Ken, a middle-aged man who pastors a smaller-sized church in rural Oregon, recently described his ministry as follows: “My job is to explain the truths of God’s Word to my people, and then to prayerfully implore them to follow Christ with greater faithfulness tomorrow than they did today.”
Chad, a younger man, pastors a larger church in the greater Atlanta region. Chad summarized his role in this way: “The heart of my ministry is to unpack the truths of the Bible by explaining, illustrating, and applying them, and then to call on my people to follow the teachings of God’s Word.”
One of these pastors serves as his church’s pastor-teacher. His weekly labors are aimed at the pulpit. The other pastor is a certified biblical counselor whose ministry is centered largely on counseling the flock through the hardships of life. Can you tell which pastor is the counselor and which is the preacher? Likely not. Why? Because both the preacher and the counselor are devoted to the ministry of the Word and the sanctification of the flock, regardless if it is done to one person or to one hundred.
The aim of this article, in building on the first installment in this series, is to continue to make the case that a pastor’s preaching of the Word and a pastor’s counseling of the Word each serves as a critical component of his over-arching responsibility to devote himself to the “ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). Far from being contradictory or competing, preaching and counseling are complementary components of the pastor’s Word-anchored ministry. In the first article, we considered some of the salutary benefits a pastor’s counseling ministry will have on his pulpit ministry. This article will consider the ways in which a pastor’s commitment to faithfully expositing Scripture from the pulpit will inevitably strengthen his shepherding skills as a counselor of God’s Word.
The committed preacher counsels with authority.
When a man called to preach stands up to proclaim truth from God’s Word, he is simultaneously performing several functions. Not only is he tending to Christ’s lambs (John 21:15–17)—so that each may be presented “complete in Christ” (Col 1:28)—he also is doing “the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5) as he proclaims the life-saving message of the gospel to any tares who may be mixed in with the wheat (Matt 13:24–30).
Whether he is feeding the sheep or calling out the wolves, the faithful preacher naturally develops a reputation, through his life, example, and exposition, as a committed, truth-telling herald. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it: “He is a man, who is there to ‘declare’ certain things; he is a man under commission and under authority. He is an ambassador, and he should be aware of his authority. He should always know that he comes to the congregation as a sent messenger.”
The authority with which a called man preaches does not vanish or evaporate once he steps out of the pulpit. Rather, as Sunday bleeds into Monday and as the pulpit is traded for a counseling desk, the pastor’s counselees naturally view the man who is counseling them as the same biblically-faithful herald they heard on Sunday. They now see, up close and personal, that their pastor is just as much a sold-out soul-winner in the counseling room as he is in the pulpit. They see that he is just as tender in tending Christ’s lambs from close-range as he is from long distance. And they see that the man who earlier in the week declared “thus saith the Lord” from the pulpit is the same man who now says “thus saith the Lord”—to them specifically—from across the counseling desk.
Because of the authority that is inherently imbued in his preaching labors, when the pastor who is faithful to his preaching task speaks, those who seek his counseling will be naturally inclined to listen and follow the wisdom God has given him. Faithful preaching fuels authoritative counseling.
The committed preacher counsels didactically.
Not only is the pastor to preach and counsel dependent upon the authority of the Word of God, but he carries over from his pulpit ministry and into the counseling room a set of carefully-honed didactic (teaching) skills.
For instance, the committed preacher-counselor has long recognized that while the Word of God is inerrant, infallible, and perfect, God’s people (including himself) are not. Hence, as a preacher, he has come to understand how God’s people benefit from having Scripture explained to them by way of illustration, anecdotes, imagery, word pictures, and other creative uses of language. While fully recognizing it is God’s Word which does the work of cutting, carving, and convicting the hearts of men (Heb 4:12), the skilled preacher-counselor understands that the use of different explanatory devices (such as illustrations) serve as windows to “let in light,” not only in his sermons, but in his counseling. Thus, he is not shy about the imaginative (albeit Scripturally-sound) use of such didactic methods as he counsels God’s people with God’s Word. He understands that his counsel will come across clearly, and God’s Word will sink in deeply “like well-driven nails” (Eccl 12:11), through his measured use of anecdotes, illustrations, and other creative uses of language.
Further, as he transitions from the pulpit to the counseling room, the dedicated preacher-counselor understands that just as his preaching ought to appeal to the mind, emotions, and the will of his hearers, so too should his counseling. Thus, he is not hesitant to bring historical data concerning biblical texts into his counseling just as he would in preaching, knowing that in doing so he is appealing to the mind of his hearer. He understands, for instance, that his counselees may benefit from learning the cultural context in Corinth before he explains the hard realities of 1 Corinthians 6:9–11, and that exploring David’s contrition in Psalm 51 may require establishing the backstory with a brief survey of 2 Samuel.
Nor is the committed preacher-counselor reluctant to appeal to the emotions of his counselees, as he warns them about the practical perils of a potential decline into drunkenness, or the marks of a loveless marriage, or the folly of engaging in political idolatry in an election year. He is not an automaton who dryly dumps data on his people, whether in a counseling or a preaching context. Rather, he seeks after the heart, not to manipulate, but to lovingly shepherd.
Finally, the committed preacher-counselor does not shy away from calling on his counselees—as he does from the pulpit—to respond to the truth he proclaims. That is, he is committed to calling on his people to make a decision, to commit to walking in a new manner, and/or to confess that they have not been faithfully following the Lord in a particular area of their life. Putting it in biblical terms, he spurs his people on to be “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
The committed preacher counsels with depth and diligence.
