consistent:

  1. Not qualified. In many ways, this response overlaps some of the others. The pastors told us they have not been trained in counseling. They told us they were not equipped to counsel. They told us they felt totally out of their element when they counseled others.
  2. Concerned about liabilities. Many of the respondents were transparent about this concern. Some are not certain what they are required legally to report as a consequence of a counseling session. Others feared lawsuits as a result of counseling. Still others wondered about confidentiality issues and counseling.
  3. Not fruitful. A number of these pastors did not see their counseling sessions as fruitful. They did not know if they were helping, hindering, or hurting. They did not know how to evaluate the effectiveness of their counseling. Some wondered with transparency if they were wasting their time.
  4. Time consuming. Most pastors are overworked. Their workweek can be 60 or 70 hours or longer. They are on call 24/7. When they look for places to find margin, it is not uncommon to see them choose to reduce or eliminate their counseling hours.
  5. Fearful of blame. A noticeable number of pastors told us the most-needy church members are most likely to seek counseling. Those same people are also likely to assign blame to the pastor if the counseling sessions do not meet their expectations.
  6. Availability of referrals. Most churches and church leaders know someone who is a counselor by profession. That man or woman, in their opinions, is much more qualified to counsel others, so the pastors refer their counseling requests to them.
  7. Opposite gender. This problem has become even more exacerbated by the #MeToo movement. Understandably, pastors are becoming more and more hesitant to counsel people of the opposite gender.

The audience of this blog includes a nice mix of pastors, church staff, and church members. I would love to hear your different perspectives on this issue.

Posted on October 22, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • I would love to find pastors in the Portland, Oregon area that would refer their pastoral counseling to me! I have been doing nothing but pastoral counseling for for 50 years. I also have a PhD in Psychology.

  • Alan Kyro says on

    The best counsel in the World is contained in the gospel. The message of Gods Love, Good Tidings of Great Joy, Glad Tidings of Good Things, Good Report, Good News, Gospel of Grace, Gospel of Peace, Everlasting Gospel…

    It is the one meassage from cover to cover that pastors should proclaim over people that delivers them from all evil thoughts into a sound mind, the mind of Christ.

    A soul established in the righteousness of God through the gospel does not need any more counseling because they are connected to the wonderfull counselor and have peace with God through The faith in the blood of Jesus for remission of sin.

    Devil lost his role playing with such a one.

    Pastors have the real deal but act like they don’t. Whats up with that?

    There is only liabilty to God if pastors do not preach message of God’s Love… For God sooo Loved the World that he gave his only begotten Son!

  • Thanks for posting the results of your surveys, I enjoyed reading the results. I am looking for statistics for my proposal that reflect the benefits of out-of-church counseling done through Christ-centered, Bible-based organizations. Can you make any recommendations on where I can begin my research?

  • Thom,
    I wondered if you have come across any empirical data that reveal that many Pastors do not counsel. I would assume that many Pastors do not counsel and, by default, send their people off to the “Professionals.”
    Thank you for your time and ministry!

  • Jack MacDonald says on

    AS a man of faith
    I come from a secular family that has shoved their worldy beliefs in the “science” written by the diabolical Sigmund Freud.
    So with such a strong association between counseling, Psych hospitals/treatment and Freud, would that be a fair sign that all faithful people in their right minds will avoid this and turn to God for peace?
    I wonder how many pastors really support sending broken people to psych counselors? And for the Christian counselors, I find that to be an oxymoron, I would have thought the psych degrees undermine and hurt Godd grace? I have so much to work on, and come to a collective and sound opinion on this, but my intuition says that we all can do better staying away from a pseudoscience that’s main ideologies are based upon one very un Godly mans assembly of theories?

  • William Herbert says on

    The article states that “pastors are becoming more and more hesitant to counsel people of the opposite gender.” I assume this is because of liability issues and the possibility of such a session being misconstrued.

    I am wondering if the growing LGBT movement will have an impact on this as well? Do you think there will be similar liability issues with us counseling people of the same sex if we know the client is a homosexual/lesbian?

  • Thom! Many thanks for the work you do! This “revealing social media poll” is super helpful. I desire to provide excellent resources for pastor’s who are seeking training in counseling. As such, polls like this help me provide help where the help is most needed. We really need an army of trained pastors to help their flock. The trend of pastors to send their people away to clinics reminds me of what went on in Jeremiahs day –> “For my people have done two evil things: They have abandoned me–the fountain of living water. And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all!” Jeremiah 2:13

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