When I was five-years-old I knelt with my mom at the living room couch and asked Jesus into my heart. I believed the story. I meant the prayer. I felt secure and loved by God.
But by 8th grade my faith started to feel more like Algebra: an overwhelming flow of formulas that I was tested on every week to make adults happy. Even though I kept showing up for church (and Algebra) I felt dead inside. I was saved but lost, and felt guilty for being saved and lost at the same time.
After navigating the waters of adolescence by clinging to friends, sports, sex, alcohol, and anything else that seemed better than God, I reached the age of 20 exhausted, depressed and about to lose the woman I loved. Sick of running, I turned back to the God I had met on the couch with mom. I was stunned and awed to find that the eyes of Christ toward me were full of kindness and grace. He had never left me. And I had good news to share…
“Don’t go to seminary. Get an MSW”. That’s the advice I followed back in 1987 hoping to help Christians find Jesus in the middle of their broken stories. During the same year a guy named Tim Clinton started the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC).
It’s 30 years later. I’ve spent around 20,000 hours talking to Christians who have been sexually abused by alcoholic dads, cheated on by husbands who are church elders, and watched children die in their arms. Almost all of them have regularly attended church, read the bible, and prayed. The AACC now counts over 50,000 members. My career has straddled the explosion of Professional Christian Counseling in America, I am so grateful. Thousands of Christians have been deeply helped by my professional peers. But I see a big storm brewing for the church unless we change our course…
Is Christ on The Couch?
Every week, tens of thousands of Christians bring their deepest life struggles to a private therapist and, most likely, say nothing about it on Sunday morning. Here’s my question: When Christians go to therapy is Christ on The Couch? “Well of course he is! Christ goes wherever his people go”! I agree. But what I’m asking is this: Do Christians go to therapy expecting to be guided toward an encounter with the living Christ in the context of their counseling concerns? I suspect the answer is “rarely”. But who really knows? Who is asking? On the other hand, do the stories that counselors embrace make it past the pew into meaningful church fellowship? How many real stories are told in church? Whatever the answers are, counselors and pastors are responsible to find out and do something about it. If we put our heads and hearts to it, I believe we’ll spawn revival. It’s going to be needed.
The amazing promise of Christianity is that God transforms us by meeting us in the deepest brokenness and shame of our lives. We know that the promise is true, precisely because Christ himself endured untold brokenness and shame in order to heal and restore us to him. If this is the centerpiece of the Christian faith, then how can we accept any trend in which believers join with other believers in their darkest troubles but subtract the suffering and resurrection of Christ from the healing equation?
“But wait, this sounds so…fundamentalist! Don’t you believe that all truth is God’s truth”? Yes. And I often use CBT, Family Systems Theory and articles like, “The Neurobiology of Substance Abuse” in my work. But I also believe that General Revelation without Special Revelation is only part of God’s truth, which when left alone, sets no one free. More simply, why in the world would we even want to leave Christ out of the encounter.
So on this blog site I am hoping for conversation with at least 2 groups of friends! Counseling friends: Will you dialogue with me on this site through some questions I pose about how we can more fully invite the transforming work of Christ into our clinical sessions? Pastoral friends: Will you dialogue with me on this site by allowing the complex stories that we witness as counselors to inform the ways in which you preach and shape ministry? We need your help on how to become more Christ-centered in our work.
I can still remember that couch, on 43rd Street, back in 1966. It was maroon and had a kinda scratchy feel to it. The couch in my therapy office is way more comfy – soft, worn, brown leather. I should probably start kneeling at it, every day, before my clients come in to tell more stories…