When an issue comes up in your family and you need help, where do you turn? What do you do when you’re talking with someone who has a problem and you have no idea how to advise? When an incident occurs that needs action, but you’ve never encountered anything like it, who helps you consider possible solutions?
Before I met James Jones in 1982, I was often lost. I’d never discussed personal or church issues with a counselor. See blog post, 3 Ways I Helped Get Myself Fired. At first, I didn’t want to start. The first day he was in our building, he asked me to have lunch with him. I was reluctant, but agreed to go. I didn’t want him to “figure me out.” I was scared of him.
But as we talked more, I began to realize he had knowledge and skills that could be helpful to me, my family, and the church.
Our elders had entered into an agreement with him to rent our library at the Central Church of Christ in Dalton, Georgia, for five hours free counseling per month to be used at the discretion of the elders. He began to serve in several areas.
- Counseling with established clients. He already had people in the North Georgia-Chattanooga area who talked with him often.
- Referrals. After I learned to trust him, I referred members who came to me who needed more help than I was prepared to give. Some would say, “I’ve never talked to a counselor. I’m afraid. Would you go with me?”. I was glad to do that for a session or two, learning much from watching and listening.
- Elder-preacher meetings. The elders, Cordell Holloway, Ross Jordan, and I had standing appointments for the first and third Mondays at 7:00 a.m. We worked on our communication. I began to talk to elders on an adult to adult basis instead of child to adult. We discussed difficult issues. I referred to one of those sessions in a previous blog post: Church Discipline: Tell It to the Church. We never ran out of topics to discuss. It was a growing and enriching experience for me.
- Classes. In the fall after he started working in our building, he taught classes on Monday nights. We had two hours of lecture followed by an hour of group discussion. We practiced what we’d been learning from reading assigned books and hearing the lectures James presented. Some of the classes were:
- Individual and family counseling for my family and me. As our trust and appreciation grew for James and his work, there were many opportunities to meet with him and listen to his advice. As our children grew older, there were always new things we’d never faced. We talked with a church in Texas during the summer of 1984 about moving to work with them. We talked with James individually and as a family to consider the advantages and disadvantages of that opportunity. James and I went to the church, talking with the elders and staff for two days. When I moved from Dalton to Nashville in 1988, James consulted with me, my family, and the elders during the process. We discussed what would be good for the church and our family—when to announce and how to do a good job leaving.
- Phone counseling. After I moved to Nashville and later to Berry’s Chapel in Franklin, Tennessee, I continued to consult with James by phone and workshops he conducted at Berry’s Chapel until he died, July 2, 1995.
After his death, I became acquainted with Phil Pistole in Brentwood, Tennessee. During my time at Berry’s Chapel, I met with him once a month. I kept my Phil List of things to discuss at our monthly meetings: personal and family issues, church problems where I needed help, coaching on counseling opportunities I was working on, and family-business relationships.
Suggestions for Selecting and Working with a Counselor
- Select carefully. Talk with people who’ve worked with the counselor you’re considering. Interview the person to discover his experience in dealing with issues you and your church may encounter. Ask who he goes to for counseling and how often. If your counselor doesn’t have a counselor, you may end up being your counselor’s counselor. Click To Tweet That’s not the way it’s supposed to work.
- Understand the value. Just as it’s good to have a family physician before you have a health crisis, it’s good to have a counselor who understands you and your group before major problems arise. He knows more of what he’s working with.
- Referrals are easier when I’ve been to the counselor. People are often embarrassed when they finally admit they need help. I’ve found it takes pressure off when someone asks me if I can recommend a counselor and I reply, “I’ve been talking with Phil Pistole for several years. He’s helped me and many others I’ve referred to him.”
- Recognize the limits of his responsibility. A counselor is not your boss or supervisor. You don’t have to do everything a counselor suggests. What you do is your choice.
What suggestions and experience have you had in working with Christian counselors?
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