Faithful preaching will, of necessity, be biblically-centered and biblically-grounded. The preacher’s job is to serve as a mouthpiece for God, heralding His perfect Word to the flock that sits before him. As Charles Spurgeon once put it: “Sermons should have real teaching in them, and their doctrine should be solid, substantial, and abundant. We do not enter the pulpit to talk for talk’s sake; we have instructions to convey important to the last degree, and we cannot afford to utter pretty nothings.” When the called man of God preaches sermons which, in the words of the Prince of Preachers, are “solid, substantial, and abundant,” his preaching should lead those who have sat under his pulpit ministry to “ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name” (Ps 29:2), so that He receives “glory in the church” (Eph 3:21). Those who sit under faithful preaching, and who are “humble and contrite of spirit” as they tremble at God’s Word (Isa 66:2), are certain to benefit from it.
Faithful preaching, however, not only benefits those who hear the message. It benefits the man who is preaching the message. As he studies the Word, meditates on the Word, prays over the Word, and studies various other resources related to the Word (e.g., commentaries, theological books, grammars, and other study tools), the man who is privileged to preach the Word will inevitably grow in his ability to counsel the Word with skill and precision. As he labors in the study in preparation for Sunday, such a man is simultaneously being prepared to minister God’s Word with increasing clarity and faithfulness in various non-pulpit settings (such as counseling). As Jay Adams wrote: “Most counselors need the enforced discipline of having to prepare sermons every week to keep them studying the Bible regularly in an intensive way. The counselor who preaches every week will grow as a counselor. He will gain new biblical insights from his weekly study that he will incorporate into counseling and he will develop the assurance and sure-footedness that is necessary to counsel with biblical authority.”
The pastor who is devoted to the preparation and delivery of expository sermons understands the care and precision that is needed to rightly handle the word of truth. He knows there is a difference between preaching a “sermonette” in which a stray text of Scripture makes a guest appearance, and the rich, soul-satisfying exposition of the Word of God. He understands that if he is going to deliver the latter rather than the former, he needs to heed the words of 2 Timothy 2:15: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” In short, he must be a disciplined and diligent man.
The preacher-counselor’s awareness of his need for diligence in his pulpit ministry carries over to his counseling ministry, as he shows great care in not leaving his counselees malnourished with trite Christian phrases and over-used (and under-exegeted) passages of Scripture. He does not view his Word-based ministry as a trite “take two verses and call me in the morning.” Rather, he is committed to a fully-orbed study of the Word as he prepares to counsel, and will assign homework to his counselees which mirrors his own commitment to the rigorous intake and study of God’s Word. He encourages a struggling counselee not simply to meditate on Romans 8:28, but to study (and perhaps even memorize) the entirety of Romans 8, so that his counselees grow not only as spiritually-disciplined saints, but as followers of Christ who genuinely love the nuance, texture, and beauty of God’s perfect and sufficient Word. Thus, the preacher-counselor’s diligence in the study manifests itself not only in the pulpit, but in his counseling relationships.
The committed preacher counsels dependently.
The preaching task, of necessity, is a dependent exercise. Any faithful preacher recognizes and understands that apart from Christ he can do nothing (John 15:5), and so he is a man of prayer, both as a part of his daily walk with the Lord (1 Thess 5:17) and in particular as he prepares to preach. He prays as he studies (Ps 119:18), he prays throughout the week leading up to his preaching, he prays the night before he preaches, he prays the morning he is scheduled to preach, and he prays as he walks up to preach. He is utterly dependent upon the Lord to provide the wisdom, the grace, and the strength to deliver God’s Word to God’s people. This commitment to praying for one’s preaching ministry naturally carries over into one’s counseling ministry. In the counseling context, the man of God is not preaching to a blurry sea of faces, but instead finds himself proclaiming God’s truth to fellow-image bearers with furrowed foreheads, tear-stained cheeks, and crossed-arms. Remembering that, unlike in preaching, counseling is more of a dialogue than a monologue (translation: the audience can talk back!), the preacher-counselor is no less diligent in praying for his counseling than he is for his preaching. His commitment to praying for his pulpit will naturally cascade into a commitment to praying for his counseling.
R.L. Dabney once described the work of the preacher in these terms:
The preacher’s task may be correctly explained as that of (instrumentally) forming the image of Christ upon the souls of men. The plastic substance is the human heart. The die which is provided for the workman is the revealed Word; and the impression to be formed is the divine image of knowledge and true holiness ... how plain it is, that preaching should be simply representative of Bible truths, and in Bible proportions! The preacher’s business is to take what is given him in the Scriptures, as it is given to him, and to endeavor to imprint it on the souls of men.
Indeed. Whether doing so while standing behind the pulpit, or while seated behind a counseling desk, it is imperative that the man of God see his role as exactly these: to be used instrumentally by the Heavenly Father to preach the Word (2 Tim 4:2) as he prayerfully seeks to see Christ formed in his people (Col 1:28).
 D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971), 83 (quoted in Alex Montoya, Preaching with Passion (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000), 80).
 Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2016), 377.
 Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 73.
 Jay Adams, Preaching with Purpose: The Urgent Task of Homiletics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 37.
 R.L. Dabney, Evangelical Eloquence: A Course of Lectures on Preaching (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2019 repr.), 37.